Our StoryThen Until Now
The second of three children, Alex was raised in the country. A place where if you saw a raccoon, woodchuck, or other pestilent vermin, you ran for the shotgun to take care of business. A place where boys would slug a ball from one end of the yard to the other and back, jump for hours on the trampoline and climb on anything that was tall enough to break your head open if you were to fall off of it. A place where weekends were often spent doing yard work in the warm months and cutting fire wood in the cold ones. A place where video games and ping pong were well liked, but where books were just too slow to hold most people’s attention for any length of time.
It has been said of Alex that he has a mind of his own, a unique mind that has been known to wander and sometimes even leave him completely. It has also been said that he is a well-mannered young man who has always been hard-working, willing to give a hand to those in need, and who bears a strong love for the Lord. To many, Alex seems to be the quiet and reserved type of person. Spending twelve years in Portland Public Schools, nearly all of his teachers would comment on Alex’s behavior with phrases such as “is a joy to have in class” and “very well behaved, but needs to talk more”. It was these comments that made Alex’s parents wonder if he had brought home someone else’s report card though, because to his family, Alex is quite possibly the most obnoxious individual to have ever existed! It seemed that as soon as he would return home from school, he had to release the torrential magnitude of energy he had restrained within himself for the entire day. It has even been rumored that of the three boys born to them, Alex was the hardest one for his parents to deal with.
Perhaps it was the repressing of his obnoxiousness day after day, or maybe it was his status as a middle child, no one knows quite why, but whatever the reason, Alex quickly developed a hidden desire to break the rules, no matter what they might be, just to see if he could get away with it. As a result, he became well versed in the art of deception. Most people who know Alex are likely shocked to read this, but that in itself is testimony to his craft.
An only child, Anna was raised in the city and was quite introverted. She developed a strong love for animals of all kinds, even raccoons, woodchucks, and other pestilent vermin. Growing up, she always had pets in her home; cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, even a lizard and a bird! When Anna was around 4 or 5 years old, her parents took her to SeaWorld in Ohio. It was there that Anna saw her first shark. Smitten with the creature, the wonder/terror/unbridled love affair began, and remained through her childhood and into adulthood, kindled by copious amounts of research, reading, and watching as many documentaries and shark movies as could be found (Jaws being a favorite).
Anna was homeschooled for all grades but sixth. She was involved with church youth activities, she sang with a church band for a while, she went on choir tours for several years, and spent at least one week every summer at Rock Lake Christian Assembly, starting out as a camper, and then joining the ranks as a faculty member and teacher.
To say that Anna has always had a passion for books would be an understatement. From a young age, she would spend most of her free time reading. While cartoons were a regular part of her Saturday morning, reading often occupied the remainder of the day. She even spent her summers devouring books, settled down in the backyard. Before long, reading inspired her to write books of her own. In 2006 she was introduced to National Novel Writing Month – a worldwide writing event with the goal of writing a novel in thirty days. After completing it once, Anna was hooked, and has participated with enthusiasm every year, completing all but two, since 2006.
It has been said of Anna that she’s come a long way since first dating Alex. She’s learned how to shoot a gun, how to raise and butcher chickens herself, what it’s like to cut, split and stack firewood, and great deal of other things as well. It’s been said that she grew from a “city slicker” who would angrily ask the country folk “Why do you have to kill everything?!” to a country girl herself who would call somebody to bring the gun, while she used her headlights to expose the coon to dispatch of.
How We Met
Alex and Anna’s story together started when Alex found out that Anna played the piano. Being the worship leader of his congregation, Alex invited Anna to join him and another friend in leading song services Sunday mornings. After a while, the third member of the trio resigned from his position which left Alex and Anna to practice together every Thursday night after youth group. For the first few weeks, they practiced a few songs and then talked until late in the night. As time went on, the number of songs practiced slowly declined and the conversations lasted later and later into the night. Before long, they found themselves talking until early in the morning without practicing a single song. Finally, on October 7, 2010, Alex and Anna chose to take their relationship a step further and began dating.
