In the spirit of this month’s romantic holiday, we asked some Queen City couples to share their love stories: How did they meet? Was there a “wow” moment or special gesture that stands out? You get the idea. Reading their love stories made us smile, even laugh out loud, in some cases. In all, there’s a common thread of mutual admiration and respect. What’s not to love about that?
by Sharon Smith
It started with a campfire conversation
Miracle & James Yoder
Miracle: It was a Friday afternoon on 4/20. I was in overalls, and James had bleach blond hair. We were both camping out on the beach at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina with siblings and friends. It was a beautiful night, and we started talking around a campfire. The conversation got deep (as it would with an Aquarius and a Gemini). I still remember him leaning up against a tree with the fire embers floating around us. We talked a lot and exchanged emails and phone numbers, and said we would keep in touch. We did. That summer I came up to Charlotte for a concert over the Fourth of July weekend, Uncle Sam’s Jam with Third Eye Blind and Billy Idol. James and I went together. Interestingly enough, it was held in the parking lot where, 10 years later, our 7th Street uptown location would be born. I don’t know that there were any particular “aha” moments, but I do know we have chosen each other over and over the past 20 years. Three kids and six-plus locations later, we are still choosing each other. That is the best way to keep love alive.
“It was love at first Samsonite.”
Page & Jake Fehling
Jake: OK, I’ll go first… In 2005, I moved to Hoboken, N.J., knowing only a few people. One of those people was Lindsay Shookus. After we connected in March of that year, Lindsay was convinced I was perfect for her roommate, Page. We were all UNC grads, so a couple of weeks later, Lindsay arranged for me and Page to meet at an alumni event in Manhattan. At the event, Page and I faintly recognized each other — I thought, “Isn’t that the girl that always wore baggy sweatsuits in J-21?”
Page: OK, my turn… and I thought, “Isn’t that the goofy kid that always puts Sun-In in his hair?” We said hello and then immediately connected over… Dumb and Dumber movie quotes. It was love at first Samsonite. About an hour into the event, my girl Lindsay walked up, surprised to see us chatting away. “I see the two of you have already met!” We looked at each other — not realizing that we were already hitting it off with the person we were being set up with.
Jake: OK, I’ll bring us home… Nine months later, we were engaged, and six months after that, on a blustery Labor Day weekend in 2006, we were married.
Page: Lloyd Christmas would have been proud.
Jake: You had to get the last word, didn’t you?
Page is a speaker and professional development facilitator. Jake is vice president of marketing at Movement Mortgage. Page and Jake also co-host the “Date Night with Jake and Page” podcast and co-authored a book, Holy Crap, We’re Pregnant.
Starting out as study partners
Drs. Joya and Drew Lyons
Joya: We met circa-2004 at an enrichment program for students who were interested in dentistry. Out of the hundreds of students that attended the program, we were somehow put into the same group of three to practice our interview skills. Other than first-name introductions and sneaking stares of admiration toward one another, nothing more came from that day.
Drew: The “wow” moment that stuck with me was that she’s the only person I can remember everything about from the first time we met. Everything from what Joya was wearing, to how her hair was that day and her overall presence. We both thought we would likely never cross paths again. To our surprise, we did meet again two years later during our first day of dental school at Meharry Medical College. We quickly recognized each other and became immediate friends, study partners — then the rest is history.
Joya and Drew own Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry.
Designing life together
Regina & Robin Reaves
Robin: Regina and I met working in a home design store when we were in college. I remember leaving my department every morning to find her and have a quick conversation before the store opened. She had a quiet confidence about her that was very attractive and made me want to learn more about her.
Regina: Robin was the “new guy” on the team, and it was pretty obvious that he liked me. We randomly ran into each other at the apartments we stayed in and played a quick pickup basketball game, one-on-one. I beat him — he won a date!
Robin: We always enjoyed spending time together and often joked about starting our own business. It’s surreal to see that we have been married for 13 years, have two amazing daughters and are owners of a thriving interior-design business. Our marriage and business relationship intertwines often. I think that’s part of the secret sauce that makes us successful. To be able to do what you love, with the person you love, is a blessing.
Regina and Robin are the owners of R&R Interior Design 365.
