Maybe it was fate that Katie Durham and Bobby Hill wanted to have their wedding the same week Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was giving one away.
And the reason why Durham, an intelligence officer from Miramar, Fla., and Hill, an infantry officer from Boaz, Ala., wanted to have their wedding next February was because they were both deployed to Afghanistan this January only weeks after they got engaged in December. They thought that by that time they would be back from their deployment.
“I thought I would have had time, but I quickly found out there was no time,” Durham said about trying to make wedding arrangements in Afghanistan.
While looking through wedding magazines abroad, Durham found an advertisement for “Sharing the Romance,” a contest where the winning couple would receive a $50,000 wedding package from Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and a honeymoon in Charleston. In an attempt to have the wedding of their dreams, Durham and Hill sent in their video entry in February.
In the video, the couple told the story of how they met at airborne school in 2009 and why they wanted the wedding at Magnolia.
“I might not pass this school, but I’m definitely going to get to know this girl,” Hill said, reflecting on that day.
Durham was a student at the time and did not have a car. Hill offered her a ride to the grocery store in an effort to get to know her.
“Little did I know that that car ride would turn into a lot more,” she said.
After getting to know each other and dating long distance for over a year, the couple were able to get assigned to the same unit. But even though they were in the same unit, they worked in different areas, so they were not able to see each other often. They saw each other only three times while deployed in Afghanistan.
Durham said they never wanted a big, showy wedding and described their ideal feel as natural, Southern and relaxed.
“We both knew right away that this was definitely the place. ... It felt like home,” Hill, who hails from a small Southern town, said in the video.
Months passed and it was already September and time for the couple to return back to the States. Hill already had left Afghanistan for one final stop abroad before heading back home. Durham was preparing to make the same trip.
Then she logged on to Facebook and discovered the news: They had won the contest.
“My sister messaged me. That’s how I found out. I was just sitting on the computer,” she said.
The couple now have everything they need for their Feb. 9 wedding, including a planner, dress, tuxedo, cake, DJ and photographer. All of the local businesses making the wedding possible have donated their services.
“It’s good exposure for them. It’s an opportunity to showcase Charleston as a wedding destination,” said Herb Frazier, public relations and marketing manager at Magnolia.
Wedding planner Cindy Zingerella of Engaging Events said they got involved because they loved the venue.
“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,” she said.
The competition was the idea of Magnolia Executive Director Tom Johnson. It was launched in February, and about a dozen couples sent in videos of why they wanted to win the wedding. Judges then narrowed down the entries to four semi-finalists and posted the videos to the Magnolia website for the public to vote on them.
Frazier said this was the first time they had the contest, and they already are working on having it next year.
Durham and Hill are settled at Fort Bragg in North Carolina but came to Charleston earlier this week for a press conference at Magnolia and to meet with the wedding planner and other vendors. “We’re just so thankful for their graciousness and willingness to go out of their way to put this together,” Durham said.
But even though the couple will have the wedding of their dreams at the perfect venue, Durham said she is looking forward to something else.
“I think just that moment where I finally walk down the aisle and I see Bobby there looking at me. That’s the whole point of the wedding — sharing that moment with him.”