Photographed by Michelle Waters Photography
She never left home, he never stayed put—a West Virginia native falls for a wanderer from Ohio and the two plan a wedding in Ravenswood.
Written by Mikenna Pierotti
She was on her way to Tennessee, watching the green mountains melt into farms and fields, when it hit her—she was in love. “I’d never really traveled in my life, and I have a big fear of driving,” says Cottageville native Stacey Gleason. “But I overcame it by driving six-and-a-half hours just to see him. I think that was the moment for me.”
Unlikely though it may have seemed from the outside, homebody Stacey and the man she’d fallen for—an Ohioan named J.R. Fraley, who traveled widely but shared her love of music, family, and faith—turned out to be perfect for each other. “We both play guitar and love to sing. We both collect records,” she says. “I tell people that inside we are exactly the same person. I’m just very type A and he’s very type B.” Turns out these seeming opposites had luck on their side from the beginning. They met in a casino in Cross Lanes, both celebrating bachelor and bachelorette parties, and bonded over a mutual interest in agriculture—she in education, he in manufacturing. “One of my friends had noticed Stacey’s party, had got to talking to them, and learned that she was an agriculture teacher. I’m in agricultural implements, so he thought we should meet. We eventually sat down and played blackjack for most of the night,” J.R. says. For Stacey, the whole meeting was a new experience. “I had never played blackjack before in my life. I’m not a gambler at all,” she says. “J.R. taught me how to play and I ended up winning $300.” Despite J.R.’s penchant for travel and his distant position as manager at Taylor Pittsburgh Manufacturing, part of his family business, Stacey wasn’t daunted. And J.R. was eager to show her the world. “I grew up traveling. Anytime I wasn’t in school I followed our family business around. I was in Italy and Amsterdam when I was 15,” he says. At the end of the night J.R. gave Stacey his number. They talked the very next day.
That spark they’d both felt from across a crowded casino didn’t fade with distance. “At the time J.R. was living in Tennessee, so it was already a long-distance relationship,” she says. “We started texting and talking on the phone, and he would drive in on the weekends to see me and we’d always go on a date. Then his sister had a wedding in June about a month later.” J.R. says sharing that memory with Stacey convinced him she was the one. A few months after that, he whisked her off to Hawaii and New Zealand, and her fear of leaving home fell away completely. “I’d spent all my life in West Virginia. Honestly, I didn’t travel much at all in my life,” she says. “But I knew as long as I was with him I’d be OK.”
J.R. had already shown Stacey a bit of the wider world she’d never experienced, but it was back in West Virginia, at Tu Endie Wei State Park overlooking the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, where he decided to show her what she really meant to him—on one knee. “I told her whether it was a cabin in the woods or a mansion on the river—wherever we were—as long as she was with me, we’d be home,” J.R. says. Although he was asking her to give up her life in West Virginia and her job at Ripley High School to marry him and move to Tennessee, Stacey didn’t hesitate. “It had always been my dream to marry my Prince Charming and start a family,” she says. “It was a really easy decision.”
This is the Way
Stacey’s “yes” threw the couple into a frenzy of planning. They were engaged in February 2013, set the date for the following September, and started looking for the perfect church right away. “We set up appointments with two or three, but we didn’t really like any of them,” J.R. says. “Then someone told us about the First Baptist Church in Ravenswood.” Ravenswood already occupied a special place in Stacey’s heart—she’d once lived just a block away from the grand white church, with its steeple reaching for the sky. “It had always stood out to me, but I’d never imagined getting married there,” she says. “In that same city block is the McIntosh building, which is a big Victorian house owned by the city of Ravenswood. It was just a very short walk from the church.” Even though they couldn’t explore the interior, the couple knew the moment they peeked in the church’s windows. “It just fit us,” J.R. says.
With the ceremony and reception venues chosen, the couple moved on to the details. Stacey knew she couldn’t leave her first love—West Virginia—without a proper send-off, so the state would need its own place of honor in the celebration. “I was giving up my home state, my career, everything to come and be with J.R. I really wanted to showcase all the things we love about West Virginia,” she says. From the invitations—screen-printed handkerchiefs wrapped around hand-stamped vintage West Virginia postcards—to the assortment of local antiques and West Virginia glass Stacey collected to display at the reception, the theme was undoubtedly Mountain State, with a little country flair in touches of lace, antique tea sets, florals, and burlap. Above all the couple wanted the event to be a celebration of both their love and the merging of their families. And despite the time crunch, Stacey pulled it all off with ease. “I was very busy, but ever since my wedding, everyone’s been telling me I should be a wedding planner,” she says.