“My family got it wrong…”
Becky & Tony Santoro
Becky: “People first. Coffee Always” is Enderly Coffee’s motto, and for us it’s a love letter to each other, our family and community, too. In 2004 at Michigan State University we met over coffee and haven’t stopped drinking it together ever since. But not everyone agreed that we were destined to be a couple. In fact, when I first introduced Tony to my parents and sisters they sat me down afterward and said, “Great guy, but I don’t think he’s into you.” Two weeks later, over coffee of course, Tony asked me on our first official date, and in the summer of 2006 we were married. Soon after that, we moved from Michigan to the west side of Charlotte. We still reside in Enderly Park and have four children ages 10, 8, 6 and 4. We’ve been brewing up a great cup of coffee together every single day for over 15 years, so it’s safe to say that my family got it wrong on that one!
They matched on the first date
Wendy & Jay Bilas
Wendy: You could say our love tipped off on the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Jay was a Duke basketball player and I was a cheerleader. We exchanged some flirty glances freshman season, but we didn’t have our first date until March 1983 at a campus formal. I borrowed my roommate’s pink dress, and he showed up in a pink dress shirt. We knew that night we were a perfect match. Thirty-nine years later, we still are, and my heart still skips a beat every time I look at him. He was, is, and always will be my whole world, and I cannot believe I got lucky enough to call him mine.
Jay: I first saw Wendy’s picture in a magazine. She was so beautiful. When it hit me that we went to the same school, I was determined to meet her. On our first date, I was hooked. I knew I was supposed to play it cool following our date, but I couldn’t help myself. I called her the very next day, and asked her out the next night. From there, she was the one for me. I soon learned she was not only stunningly beautiful, but she was the kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful person I had ever met. Since we’ve been married, I have found her to be even more. She is fiercely loyal to and protective of family, and completely immersed in and totally aware of her environment and community. Nobody I know is more comfortable in her own skin than Wendy. She has always been the one. Now, more than ever. I’m lucky I thumbed through that magazine.
Writing their own story
Sarah Blake Morgan & Nick Ochsner
Nick: We first met working at rival TV stations in Lubbock, Texas, and hated each other. Naturally, we ended up married. The initial spark was lit while we covered the trial of a now-convicted terrorist who was a student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The trial was out of town in Amarillo, and we were the only two local reporters sent up the road to cover the entire case. That’s when we each discovered the other wasn’t half bad. A friendship turned into a relationship and, as the old saying goes, when you know, you know.
To the surprise of many, especially Sarah Blake’s mom, we got engaged just six months after we started dating; I popped the question on my birthday, while we sat on the lawn of a John Mayer concert. Reporting jobs at WBTV eventually brought us to Charlotte, where we’ve lived since 2014 with our two dogs, Murrow (adopted in Lubbock), and Zara (brought to the U.S. from an animal rescue in Afghanistan).
Chasing different dreams, together
Jen Hill & Vince Giancarlo
Jen: In 2008, Vince came to Charlotte to attend Johnson & Wales University. I moved to Charlotte in 2011 to escape corporate life in Raleigh. We first met in 2012 through mutual friends. In 2015, our paths crossed once again and our relationship began. We had each met our match when it came to passion in our careers. At that time, Vince was running prominent kitchens, and I had just begun to make strides in my art career. With our entrepreneurial energies, we were able to motivate and encourage each other to chase our dreams. We had an opportunity to spend six months in Los Angeles while each of us worked alongside our creative role models.
When we returned to Charlotte, our dreams fell into place. I started doing my art full time and Vince opened his own restaurant. Then the pandemic came. Our plans were halted, but God had a mysterious way, or maybe a sense of humor, when lining things up. We found out we were pregnant one week before the world shut down. The adversity and our pregnancy brought us closer together while I grew bigger, then Hendrix Hill Giancarlo arrived on Dec. 6, 2020, closing out the year with a bang.
Beyond the honeymoon
Kelly & Thomas Davis
Kelly: Thomas and I have been married 14 years this March. We have four kids, and we thought the honeymoon phase would last forever — boy, were we wrong! From diapers to choosing colleges and from living the crazy NFL Life to being newly retired, it became tough to find or even want time to dedicate to us. One thing that remained the same is how Thomas manages to still show me love in my love languages by the help he gives me with the kids and family. When I’ve had a long day, no matter how tired or sore he feels, he still manages to give me personal foot and back massages! These simple things show me he cares, appreciates and loves me.
Thomas: What I love about Kelly is she is so dedicated, determined, driven and loving. When I am at my worst, I know that she is still going to love me. Even when I don’t show it, I love how she is always trying to help me. Not being on the field anymore makes you need a lot of support, and Kelly loves me through that which has made our relationship even stronger.
