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A wedding out of nowhere

This couple never saw today coming. And they'll never forget it.

By BRADY DENNIS
Published November 10, 2006


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photo
[ Courtesy of the Cooper family]
Sgt. Christopher Cooper is home on leave from Iraq. They don't know it yet, but he and Sheryl Lucas will marry tonight in a full ceremony.

The soldier's name is Chris Cooper. The Army recently gave him two weeks' leave from Iraq.

So he flew home to Jacksonville. His fiance, Sheryl, flew in from Arizona. They planned to get married at the county courthouse before he headed back to the desert.

But Chris' mother and three older sisters had a different idea.

"It's the only real wedding day they'll ever have," one sister said. "It might as well be a fabulously wonderful day."

So they hastily planned a wedding. A real wedding. A surprise wedding.

They scrambled around town, asking for help.

Winn-Dixie donated the cake. Embassy Suites offered two free nights for the newlyweds. Village Inn chipped in 10 pies. Men's Warehouse kicked in tuxedoes.

A photographer agreed to take pictures. A limo company offered a free ride. Chris' uncle, a Baptist minister, flew in from Virginia to perform the ceremony.

Pretty soon, the schemers had a $10,000 wedding lined up. They didn't tell the bride and groom.

One sister's house has grown cluttered with the makings of hurried matrimony - champagne glasses and sparkling grape juice, flower girl baskets, rose petals, party favors, guest books, the bride's bouquet, purple this and purple that.

Chris' mother, Shirley Cooper, smiled proudly at their work. Every mother wants her son to have a proper wedding.

"We wanted to make it special," she said. "Getting married at the courthouse isn't very romantic."

And so tonight at 5, even though they don't know it yet, Sheryl, 32, and her 30-year-old soldier will say their vows under a cypress tree on the banks of the St. Johns River.

They will share a too-short honeymoon at a hotel off Interstate 95.

And then the soldier will head back to Baghdad, with more reasons than ever to come home again.

Brady Dennis can be reached at dennis@sptimes.com or 813 226-3386.

[Last modified November 10, 2006, 01:13:46]


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