When Elena Russo was featured in Baltimore Magazine's 1997 singles issue, the editors wondered in print on the cover whether bachelors would fall for her. Anyone who saw the cover knew the answer. Elena is beautiful. She's a professional model as well as a free-lance stage manager who works for ESPN Sports and other television networks. (She recently finished a stint as a regional producer for the now-defunct Xtreme Football League.)
On the magazine cover, she wore a sexy black dress and high-heeled black pumps. The only prop was an oversized red armchair she sprawled across.
But it wasn't that provocative magazine cover that brought her and Andrew Wendell together. Andrew, a custom homebuilder from Gibson Island, hadn't seen the magazine. Nor did he realize that Elena was featured in popular television commercials for Baltimore's Katz Insurance Co.
Andrew and Elena met not through the medium of print or television, but the old-fashioned way: They were introduced, by Andrew's sister, Betsy Dugan.
Betsy, also a model and now owner of Octavia boutique in Pikesville, met Elena a few years earlier when they were both auditioning for a modeling job in New York.
The women, both Marylanders (Elena was raised in Upper Marlboro and lived in Federal Hill), hit it off immediately. Betsy mentioned Andrew to Elena and Elena to Andrew, but the timing was never right. It took two years for the introduction, which finally happened when Elena and Andrew were part of a group Betsy got together for a Baltimore Ravens exhibition game in August 1998.
Elena and Andrew had fun at the game, and afterward they joined Betsy and her husband, Jay, for dinner at the Owl Bar in the Belvedere Hotel downtown. But the timing was still off.
Andrew and Betsy's father was dying, and his death that September hit Andrew hard. "I wasn't really reaching out to people I didn't know," he says of that period in his life.
Still, he called Elena, and that fall they enjoyed a few "very platonic" dates, she says.
Andrew, 37, is a homebody who prefers quiet evenings on his boat or at his waterfront home in Pasadena. Elena, 30, is outgoing and loves to socialize.
"I was surprised at first how much I liked Andrew since he's not a party animal," she says. But she also saw that he is a good listener, generous and is always conscious of other people's feelings.
Elena soon came to enjoy the fact that Andrew wasn't "dragging me out to happy hours."
On New Year's Eve 1999, Andrew cooked Elena a lobster dinner at his home and served it at a table set with china and crystal. That Valentine's Day he presented her with a dozen roses and took her to Western Maryland for a romantic ski weekend.
The couple continued to date, but didn't discuss marriage. Last February, unbeknownst to Elena, Andrew met with her parents at their Upper Marlboro home to explain his intentions. After receiving their permission, he whipped up another lobster dinner and proposed that very night.
Elena and Andrew married May 19 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Upper Marlboro. A reception followed at the Mount Airy Mansion in Rosaryville. Elena's wedding gown was a gift from Italian designer Peter Langner, whose clothes Elena has modeled for years. Elena and Andrew took a two-week trip to Italy for their honeymoon.
As for that sexy magazine cover, Andrew finally got a look at it when his brother-in-law tracked it down. He saw it for the first time at the couple's engagement party.