Jennifer & Joe: A Rocking Reception in Clearwater

by Amy Elliott

Back in the summer of 1994, two Brooklyn girls-Jennifer Gifford and her sister Vanessa-were visiting their mother in St. Petersburg, Florida. One night, while trying to wrangle their way into a nightclub (both were underage), two cute guys helped sneak the young ladies inside. "They proceeded to make fun of our New York accents the entire night in a feeble attempt to hit on us," remembers Jennifer, an aspiring hair stylist. "But I guess it worked." One of the guys, Joe Leonard, was to become her future husband.

THE BRIDE Jennifer Gifford
THE GROOM Joe Leonard
THE DATE October 27
THE SCENE An outdoor ceremony is the beginning of a joyful celebration in Clearwater.

It took a while for things to come together. Jennifer was attending college all the way in New York. By the following May, Jennifer was so in love that she "packed up and moved to Florida to be with him." After Joe, a photo lab technician and skateboard photographer, proposed in 2000, they began to plan the wedding right away.

Though they live in Atlanta now, Jennifer and Joe felt it was important to get married in Florida, where most of their families are based. A beach wedding had originally been the plan, but when Jennifer discovered the Kapok Tree Inn, she quickly changed her mind.

The grounds feature stately gardens, Italianate fountains, and a gazebo. Inside, a red velvet staircase and glittering chandeliers would help impart a sumptuous feel to the festivities. Jennifer knew the photos would be gorgeous.

"We were so nervous," says the bride, remembering the outdoor ceremony. "Joe was clenching my hands for the entire ceremony." With help from Reverend Tracy Reed, Jennifer and Joe were able to create a personal ceremony. "We used these beautiful vows that she had written," says Jennifer. "They were very modern and non-religious, which we wanted."

The newlyweds entered the reception via the staircase-a heady experience indeed. "It is so scary to think that all those people are staring at you," says Jennifer. "But it was beautiful. Everyone was flashing pictures of us and cheering and yelling. I felt like a celebrity."

Fishbowls filled with live fish and floating candles topped the tables. Meanwhile, a joyous, fun-loving energy began to fill the air-especially when Jennifer's Uncle Leo, the DJ, played everything from classic Frank Sinatra to the Hokey Pokey. And then her Uncle Vinnie caught the bouquet. "The whole night was just a blast," says the bride.

--Amy Elliott
photography: Marisu Wehrenberg and Andrew Edwards

For the ingredients that make up this wedding, see right-hand column of this page.

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