Allie Payne and Clement Bell first met decades ago, as young teenagers. “He was the younger brother of some friends of mine,” Payne said. Although Payne and Bell are the same age, Payne was friends with some older girls at the time.
And back then, Payne paid little attention to Bell. “He was just around,” she recalled.
It wasn’t until they were sophomores at Evanston Township High School – both in the Class of ’87 – that the two started to take serious note of each other and began dating.
A mutual friend of the two sparked the connection in 1985. “I didn’t really know who he was. I started looking at him after she pointed him out. But, if you ever meet him, he has the best smile in the world,” gushed Payne.
After she praised Bell’s overall demeanor and their amazing friendship, Bell jokingly added, “I’m also very good-looking.” The couple couldn’t quite remember where their first date took place, “but it was either at Gigio’s, Burger King or the movies,” Payne said.
In describing their relationship during high school, the two agreed it was pretty typical. “We would break up, then make up,” Payne said. “But by senior year, we were pretty solid.” Bell and Payne went to their senior prom as a couple and then spent every day together before they each left for college.
One of their favorite spots was on the rocks just north of Lighthouse Beach. “It’s such a special spot,” Payne said. “When I was single, I used to walk over to our special rock, behind the playground.”
The couple tried to date long-distance during their first year of college, “but as soon as we went away to school, we couldn’t keep the relationship going past Christmas,” Payne said.
“We went our separate ways. I had kids, he had kids. We had mutual friends so I kept tabs on what he was doing,” said Payne, but they didn’t keep in touch. When President Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008, Payne held a party celebrating his victory. Bell attended but the two didn’t connect. “I saw him briefly at the Obama election party, but I had just gotten divorced,” said Payne. “I wasn’t in the head space to start anything, and neither was he.”
Payne has three children, ages 30, 28 and 25, from her first marriage. Bell has two children, ages 28 and 13.
On June 10, 2021, Bell and Payne reconnected, purely for business purposes: Bell reached out to Payne to discuss the possibility of selling some income property that he owned. Payne has been in real estate for 24 years and works for Compass Real Estate in Evanston. Bell has been a lineman for AT&T for 25 years.
The two met at a restaurant in Romeoville and it was that night that everything changed. “We ended up talking five minutes about business and then the rest of the night about our lives,” said Bell. “We talked until 3 a.m.”
Payne was struck hard by their meeting. “I was in love by that night,” she said. “I always knew that he was the one who got away.”
Bell was equally smitten. “Honestly,” he said, “the first time we rekindled, that’s when I knew. She’s the same youthful, vibrant, beautiful, passionate person from sophomore year. I can’t let her get away from me again.”
Payne and Bell were a couple from that point on, and their first official date after their reunion was at Piece Brewery and Pizzeria in Wicker Park. The two began to split time between her home in Evanston and his in Romeoville. “After that first meeting, we were together. We never had any problems. It was very natural,” Payne said. “Maybe it was because we already knew each other as kids? I don’t really know why it worked so well.”
When it came to marriage, Payne was honest about her feelings. She told Bell, “I’m not going to date you forever. We’re too old for that.”
In August 2022, the couple took a trip to New Orleans. It was there that Bell planned on proposing. But as the couple arrived at O’Hare, Bell realized he’d left the engagement ring at home. He quickly claimed he had “forgotten medication, and sent an Uber to my house to get the ring.”
Although they almost missed their flight due to the Uber driver getting lost, they made it just in time. While on board, and sitting on opposite ends of the plane, Bell told his seatmates his plans to propose to Payne in New Orleans, and of the harrowing path the ring had just taken to get into his hands.
When they arrived at their hotel, Bell wanted everything to be perfect. He asked for a room upgrade, which Payne turned down. “I said ‘No,’ but he said ‘Yes!’” Bell was looking for the perfect time to propose. The couple ate crawfish and bar-hopped, stopping at Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge, where Bell planned on proposing.
Although Bell had the ring in his pocket the entire evening, “it didn’t feel right at the time,” he said. “I still bought a round of drinks for everyone at the bar,” he added.
Prior to the actual proposal the couple got into a bit of an argument. They were on their hotel balcony and “she was wishing on a star saying, ‘I hope that we will always be good friends forever,’” Bell recalled. Bell made her wish come true as he got down on one knee and said, “Speaking of forever, I want you to be in my life forever.”
Payne screamed with joy and noted that “people around us were clapping and congratulating us.” The couple called all of their relatives to share their exciting news. Bell then disclosed his original proposal plans with his fiance. “He told me some of his other ideas and I said I was so glad you didn’t do any of those things.
“This was so natural and so perfect and great. The ring was perfect too.”
Bell and Payne were married on Feb. 11, 2023, at the Creative Arts Center at Highpoint in Romeoville in front of 120 guests. The groom’s brother-in-law, Thomas Pfluger, officiated. To honor both the bride’s and groom’s children, the couple had a candle-lighting ceremony, uniting the two families and allowing for them all to participate in the wedding.
“Family is the most important thing to both of us,” said Payne. “We really had to get our families to know each other.” As a show of support and love for the couple, Payne’s brother, Michael Lewis, told Bell, “We’ve been waiting for you. Welcome back.”
Guests were treated to the songs of Marlette Harrison as well as the music of DJ Mathis Mega M. Rousseau, which kept the crowd dancing until midnight. The couple took a few days to relax in Miami after the wedding and have planned a trip to Belize, where the bride’s family is from, later this year.
Reflecting on their years apart, Payne ended with this thought: “Single life is fun, but you can’t do it for very long. To know you have a person that cares about you is such a good feeling.”
The Evanston RoundTable is pleased to present They Do, a glimpse into the love stories and commitment celebrations of local readers and their relatives. Please contact us if you have a wedding announcement you’d like to share, and include your name, the name of your partner and an email address. We’ll be in touch to spread the love.
Congrats to two awesome people! Much happiness to you both!
Thanks so much Barry! See you at the next reunion 😄