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‘We’ll figure it out’

Couple who met through Flint Hills Media Project gets engaged at what would have been 2019 symphony site

James Kellerman, FHMP 2014, proposes to Shelby Reynolds, FHMP 2013, in Irma’s Pasture near Bazaar on June 10. The pasture was in initial stages of setup for the 2019 Symphony in the Flint Hills. (Photo by Matt Crow)

By Daniel Caudill

As students in the 10th Flint Hills Media Project visited Irma’s Pasture near Bazaar to plan how they would cover the upcoming Symphony in the Flint Hills, project alumnus James Kellerman was orchestrating a plan of his own.

He planned to propose to his girlfriend, Shelby Reynolds, who he met five years before while working on the project. 

Breaking from the larger group of students and staff that morning, James walked Shelby beside the bandshell, got down on one knee and popped the question.

Behind tears and joyful surprise, she said yes. 

Shelby Reynolds shows off her bling to a collection of Flint Hills Media project faculty, students and friends, shortly after getting engaged at the 2019 Symphony in the Flint Hills site on June 10. (Photo by Kelly Glasscock)

“I can’t imagine a more fitting way for this project to celebrate our 10th anniversary,” said Amy DeVault, project instructor. “Shelby and James were early participants. They met through the project and both have remained helpful and supportive over the years.”

Shelby and James getting engaged at the symphony site, with project students, faculty and other alumni surrounding them, reminded DeVault what the heart of the project is.

“The Flint Hills Media Project is wonderful in so many important ways, but the best part is the relationship building — with one another, with faculty and with the people they meet and tell stories about,” DeVault said. 

James described the Flint Hills Media Project as a turning point in his life. He realized he wanted to pursue a career in journalism after meeting Shelby, feeling inspired by the class instructors, and honing in on his professional skills. 

“I would say I was on a road to possibly dropping out of college,” he said. “It was that class that really sparked something that made me realize that I really want to try and be great in every aspect of journalism.” 

Meeting in the Flint Hills

Having been in a long-distance relationship for most of the past three years, Shelby said the Flint Hills was a special place to get engaged. 

“It just felt right because we waited for so long. It felt like we deserved it at that point,” she said. 

When he first met Shelby in 2014, if you had asked James if he ever thought they’d get married, he would have said no. 

That’s because she was contributing to the project as an alumna and he mistakenly believed she had already graduated and was a full-time reporter at the Wichita Eagle. 

“I thought she was much older and much more mature than me,” James said. 

Shelby, who was working as an intern at the Eagle at the time, affectionately described James as a jokester, then and now. The two first spent time together on the day of the symphony in 2014. 

“His whole thing that day was . . . he would get in your face and say ‘busted!’ while he was recording video,” she said. “He did that to me a couple times that day and I was like, ‘Who is this guy? What is this guy about?’”

Shelby Reynolds and James Kellerman react to the small gathering of Flint Hills Media Project members who witnessed their marriage proposal moments earlier. Reynolds and Kellerman had both participated in the project as students, and actually met through the project in 2014. (Photo by Amy DeVault)

A strengthened bond through collaboration

Shortly after joining Wichita State’s student newspaper, The Sunflower, James realized Shelby was a fellow student when he saw her copy-editing in the newsroom. 

The two grew closer through their work at the paper, and James asked Shelby out in the fall semester. 

Their first date? Keeping track of stats at a high-school football game he was covering for a local radio station. 

The two were dating by spring 2015, James’s graduating semester, but they tried to keep it secret. She was The Sunflower’s managing editor at the time; he was sports editor. 

“We didn’t want it to be weird between Sunflower people if they knew we were dating,” Shelby said.

But friends told her it was obvious, Shelby said. “We weren’t as secretive as we thought we were.” 

With its foundation on a work-related friendship, Shelby and James agreed their relationship has a unique dynamic.

“Our relationship was built around working together, and bouncing ideas off each other. He had the sports smarts, and I had more of the news smarts, and I think we are a good team in that way,” she said.

The combination of their individual strengths creates balance in their relationship today, the couple agreed. And that goes beyond work. 

She is primarily a writer; he is primarily focused on audio and video. 

She is calculated; he likes to work things out along the way. 

“He calms me down and helps me see the fun in things,” Shelby said. 

“We know how each other thinks,” James said. 

He said this balance made working alongside Shelby at The Sunflower one of the most enjoyable times in his career. 

“Everywhere I’ve worked hasn’t been the same because you’re trying to make friends, but you’ve already had the experience of working with your best friend,” he said. 

James Kellerman and Shelby Reynolds take a picture in front of the Flint Hills landscape just after Kellerman proposed on June 10. The two had met five years before through the Flint Hills Media Project. (Photo by Matt Crow)

Living apart 

When Shelby graduated in 2016, she moved to Florida to work as a features reporter for the Naples Daily News. 

Maintaining a long-distance relationship for three years was tough, Shelby said, only seeing James every three to four months. But she always felt his support. 

“He was never selfish,” she said. “He was so supportive about me getting a job and doing what I wanted to do, wherever it was.”

Shortly after Shelby relocated to Florida, James quit his job at the Hutchinson News to be with her. But before he made it to Naples, he received a job offer from the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska.

James then asked Shelby what he should do. “I was about to move to Florida,” he said.

Shelby told James the same thing he told her when she was hired in Naples: “Go for it.” 

“Just as he supported me, I had to support him,” Shelby said. “And that was really hard because we were both getting excited about living together.” 

The hardest part of loving from a distance was feeling alone, Shelby said. 

“We were both alone, especially when he was in Omaha,” she said. “When your person is so far, it’s hard to go through difficult times or celebrate good times.” 

Living in Naples was still full of great experiences, Shelby said, but she always wished in the back of her mind for James to be there.

“Facetiming is not the same,” James said. 

But through all the ups and downs, the couple never lost faith that they would stay together.

“Our motto has become ‘we’ll figure it out,’” Shelby said. 

Newly engaged Shelby Reynolds and James Kellerman enjoy a picninc breakfast — and a smooch — after their engagement at Irma’s Pasture on June 10. (Photo by Matt Crow)

After James was hired at the World-Herald, the couple began to craft a plan to settle down together in Omaha. Near both of their families in Wichita and still in the Midwest, they thought it could be a good city to establish a family. 

But James was laid off in 2018, putting a wrench in their Omaha plans. He moved to Naples in June that year, working part-time. 

Realizing it was difficult for them to both find permanent careers in Naples, the homesick couple decided they wanted to return to Wichita.

James was hired for his current position at the WSU Foundation in January 2019, prompting Shelby to quit her Naples job and move back to Wichita a few months later. 

Shelby is still searching for a career in Wichita, and the couple isn’t certain on wedding plans yet.

But not to worry, James said.

“We’ll figure it out.”