Love is in the air
He noticed her high on a billboard. Then at a party. Then things really took off.
By AMY SCHERZER
Published July 6, 2007
After Joezette Clausen and Brad Hite were married in Tampa, she surprised him with a helicopter ride to the reception in Sarasota.
[Amy Pezzicara | R. Joseph Photography]
[Special to the Times]
Joezette Clausen (far left) posed for a Coors Light billboard that developer Brad Hite passed frequently on his commute.
[Amy Pezzicara | R. Joseph Photography]
Towers of Channelside developer Brad Hite and Joezette Clausen met at a friends' party, after he recognized her from a billboard on I-275 (above). They married Dec. 9, 2006.
HARBOUR ISLAND -- Joezette Clausen heard the DJ say "billboard audition" and upped the volume on the radio. A beer distributor was seeking Tampa women to pose for a billboard that would make I-275 drivers thirst for Coors Light whenever they approached the Ashley Street exit. Weeks later, Brad Hite was one of those drivers. He checked out the blond on the far left of that billboard every time he passed it. Little did he know, it was a sign of things to come.
Clausen taught English at Jefferson High back then, August 2003. Her students got a kick out of teasing the teacher on a giant beer billboard, especially one who wasn't much older than they. Strangers stopped her all the time, adding to her 15 minutes of fame. Clausen had modeled and acted a bit, but never got this much notice.
Hite's attention, however, the night he spotted her at a party, was more welcome. He found her mixing a drink in the kitchen.
"Hey, you're on the billboard I pass on my way home from work, " Hite said. The conversation continued at Bahasa Lounge later that night, where they discovered neither were huge fans of the South Tampa bar scene.
Ohio-native Hite commutes to Plant City, where he owns Peninsular Engineering and Construction with Rich Sacchi, a friend from his University of South Florida days. Among their projects: a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
Hite had also worked as a stockbroker and sold real estate before starting his company in 1994. Clausen graduated from Plant High in 1998 and Florida State in 2001, then interned for a Tallahassee lobbyist.
For their first date, dinner at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, Clausen wore the dress from the billboard photo.
"I figured a reminder of what caught his eye couldn't hurt, " she said. After dinner he took her to Blue Martini to hear Ace Factor, the band they would be hiring three years later to play at their wedding.
Clausen, 27, dressed as a sexy sailor for their next date, a Halloween costume party. Hite, 39, went as a pimp.
"That's the night I met her parents, " Hite said. He still winces at the first impression he must have given Annette and Allen Clausen of Carrollwood.
Clausen spent that Christmas in Ohio with Hite's family and soon settled into his Harbour Island condo.
In January 2004, Hite, Sacchi and a third partner bought the Fogarty Van Lines property across from the Channelside entertainment complex and began building the first luxury high-rise in the Channel District. Within two weeks of sales, the developers had deposits on all 257 condos in the two 29-story Towers of Channelside.
Residents should begin moving in by August, Hite said. He and Clausen will live in one of the penthouses.
As Hite worked with architects, engineers and realtors, Clausen quit teaching to sell Hill Dermaceutical products on the west coast of Florida. She also opened and closed JoJo's Closet, a trendy ladies boutique in Hyde Park Village.
"She loves shopping, " Hite said, with the sigh of a man who's waited outside many dressing rooms. "They know my credit card at Neiman Marcus."
One morning in May 2006, the couple set out for a bike ride. They hadn't gone very far when Hite yelled to Clausen to wait up.
"I think my chain might be broken, " he shouted. Clausen turned back to see Hite tinkering with one of the wheels. She doubled back and saw the sparkle of a nearly 4-carat diamond ring.
She jumped off the bike and into his arms.
"I couldn't believe it, " Clausen said, admitting she'd been digging through his drawers and closet in anticipation.
Exactly the reason he hid it at the office, Hite said, until he could catch her off guard. Bicycle-shaped "save the date" cards let guests know about the proposal and to circle December 9, 2006, on their calendars.
The ceremony at Sacred Heart Catholic Church was traditional. The reception at the Ringling Museum of Art, and the helicopter ride to get there, were fantasy.
"We got in the limousine to go to Sarasota, and I told Brad we had to stop and pick something up, " Clausen said. The next thing he knew, they were climbing aboard a helicopter at the airport on Davis Islands, a surprise arranged by the bride.
The newlyweds whirled off to greet 150 guests at a Venetian-themed dinner and waltzed into the future as Mr. and Mrs. Hite.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.
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[Last modified July 5, 2007, 19:14:44]
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