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WHEN ONLINE AD IDEA FAILS TO RAISE ENOUGH MONEY, COMMUNITY RALLIES TO HELP
[November 23, 2005]

WHEN ONLINE AD IDEA FAILS TO RAISE ENOUGH MONEY, COMMUNITY RALLIES TO HELP


(Asheville Citizen-Times)After an 11-year courtship, couple use creative financing for

Dream Wedding

When online ad idea fails to raise enough money, community rallies to help

FAIRVIEW -- When Dustin Hartley decided to marry his longtime girlfriend, he went all out.

There was only one problem.

Money.

Neither had the means to make their love legal and fairly spectacular, and both were shooting for a small wedding and reception. After figuring out the budget, they still came up short.

Then Dustin had an idea. He'd heard about people selling wacky things on eBay and reeling in all sorts of unbelievable dollars. The 27-year-old Jaguar technician took $70 out of the bank and created a Web site, www.saveourwedding.net. He proposed selling ad space on their Honda Element to raise money for the wedding. But at the end of the bidding, only $26 and change rolled in.



He was heartbroken.

But he wasn't giving up. He would do whatever it took to marry this young woman.


For 11 years he'd loved Micah Richardson, 26, and kept in touch with her no matter how much distance, including family moves and college, which would separate them over the years.

The two met in a high school drama class in Lenoir and quickly became best friends.

"I had just moved to North Carolina in the eighth grade," said Micah, who works at the Crest Center and Pavilion in Asheville. "He came to my 15th birthday party. We spent so much time around each other it turned into something a little more."

They shared birthday parties, family holidays, graduations, prom dates and even survived the biggest love zapper of all -- distance.

Nothing would keep them apart in heart. Not the years, the miles or the times they dated other people. That 11-year friendship was a solid basis for a love that would ignite a few years ago when both realized they couldn't live without the other.

Her family moved to Florida, where Micah went to college. The two kept up through letters and phone calls.

"He went to college in Phoenix and would send me plane tickets to come up to Lenoir," Micah said. "I knew that it wasn't over when I went back to Florida. Our friendship was very, very strong. I knew something was there but tried to leave it in God's hands."

After both graduated, Dustin moved to a city near Washington, D.C., and found work as a Jaguar technician.

"He called me out of the middle of nowhere and said, 'Let's give it another shot.' We had tried the long-distance thing and it was too hard, so I moved out there. I wanted to see him so badly."

Dustin said he knew from the beginning there was something extra special about Micah.

"I hoped as a teen I would one day marry her. Being so far apart for so many years, you feel lonely. You want to be with your friend and can't. When we got back together it was like fire," he said.

The year was 2000 and both were in their early 20s. When Dustin's parents bought a tire store in Lenoir and asked him to help run it, he left the D.C. area and moved. Micah went too, and began selling tires.

For about two years she stayed, but realized true love and business aren't the best mix. She got a job waiting tables and later moved to Asheville.

"Dustin decided to move on, too, and became a Jaguar technician in Asheville," she said.

In the back of her mind, she sometimes wondered if and when Dustin would propose. She never pushed him, and the day it happened took her by surprise.

They were in Blowing Rock on Feb. 13 with relatives and eating at a barbecue restaurant when they decided to go up on the parkway.

Dustin wanted to stop in a convenience store and buy a camera. They were headed to a familiar spot -- one where the two had enjoyed romantic moments and picnics over the years.

"We were sitting there getting our pictures taken, and he all of a sudden got down on one knee," Micah said. "I was like, 'What are you doing?' I never thought he would do it in front of other people. I remember it was cold and rainy. He pulled out a little box and said, 'I want you to be my wife.' "

"Yes," she answered, crying. "Oh my gosh, yes."

The two moved into a house in Fairview and continued working and trying to save money. Micah waited tables and Dustin worked at the Land Rover/ Jaguar dealership. Money was tight. But so was their love.

"We were wondering how we were going to pay for this wedding," Micah said. "Family paying for it wasn't an option."

Dustin was determined to marry this woman before her glorious brunette mane turned gray. He would do everything he could to see it happen. That's when he set up the Web site and tried to sell ads on eBay.

He figured if people could sell toast that looked like Jesus or spittle from Elvis' water cup, he could surely get someone to buy an ad to put on his car.

The bidding was paltry. Even so, the news that a couple was trying so hard to pay for their own wedding sparked a small media frenzy and lots of businesses decided to chip in and help.

The ringleader of the effort was Joe Lasher, owner and president of M7 Event Solutions, which manages the Crest Center and Pavilion, Claxton Farm and Orchard at Broadmoor.

"I was watching the news and I thought, 'This fellow really wants to do something for his fiance,' " Lasher said. "My heart went out for them and I thought, 'Maybe I can do something and give back to the local folks.'"

His company does more than 200 weddings a year, he said. "I thought this would be a good way to pull our services together to make a memorable wedding for those folks, and get everybody in the industry together to help out."

What came together is nothing short of a fairy-tale wedding.

The couple married in the church they grew up in -- Littlejohn United Methodist in Lenoir. Dustin was the fifth generation of his family to be married in this church. Sharon Elizabeth Bed-and-Breakfast in Lenoir provided a brunch and place for the wedding party to dress and relax before the ceremony.

Lasher and the team of wedding businesses he put together made every wish come true. Following them to Lenoir and doing all the hairstyles and makeup for the wedding party, was Marc Edward and Co. Salon of Asheville. Gudgers, along with the Enchanted Forest, provided flowers, Mrs. B's made a wedding cake, Saturday in the Park shot the photos, Patrick Day and Reagan Blake played music.

Jaguar and Land Rover of Asheville loaned out a fleet of fine cars. The Renaissance provided the newlyweds with a bridal suite.

"It was perfect," Micah said of the wedding and reception. "Just perfect." The reception, held at the Crest Center, was like a dream come true.

Chocolate flowed from a fountain. The food was wonderful. And when people tried to pay cash for beer and wine, Lasher told them to put their money away.

"It was just unbelievable," Dustin said of the Oct. 1 wedding. "Incredible is the best word for it."

For those attending, the couple made 150 jars of jam.

"They saved their berries all summer," said Bethany Putnam, sales support manager at M7 Event Solutions. She was also instrumental in pulling this wedding off. "They had strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries ... and called their jam 'Spread the Love.' "

The pair also decided to donate space on their Honda Element to every business that helped with the wedding.

"They're a wonderful couple," Bethany said. "So humble and sweet."

And very much in love.

"There's no doubt I found the right person," Dustin said. "We went more than 10 years. I had always had a feeling the last chapter wasn't written, that it wasn't finished.

"The wedding was more than I could have ever hoped for."

SPECIAL TO THE CITIZEN-TIMES

Dustin Hartley, 27, kisses his new bride Micah Richardson. The two have been together for 11 years before a community fell in love with them and provided their wedding free of charge.

SPECIAL TO THE CITIZEN-TIMES

Dustin Hartley and Micah Richardson, shown in their high school prom photos, have been friends since teenagers growing up in Lenoir.

Web Extra

For a photo gallery of the wedding, visit CITIZEN-TIMES.com.

w/ Susan Reinhardt col.sig

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