Seven years later, to the day, they were married right in front of their unsuspecting families under the guise of a sweepstakes and a group photo. To explain that part of the story, we look through the eyes of Dave Fox, Alex’s father…
Sometime in August, Alex hands me a piece of paper and says “Here dad, sign this…”
I ask, “What is it?”
He says, “A waiver from The Cleveland aquarium, I won a sweepstakes for a special viewing of Predators of the Deep and get to take a group of 20 people along for a private tour. They need permission from everyone in attendance to record video and take pictures for advertising purposes”.
I tell him “Thanks, but not interested, don’t like driving, not too keen on crowds, and definitely DO NOT like big cities.” However, he talks me into it anyway and I sign the paper.
I’m informed that the group is renting a 15 passenger van so we can all go down together; Chris is going to drive so the rest of us will just be able to enjoy the ride. As time progressed, this plan slowly metamorphosed into something different. It went from 15 people in the van down to about 8. Anna was now going down the night before to have a girls’ night with her friends, and Alex was leaving earlier that day so he could ride down with his buddies who lived in Detroit. He explained that that way, the rest of us wouldn’t have to put up with Seth, Dylan and Josh for 5 hours.
So the day arrives, I had to go set up for a craft show that morning, Chris, Kim (my wife), and Jason all went to help. Jason wasn’t feeling well the whole time; he said he had a migraine and, to be honest, he really didn’t look that good either. So after we were done, I told him he didn’t HAVE to go to Ohio and wouldn’t be blamed if he backed out. He thought he’d be better off staying home and remaining quiet and as peaceful as possible so he went back home as the rest of us were getting ready to leave for Cleveland.
The time arrives and we load up into the van, which Alex and Chris had picked up earlier that morning, and take off to stop in Lansing on the way, so we can pick up Bob and Maggie (Anna’s parents). Chris informs us that we have to swing by Jason’s and pick him up because he’s decided to come along after all, he’s going to have the entire rear seat to himself because of the lack of people in the van, but that should work out well for him to be able to have some quiet.
So, we get to Jason’s and out he comes carrying a barf bucket and wearing this very fashionable ice pack on his head. He immediately gets into the rear set and curls up in the fetal position where he spends the entire trip, making barely a sound the entire time. I’m thinking to myself, “Why in the world is he going if he feels that bad?! He must REALLY like sharks!”
Just outside Lansing my phone rings, it’s Bob, sounding quite excited about the trip and wondering if we forgot them and if they were going to have to head out on their own, I told him “no, we’ll be there shortly”. We get to the Hays’ house and Chris walks to the door to get them. Out come Bob and Maggie, smiling and chattering away, FAR more excited about this than I am, (not having wanted to go in the first place), and more than poor Jason also, who is currently nursing a migraine in the back seat. Anyway, they get out to the van, now this van is quite high and not the easiest thing in the world to get into, so Maggie reaches to grab a seat to help herself in. She begins telling Bob “Push R.G.! Push!!” and Christopher, standing behind is wanting to help but is not sure of what he might be able to push on in order to help. After all that excitement and everyone is situated in their seats Maggie asks how everyone is doing. I simply tell her, we’re all fine, but Jason is in the back with a migraine. She instantly replies in a very subdued voice, “We should all pray for Jason!”
The rest of the trip was actually pretty uneventful, except the occasional pit stops being made and the circus of everyone loading and unloading.
We finally arrive at the aquarium parking lot where we see Alex and his friends, some of Anna’s friends, and Adam (my oldest son) and his wife Cecelia, who came from Indiana. As a parent, you can just tell when something isn’t quite right with your kids, and this was one of those moments. I could tell something was “off” about Alex, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I asked where Anna was. Alex tells us that “she and Shauna are stuck in traffic on their way here after stopping at a book store”. He also informs us that the presenter is stuck in traffic as well, but we should head in and get seats already, he’s just a few minutes out.
