Rolanda Irvin and Anthony Ellis
December 6, 2018, in Valley Forge
Drawn to his beaming smile on BlackPeopleMeet.com, Rolanda sent an electronic hello to “Teddy Bear.”
Anthony replied with his real name, and in a flurry of emails, they bonded over single parenting of daughters, devotion to family, and hospital careers — she’s a registered nurse at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and he’s a materials management clerk at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, N.J.
In a week, she sent him her phone number.
“Our first conversation was three hours long,” said Rolanda, who lived in Southwest Philadelphia.
“Everything about her just drew me to her,” said Anthony, who lived in Belleville.
Talking was so easy and joyful that they did so nearly every night, becoming key confidants. Because they hadn’t yet met in person, Rolanda tried to keep an open mind to more local romantic opportunities. “People here were interested in talking to me, and I would talk to them,” she said. “But I realized I didn’t even really like them. I liked Anthony.”
She was ready to meet, but Anthony, who had said in his profile that he was looking for a friend, asked to take things slowly. He had been hurt when potential romances grew quickly then fizzled. “I knew Rolanda was special, and I really wanted it to work,” he said. “So I wanted her to be sure before we got together.”
In March 2009 — about three months after their first phone call — Anthony, who is now 51, finally drove two hours south to meet Rolanda, now 45, at Ruby Tuesday near the airport.
Just for fun, the two exchanged first-date gifts, with a $5 cap. He gave her a waterproof tote with New York City on it — the perfect size for carrying educational materials for her nursing staff. She made him a puzzle card with a craft store kit. He put it together at their table to read her handwritten note about how glad she was that he responded to her online message.
The good feelings were even stronger in person.
“We laughed. We joked. We were attracted to each other physically and mentally,” Anthony said.
Rolanda knew Anthony had once been a wedding singer but was unprepared for the feeling when he looked into her eyes and broke out his Barry White. “I was all smitten,” she said.
On their second date, Anthony brought a Bratz doll for Rolanda’s then-5-year-old daughter, Madison, now 14.
They saw each other at least weekly. He’d make dinner for her at his place one weeknight, then, every other weekend when her daughter was with her Aunt Linda, Anthony would drive to Philadelphia.
That fall, Anthony brought his daughter Tamia, now 21, then 11, to meet his girlfriend and her daughter.
Anthony and Rolanda fell in love with each other’s actions. “She didn’t just tell me she loved me, she showed me with everything she did,” he said. He gives this example: “I was real sick with the flu one time and I called her and told her about it, and before I knew it, she was at my house making me soup.”
The kindness goes both ways, Rolanda said. When the couple first met, she was caring for her father, Raymond, who was then bedridden with Alzheimer’s. “Anthony would sit with my dad so that I could run errands and do things — it was such a big burden off of me!” she said. “The week before my father passed, he needed a haircut and the barber couldn’t come. So Anthony bought clippers just for my dad and gave him a really nice haircut.”
Rolanda first spoke to Anthony’s grown daughter, Tashia, now 32, by phone, but met her in person the following year when she was visiting from Orlando.
In March 2012, the couple welcomed a new family member: Their son Anthony, now 7, whom they nicknamed “the Turnpike Baby.”
The family continues to grow: Tamia’s son Timothy is 4, and Tashia’s son Messiah is 2.
In March 2017, the couple took a trip to Atlantic City. Anthony was so fidgety as they checked into the Chelsea that Rolanda suspected something was up. They were in their room no more than 10 minutes when he said he had a gift for her.
“Do I have to get on one knee? Because my knee hurts,” he said. “No, honey, it’s fine! Go ahead!” encouraged Rolanda. Anthony sat on the edge of the bed with Rolanda in a chair next to him. “I love you,” he said. “And I just want to know if you will do me the honor of being my wife?”
Rolanda cried and said yes.
With two households and two careers two hours apart, plus Rolanda’s online classes for an MSN in leadership and organizational management from Walden University, the two never got around to planning the wedding. And then in January 2018, Anthony’s mother, Mildred, died unexpectedly.
“It just showed us how short life is, and how unexpected things can happen,” Rolanda said. “A wedding was something we wanted to do, and that she always wanted us to do, and this was confirmation that we needed to get it done.”
It was so them
The couple were married and celebrated at Valley Forge Casino Resort.
Officiant Susan Harte of Journeys of the Heart gave them questions about themselves and each other as homework and wove the details of their love story into the ceremony. The couple stood beneath a white arch with their 25 guests seated around them in a half-circle as they said the vows they had written for each other.
Young Anthony was his parents’ ring bearer. Madison was flower girl. Tashia and Tamia couldn’t get time off from work for the Thursday wedding but watched the ceremony via FaceTime.
The reception was perfect, Anthony said. It felt like a big family dinner.
Anthony got a phone call on his way to the wedding and was erroneously told that his brother Julius, who was having a relatively minor procedure, had died. It turned out a hospital visitor had made a mistake, but Anthony arrived for pre-ceremony pictures in a state of grief.
“Baby, what’s wrong?” Rolanda asked when she hugged him. He told her the bad news. Rolanda the nurse suspected the information he received was incorrect. “Put your happy face on,” she told him. “No one from the hospital called you, and you’re next of kin. Don’t tell anyone yet. Let’s get through the ceremony, and then I will call the hospital and find out what’s going on.”
Anthony felt so much love, support, and strength from Rolanda. With her, he could get through anything. “I was so happy to say, ‘I do,’ ” he said. “I knew I was marrying the right woman.”
Rolanda was nervous as she waited to walk down the aisle. “You got this,” her nephew Kendall, who escorted, told her. And then the doors opened and she heard Anthony serenading her with Larry Graham’s “Just Be My Lady.” From the center of the aisle, where he waited for her, he sang:
Just be my lady
this love I have was meant for you
“It was just serenity,” she said. “I was marrying my best friend.”
Rolanda couldn’t get through to the nurses’ station, but then Anthony’s phone rang, and it was Julius himself. "Congratulations!” he said, still groggy from anesthesia.
The budget crunch
A bargain: The Valley Forge Casino’s package included a cake, a coordinator, photography, and flowers all in one price, and the venue hooked the couple up with other vendors, including their officiant. It saved considerable money and considerable time, the couple said.
The splurge: After several frustrating trips to bridal salons, Rolanda went to designer Karon Woodland of KW Couture, who asked her what she wanted to feel like on her wedding day. She created a one-of-a-kind dress, then showed Rolanda how to wear it down the aisle, and even where to hold the bouquet.
Three days in Alexandria, Va., and Washington, where the couple toured the Smithsonian’s Air and Space and African American Museums and the bride — she’s sorry, Anthony! — did homework.
Behind the scenes
Officiant: Susan Harte, Journeys of the Heart, Jenkintown.
Venue and food: Valley Forge Casino Resort, Valley Forge.
Flowers: Colonial Gardens, Phoenixville.
Photographer: Joey St. John, Philadelphia.
Dress: Karon Woodland, KW Couture.
Bride’s hair and makeup: Tammy Toliver, Fashion Facez Artistry, Philadelphia.
Groom’s attire: Men’s Wearhouse.
Groom’s hair: Jamal Graves, master barber, Belle’s Barber Shop.
Planner: Angelique Reyes, Valley Forge Casino.