Kelly is a licensed mediator, co-owner of Skye Salon Suites and executive director of the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation. Thomas is a retired NFL player, retired player coordinator for NFL Legends and founder of the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation.
College sweethearts doing life together
Dominique & Coty Sensabaugh
Dominique: Our love story is simple. Two stubborn kids, madly in love, determined and committed to fighting through life’s most challenging battles together. My husband Coty and I met at Clemson University in 2008. I was a freshman, and I vividly remember the day this confident and handsome guy walked up to me, flashing a beautiful smile. From the moment we met, I felt a spark, a powerful connection, and still to this day, we love each other deeply.
We have done life together for 14 years, and as college sweethearts, we grew up together. Now, we have the honor of raising three beautiful children, Jamaar (4), Journei (2) and Justice (1), to be prolific leaders and kind human beings. Throughout Coty’s career in the NFL, we have seen insurmountable highs and devastating lows, but God has allowed us to serve as a landing pad for each other throughout our journey. Now that he is retired from the league, we genuinely enjoy the simple treasures of life — spending quality time with each other and our children.
Relationships can be complicated, and even if you love someone, no union is immune from experiencing hardship. Throughout our marriage, we have encountered sadness, stress, frustration, anger and loneliness. However, within this powerful union, with my soulmate, we have come to know forgiveness, joy, triumph, peace and a love so deep it suffocates yet simultaneously gives life. Every day, my perfectly imperfect marriage pours true love into my heart, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Dr. Katie Passaretti and Ryan Sullivan
A Match made in… well…. Match.
We met online, as many professionals do these days, and we’re convinced our paths would never have crossed otherwise — unless Ryan wound up in the hospital with an infectious disease. (Match was far preferable.) We were both hesitant about online dating and exchanged a lot of emails getting to know each other before we met in person. Despite completely different jobs and interests, we hit it off right away. On our first date, we closed a restaurant and then a bar, which sounds impressive, until you learn both places closed at 10 p.m.
Fast forward nine years full of laughter, love and (adorable) shared furballs, and we are still going strong. A few standout memories include recording our annual “Sullaretti” holiday videos, where we mangle seasonal favorite songs on our guitars, an amazing marriage proposal on a private sunset cruise in Aruba, a Valentine’s Day reenactment of the Love Actually “To me, you are perfect” poster board scene recorded on our Ring video doorbell, and surviving our first — and hopefully last — pandemic together. More important are all the ways we seek to make each other laugh and to show one another love and respect every day.
Katie is vice president, enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health. Ryan is managing director, applied insights at Hartford Funds.
Date night with Mr. Death
Gavin Edwards & Jen Sudul Edwards
When we agreed to go out on an official first date, we were both so excited that we weren’t thinking straight — that’s how we decided that we would go see the movie Mr. Death. We were both fans of the director, Errol Morris, but we didn’t consider how the subject matter of this documentary (a man who specialized in designing execution machines for American prisons and then became a Holocaust denier) might not be so romantic.
Not only was the subject matter dark, but the audience had a weird vibe, especially the guy one row behind us who talked back to the screen about what life was really like in prison. You could say that the fact that we enjoyed it anyway showed we were a good match — but honestly, we were so crazy for each other, it didn’t matter what movie we saw.
When we got married, our wedding announcement in The New York Times mentioned this unusual first date. A few weeks later, we got a package from Errol Morris: It contained an autographed DVD of Mr. Death and a note saying how glad he was that his movie brought us together.
Liz Hilliard & Lee Kennelly
Liz: You might be surprised where you find love. For us, it was right in front of our eyes, but we were friends, women, heterosexual — oh, and employer and employee! Wait, one more thing: I’m 26 years older than Lee. So that sounds reasonable, right? Initially, I went on a rampage of denial, citing all the very solid facts about why this relationship should not, would not go forward. But Lee was persistent, yes Lee! Sweet, rule-following, sorority-president, never-got-in-trouble-with-anyone Lee. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but instead, our relationship has become the recipe for a happiness that I never knew existed. Every day is a new “wow” moment for me. I have so much respect for the both of us for finding the courage to act on something that seemed so far out of reach. Letting go of any preconceived notions about what love should be or should look like allowed us to finally find ourselves and the joy and happiness we never expected.
Liz is the creator and owner of Hilliard Studio Method. Lee is director of training at HSM.