The big day

Wedding services were provided by:

Wedding planner Cindy Zingerella of Engaging Events.

A Charleston Wedding.

David’s Tuxedo’s.

Anna Benson’s Fitness Favorites, Columbia.

Atlantic Tent Rental.

Charleston Place Hotel.

Classical Charleston.

Complete Music of Charleston.

Elaine’s Events.

EventWorks and Snyder Event Rentals.

Fabulous Frocks.

Ice Box Bar Services.

Mist-a-Mosquito.

Mosaic Catering.

Richard Bell Photography.

Scotti Cline Designs.

Tiger Lily Florist and floral designer Judy Johnston.

Mr. and Mrs. Bobby Hill could not hold back tears as they said their vows Saturday underneath the mossy oaks of Magnolia Plantation overlooking the sparkling Ashley River.

This time last year, the Army couple were in Afghanistan trying to figure out how they would plan their wedding from so far away. Because of their service, the couple have spent most of their three-year relationship apart. But on this day, they gazed into each other’s eyes and vowed to love each other for an eternity.

While looking through wedding magazines last February, the bride, Katie Durham, found an advertisement for Magnolia Plantation’s “Sharing the Romance” competition for a $50,000 wedding package and honeymoon in Charleston.

In their video entry, the couple told the story of how they met at airborne school in 2009 and why they wanted the wedding at Magnolia. Durham said Charleston just felt like home.

“I might not pass this school, but I’m definitely going to get to know this girl,” Hill said in the video reflecting on the day he met his bride.

And the rest is history. The couple’s story of long-distance love because of their service won the judges over.

“Things became much more sentimental after we saw the video submissions. ... They put their lives on hold to serve our country, so to be able to create the most special day of their lives is an honor,” wedding planner Cindy Zingerella said last fall when the winners were announced.

On Saturday, Durham and Hill’s closest friends and family members watched them say their vows on a sunny, cool afternoon outside the plantation’s Carriage House. Fresh red and white flowers in mason jars were tied with red ribbon to the pews. Lanterns and more flowers hung from the oak trees that the couple said their vows under, part of the rustic, romantic decor.

The bride wore a lace gown provided by Fabulous Frocks, the bridesmaids in champagne-colored one-shoulder dresses and the groom and his groomsmen in uniform.

“I vow to you a lifetime of protection that I pledge to not only you but to God,” said Hill in the vows he wrote for his bride.

When the bride began her vows, not even a passing speedboat could break her concentration.

“Spending forever with you doesn’t seem like it will be long enough,” she said to Hill.

After the ceremony, guests entered the Carriage House and were greeted by a Lowcountry feast of barbecue, shrimp and grits, sweet potato biscuits and other appetizers provided by Mosaic Catering and an open bar provided by Ice Box.

Cakemaker Elaine Mincey said she rarely attends her client’s weddings, but this couple, she said, made her feel like family and asked her to attend. Durham of Florida said she gave Zingerella free rein, but Hill of Alabama had one request for Mincey: red velvet cake. The bride also selected a buttery hazelnut cake with a chocolate truffle filling and toasted coconut.

After a grand introduction, the couple danced to “Crazy Girl” by the Eli Young Band.

“We can’t thank everyone enough. This is a dream come true. It’s nice to see everything come together,” said the bride with tears in her eyes.

The bride danced with her father to “Stealing Cinderella” by Chuck Wicks, and the groom shared a dance with his mother to “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.

The groom’s mother, Dana Hill, said it was their first time in Charleston, and the wedding was “everything we wanted and more.”

“We couldn’t have planned it better ourselves. Everyone in Charleston treated them like royalty,” she said.

The bride’s mother, who spent most of her time on the dance floor, has similar sentiments for the vendors who donated their services.

“We want to thank you because we are living a fairy tale. We’re so grateful. This town has embraced them,” Annie Durham said.

Zingerella said the ceremony and reception went exactly as planned.

“They were so appreciative and so concerned that people know who the vendors were,” she said of the couple.

And one of the most touching moments of the night was the toast Durham’s older sister, Melissa Stelnicki, gave to the couple. She told the story of her sister’s perseverance and how she admired her for “always being the one to grab the bull by the horns.”

“I couldn’t think of anyone else who deserved this wedding. Every one of you deserves applause for voting and making this happen,” she said.

The feeling of being at home in Charleston drew them to enter the contest, and the groom said they have fallen even more in love with the Holy City. They are stationed at Fort Bragg in N.C.

“I could see ourselves settling down here. It’s just been incredible,” he said.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.