Joe missed passing junior-year geometry by a single point. He had enough credits to graduate from Kingsway Regional High School without that class, but that wasn't good enough for his parents. And so in 2005, his senior year, Joe took a seat in the same class a second time. And Amanda took the seat in front of him.
Joe took his role as class clown quite seriously, and was determined to get some sort of reaction from super-studious Amanda. Forget a laugh. He couldn't get more than the simplest of answers to his admittedly lame questions: "It sure is hot in here, isn't it?"
"He had these lines. But I didn't give him much time," Amanda said.
Then one time when Amanda was at home, an instant message from Joe popped up on her screen. "What are you reading?" he asked, in reference to her status message that said that's what she was doing. "Homework," she typed. Since she wasn't trying to absorb geometry, she felt more inclined to chat.
They talked about her dream of working in medicine, and his of working with his hands - he was already doing masonry work.
"He was just so nice. A really sweet guy, and he seems to care about me a lot," Amanda said. She told her friend Erica that she thought Joe liked her. Erica asked Joe, and reported back that it was true.
"I thought she was pretty and fun," Joe said.
He invited her to hang out for the first time on Valentine's Day. A wrestler, Joe was cutting weight and didn't want to eat out. So Amanda came to his parents' house in South Harrison and they watched a movie.
Two days later, in front of her locker, Joe asked Amanda to be his girlfriend.
After high school, Joe earned an associate's degree in construction technology at Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Media. He completed a four-year apprenticeship in September 2013 and is now a journeyman carpenter with Local 255.
Amanda, who spent part of her childhood in Drexel Hill before moving to Swedesboro, earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Temple and became a certified nursing assistant at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden. She then attended Our Lady of Lourdes' School of Nursing, passed her boards in January, and recently accepted a position with PowerBack Rehabilitation by Genesis HealthCare in Moorestown.
Both found their studies difficult and stressful. Weekends together were the best fix. "We were each other's safety net," she said. "We grew up together, we grew together. And we leaned on each other."
On Christmas Eve 2011, Amanda attended Mass with Joe and his family. "We came up with a little lie," he said. "My mom said she forgot to turn the food on, and she needed somebody to go home early and do it."
They left church and switched on the Crockpot that Joanne had intentionally left off. "I told [Amanda] I wanted her to open one present early," said Joe.
Each year, Amanda, who is now 25, had given Joe a Christmas ornament. This time, Joe, now 26, had one for her. From the ceramic heart dangled a charm that said "Our Engagement" on the front and had that very day's date inscribed on the back.
As the full significance of that charm struck her, Joe got down on one knee.
Soon after, they were joined by Joanne and Joe Sr., Amanda's parents Tina and Ed, and other family and friends for a big party arranged by Joe.
In April 2013, the couple bought their home in Gibbstown, Gloucester County. From the purchase until just before their January wedding, Joe put his carpentry skills to use. "I pretty much gutted it and redid every room in the house," he said.
Joe's aunt Sandi sang throughout the wedding Mass, which was held at the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit in Mullica Hill.
The reception for 200 at the Merion in Cinnaminson featured a Winter Wonderland theme. "Everywhere I could put a snowflake, I had a snowflake," Amanda said.
Each numbered guest table featured pictures of the couple at the corresponding age.
After dinner, the DJ had an announcement: "Amanda's ex-boyfriend is here and wants to give the bride a gift."
Joe's friends began yelling that the groom should kick his predecessor's posterior.
Amanda was confused. She'd been with Joe since junior year. What ex-boyfriend?
"Centerfield" began to play, and the Philly Phanatic burst in. He grabbed the bride for a dance, and everyone cheered.
Despite all the planning, the wedding didn't seem quite real to Joe until he saw Amanda take her first steps down the aisle. "We're really about to do this," he thought to himself. And then, "She looks really pretty.'
Father John Picinic was one of Amanda's favorite priests growing up, and she loved the Mass he said that day. She'll never forget the amazing way it felt to kiss Joe after Father John pronounced them husband and wife.
A bargain: A1 Entertainment. For the money other companies wanted for the photo booth alone, A1 provided a DJ and photo booth, and then owner Corrado Ruscica surprised the couple with free uplighting.
The splurge: Savannah's Garden of Elmer, N.J., came up with a design at Amanda's first price point. But Amanda kept asking for more. "I quadrupled the flower budget," she said.
Ten days in St. Lucia.