Seven years ago in August, Sue was at home in Phoenixville, clicking through Match.com bachelors. One was handsome, with an exceptionally witty profile. He was also a decade younger - not who she usually went for - but Match has this flirty little wink thing that requires no words and seemed fun and harmless.
"What the heck," Sue thought.
On the other end of the Internet, Mark, who lived in Malvern, looked up the profile of the winking woman. It was well-written and funny, and her picture was beautiful.
Mark wrote Sue a message thanking her for the wink and started a long electronic conversation. Sue, who is now 44, and Mark, now 33, learned more of each other's biography: Mark owns Aegis Recovery Group. He buys fixer-upper houses, and remodels and sells them. He also once held the world record for building the world's largest Lite-Brite. Mark learned about Sue's work as a business development manager for Salesforce.com, and how very smart she is.
A month later, they met in person at Iron Hill Brewery near Sue's house. "I thought if things went poorly, it would be a quick ride home for me," Sue said, since good online banter does not guarantee real-life simpatico.
Mark smiled when Sue walked in wearing an Andre the Giant T-shirt, recognizing the man from watching pro wrestling in his youth. "In a word, I would say that she was cool."
Sue was the first woman from the Web that Mark met in real life. It was a bit jarring to go from words and pixels to a living, breathing human being. But within minutes, the two were having fun in person.
Afterward, each went home and logged on to discuss their date online.
The couple is a little obsessed with trivia. Sue has been on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. But more regularly, the team of two has taken on larger groups at a local Quizzo night. One time, Mark was the answer to a question - for his big Lite-Brite.
Sue admits she thought devoting time and energy to building such a thing was unusual, until she saw it. "It was amazing and fantastic. It was da Vinci's Last Supper."
"I'm a weird guy," Mark said. "It's part of my charm."
Sue said she knew she had found "The One" a year after they met, on a mule ride into the Grand Canyon. The mule seemed wider than the trail sometimes, and she found the experience exhilarating. Whenever she turned to look at Mark on the mule behind hers, he smiled brightly. Only after did he confess he was scared out of his wits, but held it together so as not to ruin Sue's good time. "You want that guy who puts you first," she said.
How does forever sound?
Early in their relationship, when Mark and Sue were sharing childhood stories, Sue told of the crush she had on twin boys who lived around the corner from her. She was about 7, and they were 13. Her friend told the boys about Sue's crush. On her birthday, they brought her a gift. Little Sue was ecstatic! But unwrapping revealed a brick. Sue was so humiliated she crawled into her toy box. Her older brother Larry chased the boys away.
Just after midnight on Christmas Day 2012, Mark suggested Sue open one gift, and handed her a heavy, wrapped rectangle. Sue knew immediately it was a brick. She thought that, this time, her man's humor was way off.
"I don't even want to open this," she said.
"Open it!" Mark urged.
A hole had been Dremeled into the brick, and that hole held an engagement ring.
"You don't ever have to be sad to get a brick as a present again,"
Mark said. "Will you marry me?"
It was so them
The couple, who live in Phoenixville, displayed that brick among the wedding decorations at Greystone Hall.
In honor of their meeting through messages, they chose a books-and-letters theme. Sue and Mark wrote each other letters. Mark's parents, John and Janet, also wrote him, and Sue's mom, Anne, wrote to her. During the ceremony, the writers put their missives in a wooden box, and Mark and Sue each locked a padlock. They'll open it together and read the letters for the first time on their fifth anniversary.
Mark and Sue were married by Sue's brother Larry.
The wedding programs included a remembrance of Mark's sister, Jennifer, who passed away in 2005, and Sue's father, Francis, who died a decade ago.
At the reception for 110, in place of the father-daughter dance, the bride danced with Mark's father and brother, her brother, and her sisters' husbands, all to one of her father's favorite songs, Frank Sinatra's version of "The Way You Look Tonight."
The couple entered the reception in safari gear, complete with binoculars and stuffed monkeys, to Toto's "Africa." It was a nod to their honeymoon: gorilla-trekking in Rwanda; a safari in Tanzania; a tour of the Serengeti; and some beach time on an island off the coast of Zanzibar.
The DJ played Pharrell Williams' "Happy," and everyone began to conga. Mark grabbed a Smokey-the-Bear hat from the photo-booth props, and it was passed down the conga line. The spontaneous fun of that dance made it one of Sue's favorite parts of the wedding.
The kiss after the couple's vows is something the bride will never forget. A moment later, they walked back up the aisle and all the guests cheered. Mark thought, "Wow, we're now really husband and wife."
The bargain: Mark says the couple "subcontracted a lot of DIY" to Etsy artists, including the handmade letter box. The downside: The couple nearly had to use a substitute box when they hadn't received it by the afternoon of their wedding. They are forever grateful to the kind woman at the Phoenixville post office, who stayed a half-hour after closing time to go through the last shipment of mail.
The splurge: The vintage Rolls-Royce that ferried the bride to the wedding and the newlyweds to their hotel, and the hiring of artist Denise Fike, who drew fashion sketches for the guests.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Laurence Gausch, brother of the bride, who was ordained online for the occasion
Venue: Greystone Hall, West Chester
Catering: Sage Catering, Berwyn
Photography: John Shetron, West Chester
Dress: Nordstrom, King of Prussia
Music: Philadelphia String Quartet, ceremony, cocktail and dinner hour; DJ Bucky Scott of Scott Entertainment, Valley Forge.
Planner: Two Little Birds Planning, Haddonfield
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