Amy Rodgers and OJ O'Connell
Nov. 5, 2016, in Sea Isle City, N.J.
The campaign-within-the-campaign of then-City Commission candidate Al Schmidt was in full swing in spring 2011.
Al, his wife, Erin, and her sister Jennie, a campaign volunteer, were pretty certain that Erin and Jennie's sister Amy and Al's campaign field director OJ were perfect for each other. And so began the lobbying.
Al told OJ his wonderful sister-in-law, who had recently moved back to Philadelphia from Chicago, was a ballet dancer. OJ was intrigued.
Amy, more skeptical of a setup, required more persuasion. Her sisters described OJ as a kind, nonpartying guy who, like them, grew up in Northeast Philly.
Via Facebook, OJ approached. Would Amy like to go out after the open house for Al's new campaign headquarters? Sure, she said, adding that she'd bring friends, as should he.
That night in April 2011, they hit a small spot at Frankford and Cottman across the street from campaign HQ. Amy brought her friend Maiti. OJ's friends couldn't make it, so it was the three of them.
“It was a little weird, but not as weird as you would think,” Amy said.
Despite the chaperone, sparks flew between OJ and Amy. “It was pretty much instantaneous,” OJ said. He found Amy beautiful and fun. She found him handsome, open, and easy-going.
After making sure Amy was comfortable, Maiti left. The excellent conversation in OJ's car wasn't anywhere near ending when they reached Amy's Center City apartment, so she invited him in, where they talked for many more hours.
OJ, who is now 33, soon revealed the one thing his boss advised him not to mention at first: that he lived in his mom's Mayfair basement. OJ had always been close to his mom, Karen, who raised him with assistance from friends so close he calls them his aunts and uncles. “OJ was honest," Amy said. "He wasn't trying to sell himself. Any questions I would ask, he would just answer -- I appreciated that.”
He had already met her mom, Peg, and dad, Ken, through the campaign. Amy, who is now 34, told him there were many other people in her family, including stepfather Alan and stepmother Barb. She filled him in on her life in Chicago, where she was the marketing coordinator for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, and the job that brought her here: She's communications manager at the Walnut Street Theatre. She also told him she hadn't been a ballet dancer since she was 22, although she had danced with the Philadelphia Wings dance team in 2006 and 2007.
On their second date at El Vez, which had no chaperone, they exchanged I love yous.
“It was everything I had been looking for, hoping for, waiting for,” OJ said. “She was someone that I could share not just time with, but myself with.”
Amy felt it, too. Not long after, she noticed OJ's Irish claddagh ring heart was pointed outward, traditionally a sign that the wearer is available. “That's backwards,” Amy said as she reached across the table, took his ring off, and put it back with the heart in the “I'm taken” position.
That other campaign worked, too: Al was elected a city commissioner; he is now vice chairman.
How does forever sound?
In December 2015, after acquiring the blessing of both sets of Amy's parents, OJ persuaded Amy to take half a day off from work for a tour of City Hall. OJ has worked in the Philadelphia courts since November 2011, and his office is across the street.
At the top, they checked out the gorgeous views of the city. Just when Amy thought she'd seen all there was to see, OJ took out his binoculars. “This is so cool, I can see my work! Do you want to look at my work?” he asked.
“I'm fine,” Amy said.
“But you can see my floor!” OJ told her. “You can see the people I work with!”
“OJ, that is really creepy! Stop looking at people!”
“Just take the binoculars,” he insisted. She looked, then tried to hand him the binoculars.
“I don't think you see it,” OJ said. “Look again, at the fifth floor down.”
Amy looked again, counting floors until she saw huge letters in the windows spelling out “Will You Marry Me?” and OJ's colleagues jumping up and down and cheering behind them.
It was so them
Both families vacation at the Shore every summer, and the couple wanted to capture that feeling at their winter wedding. The ceremony and reception for 180 were held at the Breakwaters at the Dunes during a weekend of events that included brunch at Sunset Pier.
Al officiated. Amy's sisters were her bridesmaids. One of OJ's groomsmen was his best friend from age 4, Michael; the other was Ryan, the son of his “Aunt” Terry. Amy's nephew and OJ's godson were ring bearers, and Amy's five nieces were flower girls.
Before the wedding, the bride held a flower party for the girls, where she gave them their flower girl dresses and flower-shaped cookies and asked them to draw pictures of the wedding as they imagined it. The wedding programs featured their artwork.
Family members read lyrics to “It Had to Be You” and “In My Life,” and the words of an Irish blessing.
OJ's wedding band features an engraved claddagh, and, after the vows, Amy placed it on his hand upside down in the “open” position. “Open claddagh, open marriage!” OJ teased loudly enough to make their guests laugh. Amy took off his ring and put it back on the right way.
The reception featured songs from Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Buffet, with Amy's brother-in-law Kevin serving as MC. Guests ate cake from Maryanne Pastry Shoppe, the bakery Amy's family turns to for doughnuts and birthday cakes at the Shore. After the wedding cake was cut, a second cake was brought out for sister Erin's birthday.
As favors, the couple gave their guests bottles of their favorite local condiment, Hank Sauce.
Before the wedding, their photographers took OJ to the bridal suite, told him to face away from the door, and knocked. “There she was, and it was amazing,” he said. “Exactly what I had imagined came true.”
Afterward, as the couple sat on the sofa looking at each other, the photographers asked questions about when they fell in love and why. “It gave us 10 minutes during the wedding to focus on why we were there, why we were doing everything, and why we love one another so much,” Amy said. “It was so meaningful.”
The budget crunch
A bargain: The bride searched and searched for a white, faux-fur wrap to wear with her strapless gown. During a visit to Sea Isle, she stepped into Chrissie's Boutique and described what she had been seeking with no luck. The woman assisting her ducked into the back and emerged with just the right thing. “I can't sell you this,” she told Amy. “I'm making it for my niece's wedding. But I'll tell you how I made it.”
Amy called her mom to tell her she had a project for her. Following the seamstress's instructions, she bought a $25 Christmas tree skirt from a craft store and told her mom where to make cuts and stitches. With the addition of a brooch from Walnut Street's gift shop, Amy had the perfect thing.
The splurge: The couple opted for two photographers, extra hours, and an engagement photo session to fully tell their story. “It was worth every penny,” Amy said.
Four days in Miami and 10 days in Antigua.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: City Commissioner Al Schmidt, Philadelphia.
Venue: The Breakwaters at the Dunes, Sea Isle City, N.J.
Food: The Breakwaters at the Dunes.
Photography: Douglas James Studios Philadelphia.
Flowers: Spinning Wheel Florist, Ocean City, N.J.
Dress: Philly Bride, Philadelphia, designer Hayley Paige.