Hi, y’all! March’s Southern Bride of the Month is Ali, and she’ll actually be a familiar face to many of you! We featured her and her fiancé Eric’s Gator engagement session awhile back, and you can see all the photos here! I’m so happy to have had the chance to learn more about this athletic duo and their wedding — enjoy this month’s interview!
Hi! What’s your name?
What’s your fiancé’s name?
What do y’all do for a living?
Eric is a professional football player and I am a sports writer/reporter.
Anna Kirby via Southern Weddings
How did the two of you meet? Tell us your story.
Eric and I met the summer after our freshman year at the University of Florida. We were introduced by our mutual friends and bonded over our shared love of Florida Gator sports (and all sports, for that matter!). By that fall we were dating. Over the next three seasons, I became Eric’s biggest cheerleader. (Other than his Momma, of course!)
I knew I had found the perfect guy for me after Eric’s Valentine’s Day surprise in 2006. He told me to dress warm and be ready at my house at 7pm. He picked me up, blindfolded me, and drove me to his secret location. He carefully guided me through what seemed like a maze of steps and hallways. When we reached our destination, Eric removed the blindfold. We were standing on the 50-yard line at Florida Field! Laid out in front of us was a picnic blanket, candles, champagne, steak and lobster. Anyone that knows me knows this is basically my vision of heaven on earth! Eric has spent the last few years attempting to top that moment…so far, it hasn’t happened – ha!
Two of Ali’s bouquet inspirations! (Photos: Katie Lewis via Style Me Pretty and Haley Sheffield via Southern Weddings)
Now tell us alllll about the proposal.
I feel like this story wouldn’t be complete without first sharing with everyone how Eric asked my Daddy permission to marry me. I also need to tell you that Eric (and my Dad, for that matter) never miss an opportunity to win… at anything.
On Christmas Day, Eric and my Dad slipped out to walk three holes on the golf course behind my parents’ house. Eric and my dad have a great relationship. They also compete in everything. Whether it’s golf, beer pong, Wii or anything where score can be kept, they compete. So, of course, this day was no different. They had decided to have a “best of three” competition. Eric won the first hole and my dad won the second. The usual trash talk took place on the walk to the third hole. As my Dad lined up in the tee box, he told Eric “There is nothing you can say to break my concentration.” As he went to swing his club, Eric asked, “Can I marry your daughter?” My Dad turned to Eric laughing and said “touché”. My Daddy went on to win the third hole and he gave Eric permission to marry me.
On May 20th, 2011, Eric and I were packing up the car to head to Tampa to watch my little brother James play. We were running late (as usual!) and I was in a hurry to get on the road. Eric told me he forgot something, and ran back in the house. After five minutes passed, I went inside to see what could possibly be taking so long. I found Eric holding our new baby kitten, Mason. “Don’t you want to say goodbye to the kitty?” he asked me. I said “yes” and began kissing on the kitten. It took a full minute or so before I even realized that Eric had placed his great-grandmother’s ring on the kitten’s collar. As soon as I saw it, my eyes welled with tears and Eric dropped to one knee. He popped the question and I said, “YES!”
Let’s see the ring!
My engagement ring is a beautiful 15-carat aquamarine that belonged to Eric’s great grandmother. I had gushed over the ring years earlier, and Eric and his mom remembered. I feel so blessed and honored to have such an amazing piece of family history resting on my finger. When we say “I DO,” it will be with his great grandmother’s wedding band. Eric will be wearing his Daddy’s wedding band. It is inscribed on the inside with his parents wedding date and ours.
When’s the big day?
Our big day is April 21st, 2012.
Where might you two be tying the knot?
Eric and I are tying the knot at the gorgeous St. Leo Abbey, the heart of St. Leo University. The Abbey was built in 1881 and is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. After our vows, we will be heading over to the Lange Farm just a couple miles away to continue the celebration. It is acres and acres of rolling hills and moss-covered oak trees and a fully operational horse farm.
