To me, the story of my relationship with the former Jannah Johnson McDonald is so much more than just your usual case of boy-meets-girl, boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after.

Ours is the story of two people who have been through a lot in their lives — although not nearly as much as some people we know and love — but who somehow figured out how to be there for each other and became two stronger, better people because of our mutual respect for and support of each other.

This marriage may not be the first rodeo for either of us — and, quite honestly, neither one of us thought we’d ever get married again — but after knowing each other for as many as eight years and being together for more than four, we both just knew it was the right time for us to make this thing official. 

Although we actually met when Jannah was working for the American Cancer Society and was putting on the Wesley Chapel Relay for Life and I was covering it for the Neighborhood News, we first got together when I walked into the now-defunct Stage Left (the music venue on S.R. 54 in Lutz), the night of my birthday in 2015. 

The place was packed. Jannah and I were both members of the Rotary Cub of Wesley Chapel, so when I heard and then saw a group of women, all of whom also were members of that same Rotary Club, invite me, rather loudly, to join them at their table, I didn’t refuse.

So yes, ours is a match made in Rotary heaven, and we know a few other couples who also met through the world’s largest service organization.

But, enough of that mushy stuff. Because we decided to put on our wedding ourselves, I knew I would have to pull together a lot  of the contacts I’ve made through the Neighborhood News in order to put on the kind of wedding we wanted.

I owe these businesses and business owners a lot because only with all of their help, could we have the wedding of our dreams. So, the story that follows is my way of thanking them.   

The Business Side of Gary and Jannah’s wedding

 So, when you decide you’re going to get married, the first thing you have to do is pick a location, then set a date that your chosen venue has available. Jannah and I wanted to get married around Valentine’s Day, but once we decided we were getting married at the St. Pete Beach Community Center on Boca Ciega Dr., the closest dates they had to Valentine’s Day were March 24…and sometime in June. Guess which one we picked.

We wanted the band that was playing the night we got engaged — Restless Soul — to play at our wedding, but when front man James Shepherd was going to be out of town that day, we quickly decided on our second favorite “party” band we had seen at Jimmy B’s at the Beachcomber Resort (where Jannah and I have spent many a night dancing). That band is called New Divide, featuring lead singer/guitarist Colin Hughes. 

The third thing we decided was to hire the folks who own our favorite affordable restaurant on Gulf Blvd. — Skidder’s — to cater the event. We also were fortunate to have the Fratelli brothers John and Mario from Fratelli’s Pizza & Café in the Village Market plaza (see ad on pg 38) offer to provide a tray of my favorite broccoli rabe and a tray of penne alla vodka as our amazing side dishes.

And, none of our choices let us down. People who attended our wedding raved about our venue, the food (grouper Francaise, chicken Marsala and rib lamb chops were the main events from Skidder’s) and the music. New Divide played everything from Cheap Trick and Tom Petty to Bruno Mars and Amy Winehouse and the band agreed to learn two of mine and Jannah’s favorite Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats tunes so we could sing (and she could play the tambourine) along with them.

But, as we soon figured out, a wedding is about much more than just those things. Even if you think you can do everything yourself — and Jannah’s job the last four years at the Pasco Education Foundation is largely about putting on events and I’ve been hosting parties for our office for a quarter-century (see page 3) — you still need a wedding planner. We were blessed to have attended our friends’ Torrie and Keith Weinstein’s wedding in December and long story short, Torrie agreed to help us do our party right.

So, in addition to all of Torrie and Keith’s help, here are some of the Neighborhood News advertisers who provided all of the little touches that made our wedding so special for us:

The Rings: Leiva’s Jewelers, New Tampa — Jonathan and his father Transito Leiva have been customers of mine for years and “Pop” (as I affectionately call him) is a true craftsman who  first designed Jannah’s garnet (my birthstone) and diamond engagement ring, then created a diamond “jacket” for that ring as her wedding band. My picture of our rings above left really doesn’t do them any justice at all.

 Getting in Shape: Samantha Taylor Fitness (her) and Fit 4 Life and the Advent Health Wesley Chapel Wellness Center (me) — Jannah started working out 2-3 days a week at the Samantha Taylor studio in Wesley Chapel in November. She’s lost 17 pounds. I’ve been working out at Fit 4 Life in Tampa Palms with my friends Travis and Fiona Monday for years and also stepped up my saltwater kayaking and swimming at the Wellness Center to drop almost 20 lbs., although you may not be able to tell it from these pics, but Jannah says she can tell and that’s what matters most to me.

Hair & Makeup: New Identities Salon and Facial Accents by Leanne Carter — Although Jannah’s daughter Lauren curled her hair and did her makeup for the wedding, Jannah has been getting her hair styled and cut by Tara at New Identities (see ad on next page) for over a year and she always looks great.

Leanne, who is getting ready to open a new studio near the Fetcher Ave. exit off I-75, is an eyebrow expert who did an amazing job with Jannah’s brows.

Manicures & Pedicures: Touch Nail Spa — I figured I needed a manicure for the wedding and Jannah and Torrie both got perfect pedicures from our friend Timmy Pham and his amazing staff at Touch Nail Spa (see pg. 29).

Spray Tans By Lulu — Jannah and Torrie also had our friend Luisa give them that perfect glow for our pictures.  

Smiles: Pasco Dental — Our friend and dentist Dr. Daniel Hwang at Pasco Dental (below left) has worked on not only myself and Jannah, but also her daughter Kristen and we can all vouch for what an outstanding and gentle dentist he is.

Flowers: A Special Rose Florist — We didn’t go all out for flowers, as some folks do, but every bouquet and arrangement from A Special Rose was more than special.

Cake: Nothing Bundt Cakes — O.K., so they’ve never advertised with me, but Jannah and I have loved Nothing Bundt Cakes since the first time they gave samples out at the Taste of New Tampa & Wesley Chapel (see pages 37-39) three years ago. And, after we priced cakes from other wedding cake folks, we knew we made the right decision.

Videography & Editing: Gavin Olsen & Charmaine George — Gavin, my senior Neighborhood News Online video producer, shot the entire wedding and Charmaine edited two videos that we showed during the event. You can’t do better than these two. Check out Charmaine’s photos from the Taste (pgs. 37-39).  

Photography: Jillian Joseph Photography — I have to tell you that Jillian and her husband Joe are consummate professionals who shoot what you ask and then go above and beyond, and their work — as you can tell from just these few pics — is outstanding, And ladies, if you want boudoir photos (see ad below left), I know she’ll make you look and feel beautiful. 

Thanks also to the Wesley Chapel residents who attended, to my sons Jared and Jake, Jared’s wife Mary and Jake’s fiancée Meghan, and my mom Marilyn for making it so special for us.

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