Dawn Hopper missed what was supposed to be her first date with Jeff Harman.
Dawn's sister and Jeff's cousin set them up on a blind date in July 2000. But Dawn, just back from a trip to Spain, decided not to go to a gathering at her sister's house where Jeff was waiting.
"I thought it was just more of a casual thing . . . and I didn't go," she says. "He was a little upset and he didn't call me for a few weeks."
But Jeff finally did call, and they went out that day, with great success.
"We really just, from the get-go, hit it off," says Jeff, 32, who grew up in Bel Air.
Dawn, 31, who is originally from Dundalk, agrees: "I just felt like I've known [him] forever."
In fact, they had met previously. Ten years earlier, Dawn was a waitress at a bar where Jeff's roommate was a bouncer. Jeff says he used to see her there but didn't get to know her well.
A few months into their relationship, the two faced a difficult situation. In the beginning of January 2001, Dawn's mother, Joan Hopper, found out she had lung cancer. By March, it had spread. Her health failed rapidly and she died in May.
Dawn and her sisters, who lost their father, Francis, when Dawn was 9, took care of their mother at first. Then they visited her at a hospice. Throughout it all, Jeff was there to help the family, spend time with Dawn's mother and comfort Dawn.
"Jeff was with me every day," Dawn says. That support "was really just wonderful. I couldn't have gotten through that without him."
Says Jeff: "I just felt that's what I had to do."
By the fall, the couple had been talking about marriage, and Jeff decided to plan a romantic proposal. In November, he took Dawn to a wooded area by a stream near his home in Abingdon and got down on one knee to propose. When she accepted, he took out a bottle of champagne and they drank a toast from glasses Dawn's mother had given Jeff for Christmas.
"I was overwhelmed," says Dawn, who then helped Jeff carve their initials in a nearby tree.
Dawn's mother was remembered at the wedding at the Antrim 1844 Country Inn. Dawn chose her mother's favorite flower, yellow roses, for the bouquet and wore her mother's engagement ring as "something old."
Jeff's parents, Bernice and Paul Harman, lent their support and the couple's siblings were all part of the wedding party. A friend of Jeff's provided guitar music for the outdoor ceremony and during the cocktail hour.
At the reception, the couple did a traditional Polish "apron dance" using an apron a friend had made from Dawn's mother's wedding dress. Jeff, who likes to sing, shared his rendition of John Cougar Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" and Dawn joined in.
The two are moving into a new home in Forest Hill and in a year or two they hope to start a family. Their professional lives will continue on their current tracks. Dawn enjoys being vice president of Landware, which produces and sells plastic fencing. Jeff is in his eighth year as a sales representative for J. Gibson McIlvain Co., wholesale lumber distributor.
Both of their jobs require that they travel, but they are comfortable with the time apart. "The biggest strength in our relationship is the trust," Dawn says.
In their free time, the two enjoy biking, exercising, golfing and eating crabs.
Both say they are glad they had the opportunity to enjoy being young, dating and having other relationships before meeting each other. Now they know they have each found the right one.
"I'm glad that I waited," Dawn says. "I never felt complete with anyone else."