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Rachael Kelleher & Johnny Serrano - celebrating marriage in an unusual time

They unearthed a shared devotion to family and appreciation of movies and music festivals.

Rachael Kelleher and Johnny Serrano
Rachael Kelleher and Johnny SerranoRead moreMeghan Burke Photography

Rachael Kelleher & Johnny Serrano

July 19, 2020, in Newtown Square

Johnny picked up a box of bagels for the customers at his family’s salon first thing every Thursday and Saturday. Even through his I-hate-mornings fog, he enjoyed chatting with Rachael, who, somehow, always waited on him.

Here’s how: It was a conspiracy.  Rachael had told her Panera Bread coworkers that Johnny had the best smile and she had a big crush, so throughout fall and early winter 2011, they made sure no one but Rachael rang him up. Then, the bakery ladies began drawing hearts on Johnny’s bagel boxes. “I was way too shy to do something like that on my own,” said Rachael, but she didn’t stop the message-laden artwork, and she smiled at Johnny as she handed them to him.

Johnny noticed those hearts, and so did all the other Moxie Blue Salon stylists, whom he calls his sisters. Just as sisters would, they began taking trips across the street to check out the woman who gave Johnny these heart-covered boxes.

In January 2012, after much urging from his salon sisters, Johnny gave himself a pep talk: “You’re going in there and you’re going to ask her out!”

At the register with Rachael, he tried to be cool: “Maybe we could go out sometime? Could I have your number?”

“Of course,” Rachael said, handing him a piece of cash register tape with her number on it.

When he left, she and her coworkers celebrated. “I was on top of the world!” Rachael said.

She and Johnny met for drinks a few days later.

Rachael told him she was born in Rhode Island, but grew up in Medford, N.J.  She had recently graduated with a degree in English and a Spanish minor, and was looking for work related to her degree while working the early shift at the bakery.

Johnny was born in California, but his family moved to Marlton when he was 8, and then to Old City when he was 17.  He loves his work as a stylist.

They unearthed a shared devotion to family and appreciation of movies and music festivals.

They laughed a lot that night, and by the end of it, Date Two was set. By February, they were exclusive. That November, Johnny moved in with Rachael and her sister, Caitlin. In 2016, the couple moved in with Johnny’s parents – Maria and Danny -- for two years to save, and in 2018, bought their South Philadelphia home.

Johnny loves that “she’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s quick to call me on my bulls-. She makes sure I stay on the straight and narrow.” An example: Johnny used to collect parking tickets, and sometimes forgot about them. He  gets home from work late and parks “anywhere and everywhere.”  Rachael wakes him, pre-PPA,  to ask where he’s parked and if he needs to move his car.

Also, she’s fun to dance with and shares his love of dogs, especially their dog, Romeo, a rescued mini-pincer mix.

“I love how he’s just so easy to talk to, that he immediately made me feel comfortable, and that he made me feel safe,” Rachael said. “I love how he will do anything for people he loves – his coworker sisters, and my sister, too. He has a great relationship with his parents.”

Their families soon embraced each other, Johnny said. “Everything felt very meant to be.”

How does forever sound?

Johnny and Rachael traveled to Italy in May 2019 for Rachael’s brother James’ wedding.

On the last night of the trip, they were at a bar with her brother Dan and her sister and their significant others. Johnny whispered to Dan – the only one in the know --  “What do you think if I propose right now?”  He could do better than a bar, Dan said.  They cooked up a plan.

“Why don’t we get one last picture together?” Dan suggested, and they headed for the beach.

“Look at the castle! Look how pretty it is!” said Johnny, now 32, to Rachael, now 31.  It was after 1 a.m. She was tired and getting annoyed – why was this picture so important? She turned to look to humor him, then turned back to find cell phones pointed at her, and Johnny kneeling on the sand offering a ring.

“Of course!” said Rachael, suddenly awake and joyful.

They woke up her parents – Jim and Rosemary -- with the news, then called Johnny’s parents back home in Philly and his family in California.

“I don’t even think we got to bed at all that night,” Rachael said.

The third plan’s the charm

Rachael and Johnny’s wedding was set for April 11 at the Union Trust. Then came March 2020 and COVID-19. When Johnny’s salon shut down and Rachael, now a technical writer for Broadridge Financial Solutions, had to start working from home, they knew the wedding couldn’t happen.

Plan B called for a July 19 wedding at the same location. “We thought there was no way things could still be this bad in July,” Rachael remembered. Change the date cards went out, but then on June 29, Finley Catering called to say the Green Phase was postponed in Philadelphia, and they needed to choose a third date or a new venue.

Not wanting to wait, the couple and their parents called guests to tell them the final plan and also let them know that, while COVID safety procedures would be in place, the couple would absolutely understand if they didn’t feel comfortable attending.

Unusual, yet lovely

About half of their guests, plus a pregnant bridesmaid and a groomsman with a newborn, stayed home.

The 80 guests who came to the big tent on the grounds of the Ballroom at Ellis Preserve received hand sanitizer in their welcome bags and masks as wedding favors.  Everyone sat in household or COVID-bubble groups, and each group was more than six feet apart.

Rachael walked down the aisle to “Ave Maria,” performed by Mariachi Pedro.

The couple wed with a self-uniting license and Rachael’s brother James performed a personalized ceremony. The first reading came from Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” the second from Pablo Neruda’s Soneto XVII.

The mariachi band – a nod to Johnny’s Mexican heritage – also played during cocktail hour. Drinks and appetizers were butlered by mask-wearing staff while there were sanitizer stations a-plenty.  On the advice of the caterer, the couple switched dinner from a choice of meat or fish to a duet of both, reducing the guests' need to talk to staff.

The DJ played “Real Love” by Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne and Rachael and Johnny put their pre-pandemic dance classes to use with a hustle-like performance that included a lift.

Johnny was happy to be married to Rachael, and so proud of her for all the planning and re-planning.  He was also filled with gratitude that they were sharing the day with his mother. Just after Thanksgiving 2019, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment ended in mid-March, and it was not certain she would feel well enough to go to their originally planned April wedding.  She felt great by July, but two weeks prior to the wedding, fell and broke a knee and foot, so again, Johnny had been unsure if she could be there. 

He and his father carefully picked up Maria from her wheelchair and they swayed for a few beats, then Maria was seated while her mom, also named Maria, danced with her grandson to Vicente Fernandez’s “El Rey.” That is, until Aunt Lilia cut in.

“Everyone was so happy just to be out at an event after [staying home] and not seeing people,” Rachael said.

It felt completely safe, but Rachael still breathed a little easier when no guest was sick after the two-week mark.

Johnny has been back at work since late June, wearing a mask, goggles, and gloves.  Reduced capacity combined with a cut-and-color backlog means too much work to take much time off, but the couple spent three nights in Cape May.

They dream of a trip to Spain in a post-COVID world.