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‘I was impressed when he agreed to our weekly Bible classes over the phone’

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By JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY

Special to the Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Barnett Wright at bwright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

TORY AND NATASHA SHUMPERT

Live: McCalla

Married: Sept. 10, 2011

Met: Spring 2005, in Tuscaloosa at 15th St. Diner.  “My cousin Stephanie, who is friends with [Natasha] was visiting the campus [University of Alabama] with a group of friends to see if they’d be attending graduate school there, and I offered to take my cousin out to lunch and she said, ‘I’d love to, but I have three other ladies with me.’ And I said, ‘the place I’m going to take you is fairly inexpensive, I can afford to take all four of you.’ …I ended up sitting across the table from [Natasha],” Tory recalled. “I wasn’t trying to date anybody. Although I did notice that [Natasha] was very pretty.”

Natasha wasn’t looking to date anyone either, “I was 100 percent about school and my education at that point, I was just sold on getting into a good graduate school,” she said. “… but I did notice Tory was a handsome guy, and very funny.”

Natasha ended up choosing UA for grad school and completed her master’s degree in summer 2008, without ever crossing paths with Tory.

At graduation time “my family was looking for some hotels to stay in, and they were sold out… I was talking to Stephanie [Tory’s cousin], and she suggested I call him because he used to work in the hotel industry and could probably help me out.”

Tory saved the day. “I contacted some friends who were still GM’s (general managers) at a couple hotels and found some rooms… A month later she called to say thank you… I was finally able to congratulate her and ask how life was going, and if she was married,” Tory said. Natasha was single, so Tory asked her out for a date which she agreed to months later.

First date: Spring 2009, in Columbus, Mississippi at Applebee’s –the halfway point between Tuscaloosa and Tupelo, where Natasha moved back to after finishing grad school.

“I walked in and saw that she [had gotten] real cute. In 2005 she was cute, but by 2009 she was cute-cute, she had upped her cute game,” Tory laughed. “She had her contacts in and her Janet Jackson braids. We sat there laughing and talking like we were old friends from our youth, and as it turns out, growing up, I knew her family, I just didn’t know her… We had a great date, and we decided we would talk [on the phone] all the way back home…”

“I was very impressed by his demeanor as a gentleman. I really liked how respectful he was during the date. He was a very nice, handsome guy. I wanted to see if there was any substance there and he didn’t fall short in any area.  But I had this thing in my head that since he was older than me [Natasha was 27 and Tory was 35], I wasn’t sure how things were going to go. But, it was a very impressive first date,” Natasha said.

The turn: For both Tory and Natasha, it was fall 2009. She was like “we’re going to try this the old fashioned way. You’re going to get to know me, and I’m going to get to know you, we’re going to learn each other inside out. We’re going to be friends in every sense of the word before we take it there and that intrigued me,” Tory said.

Natasha said, “When we decided to advance our relationship from dating to being exclusive, we were still in two different states. I was thinking he might get tired of driving to come and see me, and I might get tired of going to see him, so we’ll just see how this goes. So, for me, it was the consistency in his pursuit of me. I didn’t make it easy, but that didn’t deter him in any way.

“One of the things that impressed me most about him was [his agreeing to] our weekly Bible classes over the phone, and there were not many guys my age doing that…,” Natasha said.

The proposal: April 2010, at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse in Tuscaloosa. Tory had arranged for their dinner to be in a private hibachi room, and for the chef to literally spell it out for her.

“I set it up with the chef that he would actually propose to her. He did a series of tricks, tossing stuff around and then he made a heart out of the rice and wrote ‘will you marry me?’ and put flames around it, it was literally a flaming heart… and when she finally realized what it said she covered her face and started screaming, and I got down on one knee with the ring,” Tory said.

“The ring was really nice. I was wowed. I was really glad that it was happening. I loved him, and I could totally see myself spending the rest of my life with him. I knew he would be an amazing husband and an amazing father, and I knew we were going to do some great things together because we really were friends first…”

The wedding: Tupelo MS. at Inspirational Community Baptist Church [Natasha’s home church]. They had two officiants — Dr. Cordell Phillips, and Greg Bently, [Tory’s Alpha Phi Alpha brother]. Their colors were various shades of eggplant, lavender and teal.

Most memorable for the bride was “exchanging our vows and reliving [surviving the 2011 tornadoes]. I was in Tuscaloosa at that time and I was so scared I could not formulate a prayer to come out of my mouth…,” Natasha said. “That was one of my most vulnerable points in our [relationship] that he has ever seen me and he stepped in and filled that gap… Our wedding was a reflection of [what we survived] for us and our family… We saw it as God giving us a chance to create this beautiful life and family that we want,” Natasha said.

Most memorable for the groom was their two receptions. “Our wedding was off the chain. I was in the hotel industry for years so I knew how to put on an event… We had an outdoor reception that was so big people didn’t even know that we were also having an indoor reception. The indoor reception was formal and invitation only for 120 guests… We had a D.J., an open bar, a candy and treat bar. We had food from 50 different cultures whether you were vegan, vegetarian…. The upstairs [indoor] reception was an adults only, child free zone. We had celebrated love, and our accomplishments. We thanked God for keeping us here because we had survived a tornado, and even though it looked like a cannonball ripped through it, our house was one of the only houses still standing [after the April 2011 tornadoes]. We made it. God wanted us to get to our wedding,” Tory said.

The couple honeymooned in Cancun, Mexico for eight days.

“The honeymoon was an extension of our love and our wedding. We continued celebrating, and our appreciation for the blessings that God had bestowed upon us,” said Natasha.

Words of wisdom: Make sure your spouse is your true friend “because after some of the superficial things [youth/beauty] fade away, you have to be comfortable with that person, flaws and all,” Natasha said. “In our wedding we talked about a three-strand cord and making sure that God is your third strand. It adds to the foundation of our marriage and it makes sure we’re solid as a couple,” Natasha said.

“Operate with a measure of grace and allow for grace, forgiveness and forgetfulness,” Tory said. “Understand that every time your spouse snips or snaps at you, it’s not always about you or something you’ve done. In the beginning I used to wonder ‘what did I do?’ and it could be about anything and has nothing to do with me . . But if you operate with a measure of grace you can understand that everybody is human, and has flesh moments.”

Happily ever after: The Shumpert’s have two children, Aria, 6, Emri, 3.

Natasha, 39, is a Tupelo, Mississippi native and Tupelo High School grad. She attended the University of Mississippi, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and social work. Natasha also obtained a master’s in social work from the University of Alabama, currently pursuing a master of business administration [MBA] degree, and works as the social services coordinator for the Jefferson County Department of Health.

Tory, 47, is a Tupelo [Plantersville] Mississippi native, and Shannon High School [Shannon, MS] grad. He attended Stillman College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. Tory also obtained an MBA at Strayer University and works as the sales manager at University Printing on the campus of the University of Alabama.