Weddings | Bill and Denise

Photo: Stephanie Yonce

Photo: Stephanie Yonce

Denise was tired of the online dating game, so tired that when Bill messaged her she almost missed the connection that would change her life.

“I was meeting nice guys online,” she says. “But it just wasn’t clicking. It would be a struggle to make conversation, and then they would ask me out on a second date. I was like, I didn’t even have fun on the first date!” The bubbly, dark-haired music teacher, a recent graduate from Shenandoah University, was bored and frustrated. She decided to take a break from the online dating service she had been using for several months.

As Denise opened her account to suspend it, she saw a note. “It was from this guy named Bill,” she said. “His picture was cute, but I was so done. I didn’t even open the message.”

Six weeks later, Denise decided to give the online dating world another try, and reactivated her account. The note from Bill was still in her inbox, and when she opened it she realized what she had nearly missed.

“We had so much in common,” she says. He played guitar and she studied music. He was from Chicago and she was from just outside New York City. They had similar family values. He had a great sense of humor. Plus, he was awfully cute. Denise messaged him but she wasn’t holding her breath. “It was six weeks later,” she laughs. “I figured he was already married by then.”

He wasn’t. Their first date, a fall tour of a haunted insane asylum in Staunton, lasted 11 hours. That was in 2013. He lived in Richmond and she lived in Winchester, but that three-hour commute didn’t hold them back.

After about nine months of commuting on weekends, Denise started applying for jobs in Richmond, where Bill works for an international trade company. Denise moved to Chesterfield in 2014 after finding work teaching music. And things only got better.

This past February, Bill and Denise headed for Maymont one Saturday. “Maymont is really kind of ‘our’ place,” she says. They visit frequently and always stop to take a picture on the bridge at the Japanese Gardens. On this visit they ran into one of Denise’s friends and asked her to take the shot. As the friend snapped the picture, Bill dropped to one knee and asked the question that Denise wasn’t expecting, but had long known the answer to.

USV engagement

And then he showed her one of the pictures that had captured the moment – in her excitement she hadn’t even noticed that both of their families, wide grins on their faces, had stepped out from behind the trees for the snapshot. Bill had even timed the event so Denise’s brother could be there from his job as a logistics specialist in Vietnam. They set the wedding date for the fall of 2017.

For their wedding celebration, Denise and Bill want to showcase the Southern lifestyle that they have both embraced. “My life growing up in New Jersey was very fast-paced and rushed,” Denise says. “I go back and it’s so hectic, I almost get anxiety.”

Virginia is home now, and Bill and Denise are eager to share its charm with their families and guests. They chose Upper Shirley Vineyards for its beauty and its storied past. As a history buff, Bill was captivated by exchanging vows on the grounds of legendary Upper Shirley.

Upper Shirley was built by Hill Carter in 1868 for his son, William. Carter constructed the house from materials salvaged at his home next door at Shirley, which is now the oldest family-owned business in the country, and the oldest active plantation in Virginia. The residence at Upper Shirley, where owners Tayloe and Suzy Dameron live, was added to the National Register in 1969.

“We’re having a modern chic Southern wedding,” Denise says. The groomsmen will sport cotton boll boutonnieres and the bride wants cotton in her bouquet. A fiddle player and a bar on the front verandah will welcome guests with traditional music and drinks.

“We met here in Virginia and we love it,” Denise says. “Down here it’s so friendly, there’s never any rush.” The transplanted Northerners, who recently adopted a rescue racing greyhound, look forward to launching their gracious new life together in the new South. And we look forward to sending them off in style.