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‘When She Turned Around I Was on One Knee and Asked, ‘Will You Marry Me?’”

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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 bwright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

ANTHONY AND ASHLEY SPARKS

Live: Birmingham

Married: July 10, 2010

Met:  Fall 2003, on campus at the University of North Alabama. Ashley and Anthony crossed paths at the student center. “Ashley and her friend were walking in and I simply held the door for them and Ashley said ‘thank you,’” Anthony recalled.

A few weeks later they met again at an on-campus poetry slam. “ …after the poetry slam, my line brother invited a few people back up to his dorm to watch our probate show and after Ashley saw me on that probate tape she fell madly in love with me,” Anthony laughed.

“It was fun, I thought he was funny for sure. He definitely made me laugh, and he was definitely direct,” Ashley said. “Until that night, I thought he was a professor on campus because he would always wear Polo shirts tucked in with a belt, and I thought he worked for the school,” she laughed.

First date: September 2003, at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant near campus in Florence, Alabama. “My friend and I were just hanging out in front of the dorms on campus, and [Anthony] and his friend were just getting back from church and asked us if we’d like to go to lunch and we said, ‘sure because we were not turning down free food,’” Ashley laughed. “So we hurried and got ready and we had a great time, Anthony has always made me laugh.”

“We drove by the [spot in front of the dorms] on a whim, and there they were… and I [told my friend] let’s see if they want to grab something to eat, and [they accepted],” Anthony said. “That was kind of the catalyst for Ashley and me to talk seriously and exclusively.”

The turn: Oct. 16, 2003, while on a date at the movies. They saw ‘Out of Time’ starring Denzel Washington, and “at some point during the course of watching that movie, Ashley looked at me and told me that she wanted me to be her boyfriend and it petrified me and I got up and walked out and called my uncle Cedric [for some advice],” Anthony recalled. “I said, ‘hey man, Ashley just said she wants me to be her boyfriend and it was kinda unexpected and it freaked me out.’ [Uncle Cedric] talked me down, I think I just needed somebody else to know, and I went back in the movie, and I said ‘yeah, let’s do it’.”

When Anthony abruptly walked out of the movie Ashley said she didn’t know if he was “scared” or being “playful so I just gave him some time. And when he came back in and said, ‘Let’s do it’, I said, ‘ok, if you’re sure.’ It [the turn for exclusive] was a lot for me too, I was just getting to school [at the University of North Alabama] and I thought what we had was really good and I believe he knew that too.”

The proposal: Oct. 16, 2009, at Chateau Elan, a winery/resort in Georgia. Ashley was living in Decatur and in grad school at Alabama A&M University, and Anthony was living in Birmingham and working for Regions Bank. Ashley had driven up to Birmingham and they headed to Georgia for their weekend at the winery.

“The night before I put it all in motion… we watched the movie ‘The Proposal’ starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, and then we drove to Georgia… and when we were on our way to dinner in Georgia I pretended like I forgot something in the hotel room and I went back upstairs and laid rose petals on the floor, around the bed and on the bed in the form of a question mark, and used the ring box as the dot at the bottom of the question mark. I went back downstairs and we went on with our evening and did a few things, we went to Dave and Busters [arcade] and then we came back to the room [at the resort] when we got to the door I let her walk in first so that she could see [the display] and … and when she turned around I was on one knee and asked her ‘will you marry me?’,” Anthony said.

“My initial response was ‘who did this?,’” Ashley said. “I was trying to figure out how it happened without me knowing and I was thinking people were about to jump out,” she laughed. “I was completely thrown off I wasn’t expecting it. Anthony wasn’t nervous, there was nothing that stood out [about his behavior] that could have let on what was about to happen. I liked the ring, the roses, everything was really nice. And then I started calling my friends and my mom and letting them know what had happened.”

The wedding: At 45th Street Baptist Church, in East Lake, officiated by Anthony’s father and pastor The Rev. Andra Sparks, and Ashley’s pastor from her home church in Huntsville, Pastor Bobby Sledge, of Victory World Outreach. Colors for the bride and groom were pink and green.

Memorable for the bride was “my father was walking me down the aisle, he is now deceased [he died of heart issues in December 2010], and seeing Anthony and all of the groomsmen crying. It started with Anthony and went on down the line to his uncle and the seven groomsmen, and I looked over to my bridesmaids and none of them were crying, they were just smiling. There was a very big difference from left to right,” Ashley laughed.

Memorable for the groom was the last-minute dance routine he and the wedding party made up without the bride. “We had separated for about 10 minutes [when Ashley went off with the photographer to take photos] and me, the groomsmen, and the bridesmaids created this little [dance procession] to ‘Teach Me How To Dougie’…  And when Ashley and I walked in, we came in to ‘Pretty Girls’ by Wale and Gucci Mane, and when we got to the table [with the rest of the wedding party] we all hit this little choreographed dance [swaying left to right] and Ashley had been left out of the planning [so she was confused]. And there’s a picture in our wedding book of all of us jamming and Ashley is sitting there with her eyes bucked and her hands up looking like the shrug emoji,” Anthony laughed. “She was like ‘this is cute, but I have no idea what’s going on.”

Honeymoon: A cruise from Miami to the Grand Cayman’s and across the Caribbean Islands, which was also Ashley’s first cruise. “We had fun eating when we wanted to, and however much we wanted, that was the best part,” Ashley said.

Words of wisdom: “I always tell other couples what works for Anthony and me is to put our kids to bed early some nights so that we can spend time together. It’s something that you don’t need a babysitter for … and then we’ll sit down and eat together and talk and we do that randomly whenever we can,” she said.

Anthony agreed, “We do a good job of continuing to prioritize each other. Our kids don’t take anything away from us, we are intentional about doing things with the kids and making family memories, but our kids have not made us put our relationship and our lives on the back burner,” he said.

Happily ever after: The Sparks attend 45th Street Baptist Church in East Lake and have two sons, Aiden, 11, and Ashton, 6.

Ashley, 38, is a Huntsville native, and Hazel Green High School [Madison County] grad. She attended the University of North Alabama in Florence, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and Alabama A&M University, where she earned a master’s degree in elementary education. Ashley is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and works as a math coach for Hoover City Schools.

Anthony, 39, is a Bush Hills native, and Ramsay High School grad. He attended the University of North Alabama where he earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and organizational management, and a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in organizational leadership. Anthony is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and owns Anthony D. Sparks LLC, where he specializes in speaking engagements, content creation, and development coaching. He is also a training and development advisor for the Jefferson County Commission.

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