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They started dating when her niece was 3; at 19, she read at their wedding

Kellie Patrick Gates, Inquirer Love Columnist

Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017, 7:34 AM

Karen McConnell and Keon Jones.

Karen McConnell and Keon Jones

The wedding of Karen McConnell and Keon Jones.
Karen McConnell and Keon Jones with officiant Naila Francis. Robert Turi Photography
Karen McConnell and Keon Jones. Robert Turi Photography
The wedding of Karen McConnell and Keon Jones. Robert Turi Photography
Photo Gallery: They started dating when her niece was 3; at 19, she read at their wedding

July 7, 2017, in Richboro

Soon after earning his broadcast journalism degree from Temple University, Keon became a promotions assistant at Q102. He and a bunch of other twentysomething colleagues went to a club one night in 2000; one brought her friend, Karen, who held an equally fresh journalism degree from Pennsylvania State University.

“I saw her in the backseat, and I thought, ‘OK! She’s all right,’ ” said Keon, who grew up in Morrisville.

Karen, from Northeast Philadelphia, noticed him, too. They started talking about music. She said she really liked Whitney Houston, and he threw a whole lot of cold water on their previously simmering situation. “Oh no — not you!” he said. “You know nothing about her.”

Keon says he was just talking smack, a teasing test to see how Karen would react. Here’s how: “I was intrigued when I saw him in our mutual friend’s car. But I was not taken with his notion that I could not appreciate Whitney Houston,” she said.

They got another chance weeks later. Karen was hired by Q102, and they realized there was a connection, after all. “We wanted to work together on every promotion,” she said.

There were also many long, late-night phone calls. “We talked about life, our families, ‘What do you want to do in the future?’ ‘How many kids do you want to have?’ ” Keon said. When they discovered a shared love for Stevie Wonder, he did not question her appreciation.

One night after they worked an evening promotion together, he kissed her in the parking lot. Karen was glad he did.

They were inseparable for nearly eight years. Then Karen broke up with him. “I have tried to erase this part of our story from my memory,” she said. “I felt like we had met each other so young, and like we needed time apart to make sure we were right for each other.”

And so they parted — sort of.

“We hung out together, even though we were dating other people,” Keon said. “When the Phillies won the World Series, we were together. When Barack Obama became president, we were together.”

Even when Karen was out with others, Keon was almost there: “I was always comparing them to Keon.”

Sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, they realized they were having dinner together nightly. It wasn’t so much a decision to get back together as an acknowledgement that they already had.

“Keon is the kind of person you always want to be around — I think it’s magic,” said Karen, who is now 40 and a human resources manager. He’s funny and kind, and absolutely there for her. “I don’t want to be with anyone else but him.”

Karen is “a smart-ass,” but in a very good way, said Keon, now 41 and a consumer promotions coordinator for Northstar New Jersey, the company that runs the state’s lottery. “She has a big heart, and she’s a very giving person.”

In 2015, she helped him through the most difficult time of his life. Keon’s father had multiple sclerosis. “He was in a wheelchair by the time I was 5 or 6 years old,” Keon said. “He was the strongest man I know.”

When Homer died, Keon was strong for his mother, Christine, and his sister, Kesha. Then he came home and grieved with Karen. “I was used to being everybody’s rock, but during that period of time, she was my rock.”

Even toward the end, Homer sometimes had moments of mental clarity. “Not too long before my dad passed, in a lucid moment, my mom asked him, ‘Will Keon marry Karen?’ and he smiled and said, ‘Yes, he will.’ ”

The couple vacationed in Cancun in November 2016. On Karen’s birthday, they took a Mayan temple tour, which was fantastic, but an unexpected 12 hours long. “By the time we got back, she was not the most happy camper. She was hungry and frustrated,” Keon said.

Dinner was a must. Afterward, they had drinks on their hotel balcony. Though the day had been more exhausting and less romantic than he’d hoped, Keon was determined to make this happen on her birthday. So he knelt. “After all of these years, you are the only person I want to be with. Will you marry me?” he asked.

“Yes!” Karen said before going silent.

“There were no tears. There were no exclamations of happiness. It was just pure and utter shock,” she said.

They already lived together in Bensalem. They had talked about having kids. She knew it was forever, and she was content. “I didn’t need have a ring to know he was going to be with me,” she said. Yet, when he offered one, she couldn’t stop staring at it.

After about 20 minutes, Karen recovered, and excited exclamations of joy began pouring out.

The ceremony was held outdoors in the gazebo at the Northampton Valley Country Club. The bride walked down the aisle to Ingrid Michaelson’s version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Her sister Patty was matron of honor. Keon’s sister was best woman.

Keon wore his Spider-Man cuff links.

Officiant Naila Francis of Journeys of the Heart wove the details of their love story into the ceremony. When Naila spoke of Keon’s father, and how he helped Keon become the man he is, Keon and Karen looked into each other’s eyes. “I’m trying to hold it together, and I look at her, and she’s trying to hold it together, too. We got through it together.”

Naila wound a ribbon around the couple’s hands in a handfasting ceremony symbolizing their union and recognizing the bride’s Irish heritage. The couple jumped the broom — a marriage tradition honoring the groom’s African American heritage.

Listening to niece Jaelyn read from Scripture reminded the couple just how long they’d been together. “When we started dating, my niece was 3 years old,” Keon said. “Now she’s 19, and reading at our wedding.”

After their kiss, the newlyweds walked up the aisle together to Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day.”

The bride danced with her dad to Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love.” The groom danced with his mom to a song he used to attempt to croon for her amusement when he was barely in the double digits: Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World.”

Leading up to the ceremony, Keon said, he was often thinking about his dad, the events to come and beyond, and just generally not in the moment. Then he saw Karen walking toward him, with her father, Frank, and her mom, Barb, watching from the front row. “Karen took my breath away, and it centered me,” he said. “It was, ‘All right, this is what I’m doing now. I’m doing this for the rest of my life.’ ”

Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Like a Star” has been their song since they first heard it, Karen said. “When it came on the radio, or we saw the video, we would spontaneously start dancing. To be at our wedding, to be officially married, and to dance to that song and hear those words — which seem to describe us — was incredible.”

The budget crunch

A bargain: The couple were stunned that they could afford photographer Robert Turi, whose resumé and work impressed them.

The splurge: The couple couldn’t say no to the country club’s late-night snack option, and a bounty of Krispy Kremes were served. Keon admits it wasn’t 100 percent about their guests. “After dieting for damn near six months, we deserved to treat ourselves!” he laughed.

Honeymooning

Five days in St. Lucia.

Behind the scenes

Officiant: Naila Francis, Journeys of the Heart, Jenkintown.

Venue and food: Northampton Valley Country Club, Richboro.

Music: East Coast Event Group, Langhorne and Warminster.

Photography: Robert Turi Photography, Sewell.

Flowers: Simply Flora’s, Lansdowne.

Ceremony and reception flowers: Domenic Graziano Flowers, Southampton.

Dress: Sposabella, Feasterville.

Hair/Makeup: KLP Hair and Makeup Designs, Ottsville.

Groom’s attire: Schweon’s Clothing & Formal Wear, Feasterville-Trevose.

Transportation: Secrets Limousine Service, Blue Bell.

Kellie Patrick Gates, Inquirer Love Columnist

Read full story: They started dating when her niece was 3; at 19, she read at their wedding