Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock

November 17, 2018, in Wayne

Hello there

From the moment on a 2016 November Monday that Shawn saw Elaine in the Trader Joe’s dairy section, he had to talk to her. The woman practically glowed.

Shawn strategically took the second aisle — his best guess at the path she would take next — and soon: Voilà!

“Have you tried any good seafood?” he asked, heart racing, as they stood before the frozen fish and bivalves.

Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock
Tom Fuller, Fuller Photography
Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock

Elaine had been looking at the chocolates on the shelf above the freezer, but, wanting this unexpected conversation to continue, she thought fast to a recent supper at a friend’s place. “The scallops are good.”

Scallops in his cart, they introduced themselves and quickly discovered a common love of teaching and music. Elaine, who then lived in Wayne, is a classical musician — an organist who plays and teaches music to young people as associate director of music at St. David’s Episcopal Church. Shawn, who lived in his hometown of Malvern, teaches eighth-grade history at Great Valley Middle School. Both were intrigued. She gave him her number. He called the following evening, and they made plans to meet two days later at Starbucks.

“We sat down and talked for a good two hours,” Elaine said. They’ve been together ever since.

Shawn is just so kind and genuine, and family is as important to him as it is to her, said Elaine, who is originally from Holgate, Ohio, and is 36. He is also hardworking. “He’s also student council adviser at Great Valley, and a lot of the kids I work with at church, in the youth choir that I direct, have had him as a teacher. They always say he’s such a great teacher.”

Shawn remains transfixed by Elaine’s elegant beauty and is bowled over by her talent. “Her choirs sound amazing, and her musical talent as an organist is really special,” he said. “All of her family are very close, and Elaine’s personality is just very open, friendly, and warm.”

Within a year, they began talking about marriage.

The engagement

In March 2018, Elaine knew a custom ring was in the making, and Shawn pointedly hinted that the April Phillies game where Elaine’s choir would be singing the national anthem was the perfect time and place.

Easter weekend, as they prepared for the holiday, he casually suggested lunch at Panera Bread in the Gateway Shopping Center. Elaine thought it was a great idea. “I need to go there anyway — I have to stop at Trader Joe’s,” she said. Shawn was delighted: Elaine had unknowingly played right into his plan.

As soon as they were through the doors, Shawn began to reminisce. “I can remember walking in here and seeing you standing right over there in the first aisle,” he said. They went to Aisle Two so Elaine could pick up her Uncle Bill’s favorite chocolates, still stationed just above the frozen seafood. “Remember?” Shawn asked. “This is where we met.”

He handed his phone to another customer — could she take their picture? She snapped the shot and handed the phone back. “It’s great!” Shawn said. “Could you take another one?”

Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock Shawn proposed to Elaine in the very place he met her — the frozen seafood section at Trader Joe's. A stranger snapped this photo for the couple with Shawn's cell.
Courtesy of the Couple
Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock Shawn proposed to Elaine in the very place he met her — the frozen seafood section at Trader Joe's. A stranger snapped this photo for the couple with Shawn's cell.

With that, he knelt.

“Are you proposing right now?” asked the lady with his phone.

“Will you marry me?” Shawn asked Elaine.

She said yes, the cellphone photographer cheered, and soon everyone in that aisle and beyond was congratulating them. The front-end crew rang their cash register bells. Someone brought them flowers, and someone else brought cake — which happened to be one of the day’s free samples.

It was so them

The couple wed in a music-filled afternoon at St. David’s Church that began with a full procession of the three church choirs — adult, youth, and children’s. As Shawn’s mother, Rosemary, was seated, the handbell choirs played. Elaine’s Indiana University music professor, Marilyn Keiser, played the organ.

The traditional Episcopalian ceremony was lead by St. David’s rector, the Rev. Frank Allen. The bride’s Uncle Marv read the prayers. The service was followed by a full recessional with choir and acolytes.

Everyone from church was invited to a high tea put on for the couple by St. David’s parishioners. About 300 guests enjoyed tea, scones, and tea sandwiches.

An evening reception for 100 was held at the Desmond Hotel in Malvern. The couple did their own choreography for their first dance, to “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole.

Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock On the way to the couple's evening reception, their trolley stopped at Trader Joe's to snap a picture where they met and got engaged. Shawn holds a bag of the frozen scallops Elaine recommended to him.
Tom Fuller, Fuller Photography
Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock On the way to the couple's evening reception, their trolley stopped at Trader Joe's to snap a picture where they met and got engaged. Shawn holds a bag of the frozen scallops Elaine recommended to him.

En route to that second reception, the bridal party’s trolley stopped at Trader Joe’s so the couple could get their picture taken with a bag of scallops.

Awestruck

The couple wed in the church’s main chapel but saw each other for the first time at St. David’s 300-year-old smaller church, on the same grounds. Elaine, her sister Darla, and her mom, Jan, got ready there while Shawn waited in the parking lot with his best man for the signal that she was ready to see him. When it was time, their photographer asked him to turn his back toward the room Elaine would be coming from. “I heard her walking across the old church, and he told me to turn around,” Shawn said. “For months, I had heard Elaine talk about her dress. To see her in it for the first time, it was such an emotional moment. She was so beautiful.”

Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock
Tom Fuller, Fuller Photography
Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock

Including her time at an Indiana wedding chapel, Elaine estimates she’s played the organ for about 1,000 weddings. “I have played for all the weddings at St. David’s except my own. I’ve heard everyone else say the vows from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer,” Elaine said. “It was really powerful to say them to somebody I really love and care about.”

The budget crunch

A bargain: Elaine’s mom made five velvet and satin shawls for the bride and bridesmaids, plus the flower girl’s dress and cape. “I told my mom she should open up a business,” Elaine said.

The splurge: The couple took to heart the advice of friends and family who said photography was the last place to try to save money. Tom Fuller did an incredible job, they said.

Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock
Tom Fuller, Fuller Photography
Elaine Sonnenberg and Shawn Whitelock

Honeymooning

The couple, who live in Malvern, spent five days relaxing on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This summer, they’ll spend nine days hiking in the Swiss Alps.

Behind the scenes

Officiant: The Rev. W. Frank Allen, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne.

Ceremony Venue: St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne.

Reception venues: St. David’s Episcopal Church; the Desmond Hotel, Malvern.

Food: St. David’s parishioners; the Desmond Hotel; the Master’s Baker, West Chester.

Ceremony Music: Marilyn Keiser, organist, professor emeritus, Indiana University, director of music, Trinity Episcopal Church, Bloomington, Ind.; Clair Rozier, conductor, director of music, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne; St. David’s Adult Choir; St. David’s Youth Choir; St. David’s Children’s Choir; St. David’s Handbell Choirs

Reception music: Mark Shepperd Productions, King of Prussia.

Photography: Tom Fuller, Fuller Photography, Philadelphia.

Videography: Geoff Chamberlain, St. David’s Episcopal Church.

Flowers: Jill Bonn, St. David’s Episcopal Church; Petals Florist, King of Prussia.

Dress: Plaza by Pronovias, purchased at Bijou Bridal, Ardmore.

Hair/Makeup: Studio H Color & Design Group, Heather Heyman and Zary Pardakhti, stylists, Paoli.

Groom’s attire: Varani Formal Wear, Malvern.

Planner: Judy Krischker, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne.

Transportation: Philadelphia Trolley Works, Philadelphia.