We go into the aquarium and sure enough, there are about 20 chairs set up in front of the shark tank. There were people walking around with both video and still cameras and a bunch of others there whom he mentioned would be for the presentation.
The photographer asks if we can all get in a group for a photo, which we all do. I’m watching Alex and trying to figure out what exactly is going on…something just was NOT right. Then it hit me…I leaned forward and whispered into Kim’s ear…”I wonder if he’s going to propose to her today?”
I no sooner had the words out of my mouth when I looked up and saw Anna walking in on her dad’s arm, both smiling ear to ear, with her in a wedding dress.
All you could hear was the sound of jaws hitting the floor, thud, thud, thud, thud…..
Diane was the first to pick hers up, standing behind me she whispers to me and asks, “Why is Anna dressed like a princess?…is that a wedding dress?…Is this a wedding??!! I finally retrieved my own jaw and replied back (maybe a little too tersely) “WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME?!?!” Maggie just started crying, and all Kim could say was “Uhh…Uhh…” followed by a, what Alex described as haunting, “Where is he?!”
Mark did a wonderful job officiating a beautiful ceremony, after which we all went to dinner, except Jason, who stayed in the back seat of the van.
All in all, a really wonderful night. When asked about it, Alex said they got tired of everybody asking them when they were going to get engaged, so they decided to surprise everyone with a wedding instead. And surprise us they did!
On the way home, Bob and Maggie were commenting on how hard it must have been to keep this whole thing a secret. I told them that Alex never used to be that devious until he started hanging out with Anna and I wasn’t too sure if I liked the influence she had on my son.
We dropped off Anna’s friends in Lansing, as they were getting out of the van I asked Jason how he was doing, he said “best night EVER!” As it happens, only about 6-7 people knew about this besides Alex and Anna, and when Jason decided to go back home that morning, Chris called Alex, who in turn called Jason to tell him that he wanted Jason to be one of his groomsmen. Because of that, Jason decided to tough it out and come along. What a trooper! 10 hours with a migraine in the back of a 15 passenger van!
It was a night that none of us will forget, the night these two got married. A marriage that, by the way, was preceded by at least a year and a half full of constant lies and deceit; a lifetimes worth if you think about it. But they pulled it off. They TOTALLY surprised all but a small handful of people. Good job!
Now Miss Anna is an official part of the family, and we are all proud to have her.
One of the biggest questions we get about our wedding is “Why have a surprise wedding?”
The quick answer is simply “because it’s the coolest and most awesome thing we could have ever done!” We had been dating for years (precisely seven to be exact) when we were wed, and through those years there were countless times that each of us were faced with the menacing question: “So, when are you getting married?” Some instances were in good fun, some were in friendly curiosity and some were just downright snooty and oozing with disapproval, but all fueled the flames of a growing idea.
We had been dating for so long that we anticipated the reaction to our wedding would be along the lines of “Finally! It’s about time!” and that just didn’t sit well with us because we’re too prideful and stubborn to let other people decide what should and shouldn’t happen in our lives. We decided we would blindside the people who might think that they know how the story would go and have a surprise flash wedding. And there is the general “why” behind it.
The “how” behind this wedding is an extremely long story spanning the course of several years. Someday, a book may be published on it, but for now, we’ll stick to a condensed version.
In 2012, after a very irritating development involving the menacing question mentioned above, Alex was determined to do something unique and unexpected in regard to the wedding. A couple years later, he presented the idea of a surprise wedding to Anna who casually declined. However, after Alex’s persuading and presenting all the many benefits of such a surprise, Anna voiced her support of the notion and so began the snowball of an amazingly beautiful scheme. We began considering locations for the ceremony and pursued Anna’s long-lived enthrallment with sharks. We first checked with a certain aquarium in Chicago which would have taken our collective life savings to reserve and came with a bunch of ridiculous conditions. Needless to say, we searched for a different aquarium and found one only a few years old in Cleveland Ohio. This new-found aquarium had a dream come true- a SHARK TUNNEL! After contacting the aquarium, we found that they held weddings there fairly often and the price was awesome, so we locked in our venue.
