Love: ELIZABETH BASTNAGEL & ANDREW NIERADKA

June 22, 2013, in Cherry Hill

Posted: August 15, 2013

Hello there

After a busy week of teaching language arts to seventh graders, Liz was ready for happy hour with coworkers from Carusi Middle School in Cherry Hill.

Her phone buzzed with a text that said it was from friend Jenna: "Wear something cute. I'm bringing a friend."

What the heck, Liz thought. Her eHarmony matches had been disappointing.

Besides, that early evening in February 2011, Liz, who is now 28, needed some lighthearted fun.

She had recently been hospitalized for a blood clot in her leg - a random, frightening incident. This after spending much of 2010 dealing with a chronic stomach problem, exacerbated by the stress of her school district's budget crises and layoff fears.

At Dublin Square in Voorhees, Liz met the friend - Andrew, a contracting officer at the General Services Administration's Philadelphia office.

"Whoa!" she thought. "He is very attractive - tall and handsome."

Andrew, now 30, had been single since the fall of 2010. He was not looking for anything serious, but when Jenna's husband, Shane, told him there would be a few single teachers at happy hour, "I was like, OK, sign me up, I'm coming."

(Andrew and Liz would eventually learn that Shane had swiped his wife's cell to send the "wear something cute" text.)

They talked about teaching and making government purchases, and from there the conversation flowed to family and hobbies and life history. Liz grew up in Cherry Hill, Andrew in Washington Township.

It wasn't so much what was said, but the vibe between them that felt so promising, Andrew said.

He asked for Liz's number. When Andrew pulled out his flip-phone, Liz bust out laughing at his dated technology. She flipped into flirty mode to make up for it: "It's about time you asked for my number," she said.

A former follower of the three-day rule, Andrew called on Monday, and Liz turned off The Bachelor to talk to him.

That Friday, they joined his friends for happy hour at The Public House in Philadelphia. Before the night ended, Andrew asked her to a fund-raising event the next night.

How does forever sound?

On Feb. 18, 2012 - exactly a year after their first happy hour - Andrew stopped by Liz's parents' home in Cherry Hill and received their blessing.

He was driving to the couple's home in Washington Township, when Liz called. "She was stuck in traffic, had had a horrendous day, and was mad at the world," Andrew said.

He figured he could change that.

After stopping for pizza, Andrew found Liz in sweatpants, half-asleep in front of the TV.

It was perfect.

"If I went all out and took her to dinner somewhere nice, she would have figured it out," Andrew said.

In fact, Liz, who suspected a proposal might be coming, had purchased several new dresses for special nights out.

He put the pizza on the counter and knelt in front of the couch.

"Liz, will you marry me?" he asked.

Groggy and caught off guard, it took Liz a second to process what she'd just heard.

"Yes!" she said, suddenly awake and much, much happier.

It was so them

The couple wed at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cherry Hill, Liz's church since childhood.

Andrew was baptized at Trinity a few months before the wedding. He had always admired the role Liz's faith and church had in her life, and began attending with her. Soon it felt like his church, too.

Andrew and Liz kissed the rings before slipping them on to each other's fingers "to symbolize what the ring really represented - our love for each other," Liz said.

The couple entered their reception for 160 by walking down a private staircase into the ballroom. A dozen Merion staff members greeted the couple with a rose, leaving them with a bouquet.

At dessert time, the couple were escorted into a separate room, and were surprised by a large tower of champagne glasses. Andrew and Liz each poured a bottle into the top one, until all glasses were full.

Awestruck

Liz started crying at the site of current and former students entering the church, cried some more when her godfather gave her a handkerchief that had belonged to her beloved, late grandmother, and continued to cry as members of the bridal party made their way down the aisle before her. Then it was her turn.

"As soon as the doors opened, it all kind of went away," she said. "It was like a vacuum, and then in came this extreme happiness, excitement and peacefulness," she said. "I thought, 'This is the rest of my life.'"

Andrew was calm and cool all morning, from getting ready at his parents' house, to walking to the front of the aisle with the minister. Then "they opened the doors and I saw Liz, and I almost broke down," he said. "I was so ready to get married to her. It was the easiest decision I have ever made."

Discretionary spending

A bargain: The DJ, who was Andrew's neighbor growing up and mostly sticks to the club circuit, charged the couple about 30 percent less than a typical wedding DJ.

The splurge: The Merion cost about 45 percent more per person than other venues the couple considered, but the venue set the atmosphere, and also included extras that other options didn't, Liz said.

The getaway

Eight nights in St. Thomas and four nights in St. John.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Officiant

Rev. Gregory Faulkner,

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cherry Hill

Venues

Trinity Presbyterian and The Merion, Cinnaminson

Food

The Merion

Music

DJ Jim Pierson,

Turnersville

Photography

Rich and Mary Ellen Meyer of Meyer Photography, Williamstown

Videography

Dennis Kaiblinger

of Creative Video by Dennis, Medford

Flowers

Mums the Word

Floral Shoppe, Marlton

Dress

David Tutera, purchased

at Kay Bridal,

Maple Shade

Invitations

Mindy Norlian, Mindy's

Magic Brush, Cherry Hill

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