When it came time to choose a dress, however, Stacey was hesitant. “Growing up I was in a lot of pageants, so I’ve been to a lot of dress stores and I’ve tried on a lot of dresses,” she says. “I thought picking out my wedding dress would be very stressful because I’d compare it to all the others I’ve had on. But we randomly picked through one rack at Elizabeth Michaels in Vienna and it was the second one I tried on.” Stacey’s eye had landed on an ivory lace and champagne satin Maggie Sottero gown with a ribbon sash. It was perfect. “As soon as I walked out, I knew, and everyone else—my mom and a longtime family friend who came with me—did too.” To finish the look, Stacey added emerald-cut green amethyst earrings—a gift from the groom—and a cathedral-length ivory veil. She carried a bouquet of cascading blush pink garden roses and ranunculus arranged in a vintage Fenton Art Glass epergne horn. And for luck, she slipped a sixpence in her shoe.
Although Stacey took the reins when it came to wedding planning, J.R.’s choice of attire—a charcoal tuxedo with a champagne tie and vest—perfectly accented the muted colors of their shabby chic affair. On his tux he also wore a unique boutonniere—a pink rose displayed in a bullet casing and wrapped with twine.
Then, on September 7, with their 5 p.m. wedding on the horizon, the couple had their first look alone on a tree-lined drive at the cozy bed-and-breakfast where they’d stayed the night. “We’d been rushing around all day but when we saw each other for the first time, that was what made it all real,” Stacey says. “It was the happiest moment for me.”
Keep Clm and Say I Do
The church was standing room only when Stacey took her father’s arm. Her maids stood waiting in lavender knee-length dresses accented with vintage brooches and added West Virginia details like Fenton glass earrings and bouquets of pink roses set in Fenton silver crests. The groomsmen stood by in matching charcoal tuxedos. After a musical introduction courtesy of guitarists Dickie and Chuck Thacker, the bride’s stepfather and uncle, the bride started down the aisle to a classical rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” But for J.R., everyone else faded away the moment he saw his wife-to-be. “This might be typical, but that moment stood out,” he says. “I was feeling a lot of things. Some can be put into words, some can’t.” After a reading by J.R.’s childhood pastor, and with Stacey’s pastor officiating, the couple said their vows and became man and wife—surrounded by more than 270 loved ones—before making their exit in the bride’s father’s 1931 Ford Street Rod. “When we got into her dad’s car and had the opportunity to get away for just a minute—to get away from the 250 or 300 or however many people made it—and it was just me and her for the first time in about three days, that was perfect,” J.R. says.
Sitting on a Rainbow
After a short walk from the church, guests entered a catered reception at the McIntosh Building, where they laughed and mingled on wide porches, in sitting rooms, and in the dance hall. True to her desire for a chic yet vintage garden feel, tables displayed arrangements of blue Ball Mason jars, antique books and handkerchiefs, floral teacups, lush flowers, and West Virginia glassware, including 150 special hand-blown Blenko Glass Company pieces created in honor of the state’s 150th anniversary. Photo arrangements, postcards, and tea-stained programs made to look like parchment added an even more personal touch to the event. The bride and her grandmother even made strawberry jelly and apple butter from local produce for all 270-plus guests.
Stacey and J.R. later joined the party for a hot, home-style dinner, followed by pie and an elegant two-tier cake decorated with textured icing, garden roses, and two Fenton glass birds. The Ohio-based StillWater band kept the party moving, while dancing, speeches, Mountaineer football on TV, and a special bride-and-groom performance of John Prine’s comedic, “In Spite of Ourselves,” kept the crowd laughing and crying all night. “I don’t think anyone expected it, which was what made it so perfect,” J.R. says of the their unforgettable duet. Stacey laughs even now as she recalls it. “The song sort of picked fun at our flaws in a way, but in the end it says, in spite of all that, we’re perfect for each other.”
Although the event was bittersweet for Stacey—she’d soon be leaving her home state, her family, and her country roads—the future gleamed bright. “Whenever I think about West Virginia, I think about home. It’s everything I am. It’s all of my memories. It’s everything I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “With J.R., I know we haven’t been together that long, but looking back at my life I feel like he’s been there every step of the way. It’s like he is my West Virginia. I feel comfortable now flying around the world or living in Tennessee because he’s with me.”