Now the challenge was to figure out how we would get our families and best friends to an aquarium all at the same time without raising any suspicions. When you have Dave Fox for a father, this is next to impossible, so we really had to think everything through. We came up with the idea to “win a sweepstakes”. We worked with the event coordinator at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and were sent a letter informing us that Alex had won a private, after-hours tour of the aquarium and could choose 20 other people to join him. According to the sweepstakes that we conjured up, the evening would begin with a “special presentation on sharks” in the shark room followed by an hour of free reign of the aquarium and then finish with a free dinner for everyone. To really sell it, we fabricated “official rules” of the sweepstakes (about 4 pages of jargon) that Alex had to sign and return as well as having each attendee sign a waiver approving or disapproving the use of their likeness on any recorded media (to explain the cameras that would be there). Thankfully, everyone bought it, although we did have a backup plan if anyone had thoughts of skipping out on the opportunity.
So, after a few secret trips to Ohio, we had arranged everything from where we would get hair and makeup done to where we would eat afterward. The rehearsal we had was a simple walkthrough of the day with aquarium staff, the photographer, videographer, and the bride and groom. Everything was in place by the weekend before the ceremony.
Now, neither of us are haughty individuals and we both feel extremely uncomfortable bragging about or promoting ourselves, even when it may be appropriate to do so, but the amount of planning and research and work and organizing that went into this whole thing is somewhat of a magnum opus for us. We’re talking more than a year of secrecy and devious action which became more and more difficult as we approached the date. We went through just about every detail of the events unfolding up to and after the wedding day as well as back up plans for everything in case anything went wrong.
To you, that might sound like it really isn’t that big of a deal. Planning a wedding with just two people certainly isn’t easy, but over the course of a couple years, it shouldn’t be that difficult. Much of the problem was that we both had very busy schedules that rarely provided time for communication. And the little communication we did have had to be very closed so that outsiders wouldn’t see or hear something they weren’t supposed to. On top of that, we have some people in our lives that are very observant and quite suspicious by nature. We essentially developed plans to do planning in order to avoid raising suspicion, and therefore further observation, by those people.
For example, subtle behavioral changes like day trips to another city needed to be established as the norm for us early on since we had to visit Cleveland several times. And you also can’t break previously established norms in your life either; you can’t very well say you spent a day at the zoo and not have a single picture of yourselves at the zoo, it just doesn’t make much sense in the age of selfies. So on your way to the aquarium that no one can know you’re going to, you have to stop at a zoo to sprint through and snap some pictures to diffuse the suspicion. You also can’t very well say you visited some friends with the purpose of watching a movie and have nothing to report about the movie upon your return, so you end up catching the latest showing possible on your way home from your wedding rehearsal.
On top of that were the day-to-day precautions like getting the mail before anyone else did so no one saw the package from “weddingtuxedo.com” or “bridetobe.net” or just in case a jewelry store, dress shop, or men’s apparel outlet decided to advertise wedding attire or congratulate you on your engagement. Also, there was the daunting challenge of trying to find the space to sneak in and store reception decorations and wedding apparel so that no one would ever find them. And of course there was the paranoia of being seen by someone you know in a place that is only for those planning a wedding or with an item that you have absolutely no excuse having, considering your everyday life. Like we said, this may be a book someday because we had some close calls that would be fun to mention and there is a lot that went into this that we just can’t fit here.
They Said "I Do"!October 7, 2017
Now that it’s over, we can honestly say that if we had the chance to go back, we would do it exactly the same way. We accomplished something bigger together than either of us have done before on our own and we look forward to accomplishing so much more in the many years to come!