A match made in cyber heaven leads to a sweetly savored wedding in Milton.
Written by Jordan Carter
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people look for love on Match.com. Ashleigh Winter and TJ Dillow were two of the lucky ones who found it. Ashleigh says she had her fair share of terrible—but in hindsight, humorous—dates from the site before getting a message that was a little unlike the rest. His name was TJ Dillow, and he was an attractive, goal-oriented, adventurer and outdoorsman. “His message was very long and detailed. He put effort into trying to get to know me right from the start,” she says. And he lived close—in Ironton, Ohio, just an hour away from Ashleigh’s home in St. Albans.
After a week or two of talking, Ashleigh, a middle school language arts teacher and TJ, a train dispatcher, had their first date in Huntington at Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar, ending with coffee at Starbucks. Full of good conversation and instant attraction, the date was comfortable from the first moment. The two started hanging out more and soon became a couple. After a spontaneous trip to Jamaica two months into their relationship, the two could see suddenly themselves together long-term. For TJ, that trip set the gears in motion.
From Internet Encounter to Hi-Tech Proposal
Ashleigh’s 28th birthday would end with the gift of a lifetime, but it began just like any other day. On September 5, 2013, Ashleigh went to work and came home none the wiser of a special plan TJ had in store. “It was just a casual day,” she explains. She and TJ had dinner with her family that evening in Charleston, but despite her requests, TJ refused to let her open her present beforehand. “We’re kind of running late,” was his easygoing excuse. “He wasn’t acting weird or anything so I didn’t think anything of it,” Ashleigh says.
After enjoying a nice dinner and a walk around Charleston with TJ, her dad, and her grandma, Ashleigh remembered she still had a present to open. Back at her apartment, TJ presented her with an iPad. “I was just excited about that. I had no other thoughts about what else was going to happen,” Ashleigh says. But there was more. TJ had taken pictures of his handwritten love notes and uploaded them to the iPad. “I was just scrolling through them, and then I started tearing up a little bit. I still had no clue. I just thought he was being extra sweet.”
Then she found the last one. It read: “Will you marry me?” Ashleigh looked up to see TJ down on one knee with a breathtaking diamond ring in his hand. “I was just bawling my eyes out. I don’t even know what he said after that point.” She asked him to say it again, but the exact words were lost in the moment. Still, she’d heard enough to know her answer—a resounding “yes.”
DIY In Mind
When the couple began planning their wedding, they found their laid-back attitude made for smooth sailing. First, Ashleigh went to Pinterest with DIY in mind, where neutral colors like summery yellow and classic gray inspired her. Later, a bridesmaid showed the bride-to-be how to make faux flower bouquets cinched with ribbon, and another bridesmaid helped make the programs. Even the bride’s footwear—bedazzled with “I Do” on the outside of the shoe—were crafted DIY. “It was the moments of quality time as we were doing wedding stuff that really meant a lot and were most memorable.” That quality time—the hours TJ sat with Ashleigh as she glued pearls around the cake stand—added a special touch to the experience, she says.
A trip to David’s Bridal in Charleston with bridesmaids and close friends could have proved difficult with so many personalities in one room. But it didn’t take Ashleigh long to find the gown she would wear on her wedding day—a taffeta A-line gown with a sweetheart neckline. It was the third dress she tried on. “I kind of got teary-eyed. It was the simplest dress, but for some reason, it was perfect,” she says. Her company agreed.
Even though she tried on one more gown just to make sure, Ashleigh knew she’d met her match. From entrance to exit, the process took only thirty minutes and the bride-to-be got to take the dress home the same day because it needed zero alterations. Even after training for a marathon and losing a few inches, all she had to do was take the dress back to David’s Bridal. “It just so happens that the size down fit perfectly then, too. I didn’t have to do any alterations. I just swapped the dress out. It was just the easiest thing. It really must have been meant to be.”
Setting the Scene
Despite her maiden name, Winter, Ashleigh wanted a summer wedding. Set for August, the couple knew their big day would probably be a scorcher. But the historic Maylon House in Milton suited their needs, providing not only indoor and outdoor spaces so guests could stay cool, but also convenience. The venue was located halfway between the bride and groom’s families. And its all-inclusive nature was another advantage. The couple was able to do the ceremony, reception, and rehearsal dinner in one place.
