STERLING | On Feb. 3, 2012, Kevin Heald had 11 cents in his checking account, but that didn't deter him from planning his wedding anniversary.
The Sterling resident had less than a year and a half to plan for June 30. He had two goals, among others: Become debt-free, and make his wife, Judy, feel rich for a day.
He wanted the 40 most influential people from their marriage to attend their anniversary dinner. And he had to get that done without letting Judy in on the secret.
With the debt-free plan, Kevin got some help from his sister, Yvonne Glover, who gave him a loan that he paid off. Now, the Healds have the deed to their home on West 11th Street and the title to their Chevy Cruze.
Kevin, 60, arranged for a party at Family Table restaurant in Rock Falls. The party included the 40 most influential people, from as far away as Italy and England.
Their maid of honor and best man belonged to the group. The best man, who lives in Hawaii, couldn't afford the trip, so Kevin covered the costs.
Kevin made all of the arrangements without Judy, 56, catching on.
"There was no paper trail," Kevin said.
Kevin had told Judy they would have their anniversary dinner with a few friends and relatives at another restaurant at 5 p.m. By late afternoon, he was running behind schedule, so Judy went ahead and showed up at the other restaurant.
Then Kevin informed her that they would have to pick up their grandson, Timmy, at Family Table.
"I was so focused that we were behind schedule that I didn't notice that the Family Table parking lot was jam-packed," said Judy, a nurse at Dr. Maria Rivera's office in Dixon.
When she walked in, she saw the best man first. And then the crowd of 90 people.
"It was a shock," she said.
At the dinner, Kevin presented his wife with three envelopes. The first contained the deed to their house. The second, the title to their 2011 Chevrolet Cruze.
The third let her know about their October cruise to Puerto Rico. And an envelope inside that envelope contained money for her vacation wardrobe.
"I was trying to make her feel like the richest person for a day," he said. "And I think I did that."
This was a change from much of their marriage, during which they've had their share of financial struggles.
"We've had some junkers," Kevin said. "I had one vehicle that was so bad that you couldn't put your feet on the floorboard (in the back seat) without touching pavement."
Judy, a graduate of Sterling High School, is a local native, while Kevin grew up in South Dakota before he moved to the area as a teenager, graduating from Prophetstown High School.
They married at First Church of the Nazarene in Sterling in 1973. She was 16 at the time.
It was a rough first few years of marriage.
"I wasn't a good person. I was not nice," Kevin said. "I came from a poor, dysfunctional family. I had a lot of bitterness."
They credit religion for saving their marriage. The couple, who have two adult sons, once worked at a Christian ranch for boys in Alabama.
"Without faith, we wouldn't have made it five years," said Kevin, associate pastor of Living Bread Fellowship in Sterling. "God sent me my wife. She has helped shape me."