Madeline Sasso and Joseph Dell’Aquila
May 4, 2019, in Philadelphia
Maddy stepped back from the blackjack table and took in the room, happy to be in a crowd of young professionals enjoying a casino-theme event raising money to fight the type of cancer her dad has.
She unintentionally locked eyes with two men standing to her left in the Intrepid Museum, a former aircraft carrier docked on the Hudson River. Saying hello seemed the least awkward thing to do that night in February 2017.
Joe was pretty psyched that the woman he had noticed, the one with the beautiful smile, was walking toward him. Maddy introduced herself to him and his friend David, but it was soon clear that Joe and Maddy were hitting it off. David excused himself and Joe and Maddy continued getting to know each other.
“She asked such thoughtful questions, and she shared thoughtful details about herself,” Joe said.
Maddy is from Gwynedd Valley, Montgomery County. She moved to New York in 2011 after earning a degree in fashion from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. At first, she worked for a designer. Then, in April 2016, she launched her own beachy brand for teenage girls, Pinkly Perfect.
Joe, who grew up in State College, Pa., had lived in New York for three years before Maddy’s arrival. He taught sixth- and seventh-grade special-education classes in the South Bronx through Teach for America, then left in 2010 for law school at Villanova. He returned to New York for a job at Goldman Sachs.
Maddy liked that Joe not only asked about her, but when her friends joined them, asked them questions, too. “He was just such a nice guy,” she said. “And when he told me that he was also from Pennsylvania, I was so excited.”
A photographer, assuming the just-mets were together, asked whether Joe and Maddy would like their picture taken. Maddy took that as a very good sign.
When Joe asked Maddy for her number, she typed her first and last name into his phone. It was her way of telling him she was interested in him, and he could go right ahead and look her up on all the online platforms. Joe knew exactly what it meant. And he smiled.
“I can’t wait to get to know you better,” he texted her on his cab ride home. Joe sent a screenshot of their ensuing conversation to David with the comment: “Ima marry this girl.”
Then, for himself, Joe typed out every detail she had told him about herself so he wouldn’t forget a thing.
Their first date began at 8:45 p.m. at a fancy tapas spot where they didn’t eat anything they ordered. They closed the restaurant, then a dive bar, parting at 3 a.m.
Joe’s birthday was just a few weeks after they started dating. He told Maddy she didn’t need to do a thing, but she brought him a book about cabins, which he loves. “It was the first time in I don’t know how long that someone brought me a gift.”
“His heart is the biggest heart ever,” Maddy said. “I feel so lucky that he chose me to be the one that he loves.” Also, he embraces her dreams. For their third date, he planned a beach day trip to scout out stores that might carry Pinkly Perfect designs.
Maddy joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society young professionals committee. Four months after they started dating, she and Joe committed to raise money for blood cancer research together.
Even though it was Martin Luther King Day, Joe, who is now 34, told Maddy, now 30, he had to go to the office. He didn’t mention the call would take 30 only minutes. Afterward, he headed to her Manhattan apartment. While Maddy was in Brooklyn taking Plott hound Louie to the vet, he decorated with palm trees and pineapples and a sign for the door: Avalon, N.J.
Maddy and Louie walked in and Maddy almost immediately started to cry. “It was almost like going to a little kids’ beach-themed birthday party, in the best way. It was just so genuine and perfect.”
Joe knelt, then he started to cry. “I had a whole lot of things that I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get anything to come out of my mouth,” he remembered. He managed, “Will you marry me?” and held out a plastic coconut with an open ring box inside. Once Maddy got a good look, he placed the ring on her finger. They hugged. Louie barked.
The couple bought champagne at the corner liquor store, and between celebratory sips called her parents, John and Mori; his mom, Michele; his dad, Angelo; and other family and friends.
Soon they launched their LLS fund-raising sprint. Louie used his puppy dog eyes to persuade people to donate $5 to earn him a treat. The couple organized a date auction. “We met at an LLS event, and now you can, too,” was their social-media pitch.
They raised $83,000.
Maddy’s dad continues to do well, thanks to a series of recently discovered treatments.
In October 2018, they returned to Pennsylvania. Joe took a job with Dechert, where he practices finance and real estate law. Maddy works part-time for Bombfell, a men’s fashion subscription service, and continues to run Pinkly Perfect. They live in Penn Valley.
The couple wed in a Catholic ceremony with full Mass at St. John the Evangelist in Philadelphia. Her girlfriends did the readings. His friends served as ushers. The May 4 date was a nod to Joe’s Star Wars geekery, as were his Star Wars socks and cuff links.
After the ceremony, their 190 guests waited outside the church doors. When the newlyweds appeared, they cheered.
A 1930s Rolls-Royce whisked the couple to their Union League reception. In homage to Joe’s undergrad alma mater, they entered to the song the Nittany Lions football team enters the stadium to, as guests waved white pom-poms.
Louie stayed home, but his portrait was displayed on the bar, where guests could try Louie’s Mint Drool-Up.
The Eddie Bruce Experience kept the dance floor full all night. “It was like a dance party the whole time,” Joe said. “Plus, the service was fantastic and the food was great. I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have the wedding that I’m having.’”
At the end of the night, guests were treated to coffee and “madeline” cookies — a Maddy and Joe to go.
From the altar, Joe looked out and saw everyone they love most. “Our whole life was out there in that church with me while I was waiting for Maddy,” he said. “And then everyone was turning to look at Maddy, and Maddy was looking at me, walking toward me with her father, who was able to walk her down the aisle,” he said. “From the time I saw her, I didn’t stop smiling.”
Walking into their reception with her hand in Joe’s and an eruption of cheers and flashing white pom-poms all around them is an experience Maddy won’t ever forget. “I felt so much love and excitement, and I had never had that feeling before where everyone else was just as excited as I was and was showing that to me.”
Best bargain: The white pom-poms they bought in bulk — they have enough left for a lifetime of Penn State games.
The splurge: Videography by Rob Adams, whose work the couple has been obsessed with since they got engaged.
A couple of days in the actual Avalon, to be followed by two weeks in the Alpine sections of Italy, France, and Switzerland this summer.
Officiant: The Rev. Stephen Paolino, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Ambler.
Ceremony: St. John the Evangelist, Philadelphia.
Reception and food: The Union League of Philadelphia.
Music: Eddie Bruce Experience, BVT Live, Philadelphia.
Photography: Adrienne Matz Photography, Philadelphia.
Videography: Rob Adams Films.
Flowers: Maura Rose Floral Design & Events, Philadelphia.
Dress: Liz Martinez, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Makeup: Makeup by Emily Dimant.
Hair: Ariel Katrina Hair.
Groom’s attire: Hassis Men’s Shop, Newtown Square.
Planner: Erin Proud, Proud to Plan, Philadelphia.