Photo of St. Leo Abbey by Stephen Dohring
I had actually always dreamed of getting married at this huge Catholic Church in the center of downtown Tampa, but when I started visiting venues right around the church, everything just seemed so cookie cutter. I casually mentioned getting married on a farm to Eric, but he was not that thrilled with the idea. I even called the Lange Farm, only to find out they were booked during the time frame we wanted to wed. After a few weeks of fruitless efforts, I received a call from the Lange Farm letting me know they had a cancellation on April 21st, our dream wedding day. A quick drive over to Tampa to tour the property confirmed my feelings and completely won over Eric.
Ceremony decor ideas: baby’s breath wreath and mason jars with baby’s breath for every other pew! (Photos by Mi Amore Foto via Emmaline Bride)
Who or what has been most inspiring in the wedding planning process?
In a word, family. I want our wedding to reflect not only where Eric and I are headed in our relationship with each other, but also where we have been. We are both so lucky to be blessed with amazing families and they have made us who we are. Both of our parents have been married for more than 30 years, and all of my grandparents are nearing the 60-year mark. That’s a huge legacy to live up to.
The last few years, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how lucky I am to be a part of such a big family (the oldest of 7 children!) and at 27, to still have all four of my grandparents. A few months after we got engaged, both of my grandfathers had some health issues, and I had so much heartache over the thought that maybe I wouldn’t get to spend my big day with all four of them. This resulted in many sleepless nights and tears. In a way, I felt selfish, because all of Eric’s grandparents had passed by the time he was 10 years old.
Then, on December 16th of last year, our world changed. We had just arrived in Tampa because the next day, my aunt was throwing a joint engagement party for my sister and her fiancé and Eric and I. We hadn’t been home ten minutes before the phone rang. Eric’s father was being transported to the hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack. We immediately ran out the door to the car to drive back to Orlando and straight to the hospital. We prayed the whole way that Eric’s dad would be okay. When we were about 20 minutes from the hospital, Eric’s mom called us and asked us to pull over on the side of the road. We did and she told us that Eric’s Daddy had suffered a massive heart attack and didn’t make it. During all the time I had spent worried about my 85-year-old grandparents, it never crossed my mind that Eric’s 57-year-old dad, his best friend and hero, would not be with us. In the week after Eric’s Dad’s passing, my outlook on our wedding changed. As I watched my future husband give the eulogy at the funeral and listened to him describe the type of husband and father he was hoping to be one day, I realized the details didn’t matter. We could get married at the courthouse and I would still be happy. I’m still a stickler for the details, but I have a whole new respect for what’s really important; cherishing every moment with each other and our families.
More baby’s breath ideas: Leo Patrone via Style Me Pretty and Madalina Lesan Photography (boutonniere by Holly Chapple) via Emmaline Bride
Has your vision for your wedding changed or evolved over the course of your engagement? If so, how?
Yes. When we first started looking for venues, I pictured a formal affair in a giant ballroom. I thought about long gowns, elaborate flowers and lots of glamour. The more places I toured, the more I realized this vision was so not me!
Which part of your wedding are you most invested in?
Financially, we are the most invested in our food. Our caterer, Anthony from Stone Chef Catering, Inc. has created an amazing menu filled with delicious Southern foods. We are serving Peach Bourbon glazed chicken, prime rib, a mashed and sweet potato bar, green beans, cornbread, crab cakes, two different kinds of mac and cheese, sweet tea and lemonade. Personally, I am the most invested in the DIY projects that Eric and I have dreamed up. We bought a pair of 10 foot tall French doors that we sanded and painted white. Our seating chart is going to be printed on the windowpanes. We bought three pairs of old shutters, painted them white and then antiqued them. Then, I rolled 100 clothespins in gold glitter and will use them to pin up wedding pictures of all of our relatives. My future mother-in-law got her whole school to save old jars and we have spent the last few months covering them in burlap, lace and twine. We’ve made over 200 of them! They are going to be used for flowers and candles on all of our tables at the reception. I’ve scoured garage sales for milk glass, teacups, picture frames and lace doilies. I hope all of our guests can see our personalities and our family history in our ceremony and reception.
Mason jar DIY from Notes on a Wedding and floral hay bale photo by Kim Box Photography
Have you picked your dress yet? How’d that go? What will you be wearing on the big day?