Calm Before the Storm
As part of the couple’s all-inclusive package, the bridal party had access to the grounds of the Historic Maylon House all day. Ashleigh got primped and polished in a room fit for a princess—pink, flooded with natural light, and adorned with a chandelier, vanity, settee, salon chair, and plenty of mirrors. Rooms were also available for the bridesmaids, groom, groomsmen, and mothers of the bride and groom.
On her wedding day, Ashleigh was calm. “My bridesmaids actually made note of that. I really wasn’t nervous at all. They did a really good job of freaking out on the inside for me without me knowing,” Ashleigh says. That was because they all knew—even TJ—something Ashleigh did not: It was going to storm on the day of their outdoor wedding.
“When I looked out the window, it was a beautiful morning,” Ashleigh says. But TJ was glued to the radar. “He was so worried that the rain was going to come early and that I was going to be freaking out, but I was in my own world.” That was until Ashleigh’s maid-of-honor burst in with the news. “She’s not one to sugarcoat things. She came up to me and said, ‘We have a huge problem. It’s about to storm.’” Hoping they could outrun the rain, the soon-to-be-newlyweds started the ceremony twenty minutes early.
A Subtly Meaningful Ceremony
From the young attendants—nephews in grey Vans, bowties, and suspenders and a two-year-old flower girl with a personality big enough to steal the show—to the ceremony itself, everything was laidback and casual. Even Ashleigh’s “something old” was humble yet meaningful—a change purse from an Easter church trip with her grandparents more than twenty years ago attached to her bouquet. “My grandma kept it ever since. She said that I had to carry it, that it would mean so much to her.”
The couple also wanted something subtle but meaningful to commemorate the loved ones they’d lost. A single yellow rose sat on a chair during the ceremony. “It was just perfect. I was able to look over at that, remember, and then go back into the moment,” she says.
With storm clouds approaching, Ashleigh walked down an aisle strewn with yellow and white rose petals to a gazebo where TJ waited for her. His sister managed to capture TJ’s first look at his new bride. “It’s a really sweet picture because he just looks so excited. It kind of makes me a little teary-eyed,” Ashleigh says.
Vows said and promises made, the couple lowered their heads for the final blessing of their matrimony just as a cold wind blew through. “I looked up and the entire sky was black,” Ashleigh says. The party dashed for the reception hall with the storm on their heels. Chairs toppled, rose petals swirled, and a vase shattered but spirits remained high. “I just started running,” Ashleigh says. “But TJ grabbed me and said, ‘I’m getting that first kiss,’” a moment captured by their photographer. Thankfully, Ashleigh’s sister-in-law remembered to grab the yellow rose, which Ashleigh still keeps in a box with other wedding mementos. “Your wedding day never goes as planned, and up until that point, it had,” Ashleigh says.
A Sweet and Savored Reception
You might say lemons were a recurring theme at this little affair. They filled vase after vase, found their way into centerpieces, and into one of the four flavors of cupcakes—lemon, cookies and cream, Reese’s peanut butter, and vanilla. Lemon was even the flavor of the small cake made for couple’s first bites. Their wedding favors—rock candy sticks with the label “Love is Sweet Ashleigh & TJ 8.2.14” were lemon, too. Choosing the menu was perhaps the easiest step of all at this all-inclusive venue. Guests had their pick of chicken, prime rib, green beans, and mashed potatoes.
Meanwhile, Brandon Woolum, a DJ the couple found in their WV Weddings magazine, kept the party going with an interactive playlist. Guests had the chance to add their favorite songs on their RSVP cards. “It was a nice touch. Everybody got to hear something they liked,” the bride says. After fun activities like the Shoe Game, where partygoers got to see how the newlyweds’ personalities meshed, everyone had the chance to add their own stamp to the big day with a Polaroid camera and props. Once the photo came out, guests could add the image to a photo book for the couple to enjoy later. “We got to see our families and friends that came together. People would take pictures with the Polaroid, but would also have someone take a picture with their phone so they got to keep a picture, too.”
At the end of the day, full of enough memories to last a lifetime, the couple said goodbye to their guests and later left for a honeymoon in Montego Bay, Jamaica.