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Happily Ever After with Austin Wedding Day's Ultimate Wedding Giveaway

One lucky couple wins a sleek, modern dream wedding in Austin Wedding Day’s Ultimate Wedding Giveaway.
By: 
Leila Kalmbach

Good things come to those who wait. For our Ultimate Wedding Giveaway winners, love was worth waiting for.

Tanya Thomas and John Stradley met five years ago while working at Longhorn Steakhouse, she a server and he a cook. But when she left to study abroad through the University of Texas at Austin, John feared he’d missed his chance with her forever.

“I had my eye on her while we were working together, but I didn’t actually think she’d ever come back to working at a little restaurant,” he says. “I never thought I was going to see her again.”

But as fate would have it, Tanya had interest, too. She sent him a message when she was getting ready to return to Austin, and suggested they get together when she was back in town. That led to a first date at Freebirds, where they ate burritos and laughed at each other’s jokes. Afterward, they ventured to Mount Bonnell. It was raining, so they had the scenic spot all to themselves; they stood together under a small umbrella, hugging and gazing at Lake Austin and the misty skyline.

And they’ve been together ever since.

“I liked her attitude. She was kind of bossy and that’s what I like,” John says, joking. “I don’t know what she saw in me.” To which Tanya replies, “I was just attracted to you right away.”

Tanya and John share many hobbies, among them watching sports, especially football, and spending time with family and friends. The pair also spend many delightful weekends doing family activities with their 4-year-old daughter.

Popping the Question

On July 31, 2016, Tanya’s parents came to Austin to visit, so the couple planned a family cookout. Tanya was standing at the stove when her daughter walked in wearing a sign that read, “Mommy, will you marry my daddy?”

“I had been asking John to propose for a really long time, and the little sign was in my mom’s handwriting, so I thought it was a mean joke that my mom and my sister were playing on me,” Tanya says.

But it wasn’t a ruse. John came around the corner, and with her family excitedly watching, got down on one knee and presented her with a black diamond engagement ring.

“I wanted to make sure her family was there for it,” John says.

Tanya’s sister brought over Champagne, and many friends soon arrived to help celebrate. The engagement festivities continued into the following weekend, celebrating once more with friends and family.

Lucky in Love

The couple entered Austin Wedding Day’s Ultimate Wedding Giveaway as a lark. They hadn’t heard anything for a long time after entering, and assumed they hadn’t won. Then Tanya received an email: They were one of three finalist couples.

“Even just getting to that point was crazy,” John says.

The experience turned from crazy to surreal when representatives from the magazine showed up at their door in a limo, carrying an oversized check and announcing that they’d won.

“I had this weird look on my face; I just couldn’t believe it was happening,” John says. “I started crying. It was unreal. I’ve never had anything like this happen.”

“It was a huge blessing, to say the least,” Tanya adds.

The couple had been planning to put off their wedding until at least next year because of financial considerations and hadn’t been planning on a honeymoon. Thanks to the generous vendor donations, however, they were able to use money they’d set aside for the wedding and plan a honeymoon to Negril, Jamaica.

“Everyone was really awesome,” John says of the Ultimate Wedding Giveaway vendors. “They were super-friendly and helpful and willing to go over the top for us.”

Not having to choose vendors made things easy for the couple. Tanya especially appreciated their flexibility and how willing they were to make their dream vision come to life.

Tying the Knot

Tanya and John married in an elegant modern wedding at the Long Center in Austin on October 13, 2017, in front of 140 family members and friends. The ceremony was held on the City Terrace overlooking the Austin skyline.

Like most nearly-weds, Tanya and John found themselves with wedding-day jitters on the morning of their big day. “But that was gone immediately after the ceremony,” Tanya says. “Everyone was so helpful and made everything go smoothly. All we had to worry about was the actual moment of saying ‘I do.’”

Two of the most special moments of the day occurred before the wedding even took place. The first was Tanya’s first look with her father—which was particularly emotional, she notes, because she’s a daddy’s girl. The other was John’s first look with their daughter, who was 3 years old, in her purple flower girl dress—a moment that brought him to tears. “Our daughter is an amazing outcome of our love for one another,” Tanya says.

John’s best friend from childhood served as their officiant. “We preferred to have somebody that we are close with perform the ceremony,” Tanya says. “He’s very laid-back like we are.”

The ceremony incorporated music, and their readings included a quotes about the longevity of love from British novelist Louis de Bernières. “It was very sweet and just felt like us,” Tanya says.

The couple each wrote their own vows and talked them over with their officiant before the ceremony. John initially wanted to write the vows together, since he didn’t feel confident putting his feelings down on paper. But they ended up writing them separately, which made for a touching moment when they heard what the other had written for the first time. “Both of us could not stop crying,” Tanya says. “We really enjoyed hearing how we have affected each other’s lives so positively.”

Tanya wore a lace fit-and-flare wedding gown with overskirt by Eve of Milady from Signature Bridal Salon. Instead of a traditional bridal party, she chose to have a matron of honor (her sister), a maid of honor (her college best friend) and a “bridesman” (her closest male friend since middle school). The matron of honor wore a dark purple high-neck chiffon dress by Desireé Marie Design, the maid of honor wore a light purple dress, and the bridesman wore a dark purple suit with light purple tie.

John had six groomsmen, who wore black pants and vests with gray shirts, purple ties and white boutonnieres. In contrast, the groom wore gray pants, vest and tie with a purple flower on his lapel.

Time to Celebrate

After the ceremony, guests moved to a covered portion of the terrace for cocktail hour. There they enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres catered by the Long Center and Sterling Events, including crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms and bacon-wrapped shrimp, as well as the couple’s signature drink, a jalapeño margarita (“We like a little spice,” Tanya says.).

Guests had a full open bar, including top-of-the-line liquor—and beer, to suit the groom’s tastes. “I also had to make sure there was Modelo,” John adds.

Cocktail hour brought one of Tanya’s favorite moments. Her parents surprised the couple with a mariachi band, a nod to her heritage, and two of her aunts serenaded them. This was something Tanya had mentioned she’d enjoy, but she hadn’t expected it to happen and was delighted when it did.

After cocktail hour, guests moved into a large transparent tent provided by the Long Center and Sterling Events, for an indoor atmosphere where guests could still enjoy views of the city and natural surroundings.

As with the wedding party, the wedding colors were black and silver with pops of purple. The tent was lit and decorated by the Long Center and Sterling Events using purple uplighting, romantic tea lights and black chandeliers. Centerpieces of candles and purple hydrangeas from Austin Rainbow Boutique graced the tables.

Dinner was a dual plate with filet mignon and chicken, along with asparagus and mashed potatoes, catered by the Long Center and Sterling Events, and was greatly enjoyed by the guests—“I don’t think anyone went hungry that night,” John says.

The wedding cake was a sparkling silver five-tiered creation by Cakes ROCK!!!, decorated with crystals and flowers, and three flavors: caramel apple with salted caramel buttercream, strawberry with strawberry buttercream, and red velvet with almond amaretto buttercream. John’s groom’s cake, made by the Cake Plate, was in the shape of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers pirate ship (his favorite team). Tanya threw in a Terrible Towel on the end of the ship to represent her favorite team, the Steelers.

Toasts brought extra levity to the occasion—one of the groomsmen gave a speech that roasted John with memories going back to middle school.

Dancing the Night Away

The couple had gone through Complete Weddings + Events’ thousands of songs and chose a playlist they knew would keep their guests on the dance floor, featuring mostly hip-hop and dance tunes.

“My family is all from El Paso,” Tanya says. “The majority of my family is Mexican, so we definitely wanted some Mexican music to show our roots.”

The couple also practiced a first dance for the reception. Although they both love to go dancing, they weren’t exactly experts in dancing together. Luckily, the giveaway included dance lessons from Go Dance, so they prepared for their first dance as husband and wife with help from a pro.

When the time came to hit the dance floor, the couple admits they may have made a few missteps, but a less-than-perfect first dance couldn’t have mattered less to this happy couple.

“Everyone says that we looked great for our first dance,” Tanya says. “The nervousness was gone, so at that point we were just happy.”

As their dream wedding came to a close, the newlyweds had a little more celebrating to look forward to. Cover 3 hosted a post-wedding brunch the morning after the wedding, and the following day the couple headed out on their Jamaican honeymoon, with many happy memories to treasure.

“It was perfect,” Tanya says.