After searching online for wedding gown options and some window browsing, I knew I wanted a Watters & Watters dress. I went on Watters website and found 6 dress shops in Florida that were supposed to have a sample size of “the dress”. As I started calling the shops, I eventually found out that only ONE actually still had the dress in the store. The one dress shop that did have the dress was Vocelle’s Bridal Shoppe…in TALLAHASSEE!! Not only was I at least partially afraid that the store would somehow sew garnet and gold thread into the dress…but Tallahassee is a 5 hour drive from Orlando! I eventually got on the phone with the stor eowner, Kristen Vocelle. I knew the name, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was the same Kristen Vocelle who was a Tri Delt with me at UF. Sure enough, it was!!!
At this point, I was beginning to think this dress might be my fate. What are the odds that one of my very own gator girls had a wedding dress shop in Seminole Country?! But, I still had to decide if I was going to make the drive all the way to Tallahassee. I was explaining my dilemma to my future mother-in-law, and she had a solution! She was driving just past Tallahassee the upcoming week to pick up her grandson from camp. She told me I could hop in the car and we’d go look at the dress. I was in!! I called my sister and MOH, Gabbie, and asked her to come along for the ride. As I expected, I LOVED “the dress.” But now I had a different problem: Kristen had introduced me to another dress that I was also in love with! I did finally decide on a winner, but y’all are going to have to wait until the big day to see which one I picked. I know my fiancé secretly reads Southern Weddings, and I wouldn’t want to give him any hints!
Family photo display idea via Style Me Pretty (photo by Chris and Adrienne Scott), burlap chair decor via Hey Gorg (photo by Hailey Erickson)
What do you love most about Southern weddings?
“We don’t become Southern. We’re born that way.” Probably my favorite quote of all time. Since I was lucky enough to be born into a family that loves God, each other and SEC football above all else, I think I’d be doing everyone an injustice if my wedding didn’t celebrate those things that we hold dear. I hope our guests leave full, tired and sweaty from dancing and oozing with happiness (and pie).
What has been the biggest challenge so far in wedding planning?
I come from a very large family. When I say large, I mean 7 children, y’all! I have 16 cousins on my Dad’s side and 12 on my Mom’s… that’s just first cousins! So, working within a budget with what turned out to be a massive guest list was definitely a challenge. I have certainly learned the meaning of “thrifty” and have surprised myself with negotiating skills I didn’t even know I had!
What do you wish you would have known at the beginning of your engagement?
A couple weeks ago, someone sent me the quote; “A wedding is a party, not a performance. If at the end of the day, you married the one you love, then everything went perfectly.” This could not be truer. As much as I want the perfect wedding, what I really want is to spend the rest of my life with Eric. So no matter how smoothly (or not smoothly!) our wedding day goes, it’s still a win in my book. In the beginning, I think I got so caught up in the wedding, that I missed the bigger picture. I’m not praying for the perfect wedding anymore, I’m praying for the (almost) perfect marriage!
Burlap banner via Hey Gorg (photo by Hailey Erickson)
What are you most looking forward to on your wedding day?
I cannot wait until those church doors open and my Daddy walks me down the aisle to my best friend. All of our family and friends being there to watch is just the icing on the cake!
Any advice you’d like to pass along to fellow brides?
Everything is negotiable. I think that sometimes brides don’t end up with what they truly want because they are either too afraid to ask or they accept the first number given by a vendor. Don’t be afraid to do a little negotiating! The worst someone can tell you is no. But, they just might help you build the wedding of your dreams at a price your Daddy likes.
Now it’s your turn to ask for advice – is there anything you’d like to poll the SW readers on?
I want to find a few subtle ways to honor my father-in-law on our wedding day. My future mother-in-law already gave me his embroidered Florida Gator game day polo and I have had “Gator Dad #10” cut out in the shape of a heart and sewn into the inside lining of my wedding dress. But, I want to find some other ways to make his presence felt. Any ideas?
Thank you so much for playing along, Ali! Readers, if you’d like to apply to be a Southern Bride of the Month, check out this post for all the details! If you’ve already emailed me, you’re still in the running for future months!
P.S. One year ago, our first Southern Bride of the Month feature was posted!
Anna Kirby and Haley Sheffield are fabulous members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!