Billboard proposal an inspiring message to Alta. community

Craig Oster, Lloydminster’s “sign guy,” doesn't usually reveal his plans for a 16-by-10-foot sign sitting on an arterial route west of the border city.

During the economic downturn a few years ago, he painted on the sign an iteration of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural quote: We only have to fear fear itself.

Another time, he painted on the board about one mile south of the Sobeys on 75 Avenue: Tough times don't last, tough people do.

More recently, it read to passersby: The greatest view comes after the hardest climb.

But a few people were let in on his plans for the latest sign – namely, his soon-to-be fiancé's kids.

“Apparently they’re all very good secret keepers," Michelle Samarin laughed.

On Sept. 10, after keeping Samarin distracted all day with the kids' help, Oster finally asked the question which had been painted on the billboard outside: Michelle Samarin, will you marry me?

“I had a pretty good feeling after we got back to the house and dinner was all laid out and whatnot," she told CTV News Edmonton.

“It got shared around Lloydminster on social media: 'What did she say? What did she say?' Then, 'Someone tell him to paint the sign with the answer.' So this went back and forth."

Oster saw his proposal as a larger commitment than perhaps usual.

Both he and Samarin were married before; their spouses died from cancer. The loss was only one of a few things they found in common when they started dating a year ago, and many knew their story.

When Oster painted his proposal, he knew his "whole world" would know immediately. And as "sign guy," he had already committed to being a man who shared messages of hope and inspiration.

"There’s a lot of potential negativity and a lot of things that can drag you down, and sometimes you throw something like this out there and we have to socially commit ourselves," he said.

“These things still exist, we just have to make the effort to do them.”

The couple says they have received hundreds of beautiful notes, many from complete strangers.

“It brought us to tears, more than a couple times," Samarin said.

The couple wants to "savor the moment" a little while longer, so they don't have a wedding date – yet. They're also focused on settling in together and making the transition to a blended family. Between Oster and Samarin, there are five kids, three of whom are still at home.

"They love it," Oster told CTV News Edmonton. "And they see their parents are happy. And what child wouldn’t want happy parents?”

They also have – well, at least Oster does – another sign to plan.

Right now, his billboard confirms their engagement: "A beautiful beginning. She said yes."

But he says he'll continue to use it to spread positivity.

“We hope other people can do the same in their own way to show that even in this tough time, let’s say, there’s a lot of good things.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson