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Engaged: Cori Seedenburg and Chris Gschwendtner

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Her story: Cori Seedenburg, 25, grew up in Altoona, Penn., and now lives in Annapolis. She is a radiation therapist at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Her mother, Kim Shirley, is a salesperson at Ford Courtesy in Altoona and her stepfather, Peter Shirley, is a computer consultant in Altoona.

His story: Chris Gschwendtner, 32, grew up in Altoona, Penn., and now lives in Annapolis. He is an aircraft mechanic at Chesapeake Sport Pilot. His father, Michael Gschwendtner, is a retired Navy master chief in the Altoona area. His mother, Margaret Gschwendtner, is a homemaker and part-time child caregiver in the Altoona area.

Their story: Even though Cori and Chris grew up in the same area, they never knew each other.

After college, the events of 9/11 led Chris to enlist in the U.S. Army infantry. He was deployed to Iraq, where — twice in 15 months — he experienced hits from improvised explosive devices. First, his vehicle was hit by an IED on Feb. 14, 2008. Less than five weeks later, an IED hit the shower he was in.

"I [received] a mild traumatic brain injury," he says. "It was a pretty good concussion. Two times I got my bell rung pretty good." .

It was October, 2008. Chris was now back in the States, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he came across a photo of Cori on a mutual friend's Facebook page.

"My best friend, Erin Cogan, told me her husband had a friend who saw my picture and was asking who I was," says Cori. "But, I was finishing up my last year in college and didn't want to get involved with anyone." Then, she decided to check Chris out on Facebook.

"When I saw his picture that changed everything," she says with a laugh. An intense email exchange followed. But, an actual face-to-face meeting didn't happen until Dec. 26, 2008, when Chris came home on leave, and the two met at a gathering of friends.

"It felt like everyone else disappeared and it was just Chris and I that night," says Cori. "We talked, laughed and knew that we had something special, and we did."

"There were sparks, fireworks. I definitely knew this was somebody I wanted to know better," says Chris.

They saw each other every day that week.

Chris went back to Fort Riley to finish his last month of military service. When it ended, Chris didn't waste any time.

"I had a 16-hour drive ahead of me and I wasn't going to stop until I could get home and see Cori," he says.

He drove the entire way, only stopping for gas and snacks.

"It was about 20 hours of traveling," he says. "When I got home, there was a snowstorm." .

"We've pretty much spent every day together since," says Cori.

When Cori finished school and was offered the job at AAMC, the couple decided to move to Annapolis.

After two more years of going to different Army schools in his attempt to become an Army pilot, Chris was denied the chance. So, he did the next best thing, going to flight school on his own, eventually getting his pilot's license and his job at the school in Annapolis.

"Cori is the most caring and genuine person I know, " he says. "She would give you the shirt off her back. You can tell by her profession. She works with cancer patients. She goes above and beyond for other people. She supports me. Not many other people would support someone who spent two years jumping through hoops to [pursue] their dream."

"Chris is truly my best friend," says Cori. "I trust him. He's strong about everything. He helps me out with everything. I have so much fun with him. I can be silly around him. I'm so proud of him and everything he's done. He's served our country. He's a good guy and he has a huge heart."

The proposal, Christmas Eve, 2011: The couple knew they would be getting married. They started talking about it during the summer of 2011. But they also knew they wanted to buy a house. So, they figured they would be doing a small, simple affair on a small budget. Then, a friend of theirs told them about a contest she had seen advertised on television.

South River Golf Club had just renovated its clubhouse and The Bistro restaurant and was holding "The Ultimate Wedding Give-Away," in which couples were encouraged to submit videos showing how much fun they were. The winning couple would receive a wedding — complete with the goods and services from a number of area vendors — worth up to $50,000 at The Bistro.

Cori and Chris got to work — using old photos and shooting at various locations around Annapolis — creating their video.

"We gathered up all the videos and pictures that we had and put together something," says Cori. "With him in the military and me in the nursing, we re-enacted the soldier kissing the nurse in Times Square on V-Day...We went around Annapolis holding signs saying. 'Take us to The Bistro.' We had it on Facebook. It was amazing how many people logged onto The Bistro's website and commented on the video; something like 600...people we don't even know."

Chris knew he wanted to include the proposal in the video. But, he also wanted to keep it a surprise to Cori. That opportunity presented itself Christmas Eve in Altoona.

"Every Christmas Eve, my family gets together and do the gift exchange with all the grandchildren," says Cori. "I could tell Chris was acting kind of different. He wasn't talking with me that much. He was hanging out with my grandfather and my brother a lot. I asked him to join me on the couch and he shook his head no. The next thing I know, he gets down on one knee and I see my grandfather with the video camera coming out from behind the Christmas tree.

"He had a whole speech about how much he loved me and how he would take care of me. It was just perfect.

"I had a suspicion he was going to do it on the 26th because that was our anniversary. But, I had no idea he would do it then, especially in front of the whole entire family. It takes a good guy to do that in front of the whole entire family."

On Feb. 14, 2012, The Bistro announced Cori and Chris had won the Give-Away.

"This Valentine's Day [certainly] made up for that other Valentine's Day," says Chris, recalling the IED attack in 2008.

You can see more about the couple, their video and the event at http://www.bistroultimatewedding.com.

The wedding, Oct. 26, 2012: The entire event will take place at The Bistro at South River, in Edgewater, with Lighthouse Limousines providing a shuttle for the guests from a hotel in Annapolis.

The ceremony will be held outside under a pavilion, with flowers and candles along the aisle.

The maid-of-honor, matron-of-honor and three bridesmaids will wear navy satin strapless knee-length dresses with a sweetheart neckline, from David's Bridal. They'll be carrying bouquets of orange flowers like orange calla lilies, dahlias, orange garden roses, and red James Storie orchids, accented with berries and Bells of Ireland and wrapped with burlap.

Cori is keeping her dress a secret except to say it's a long ivory Allure gown from Bridals by Elena. Her bouquet will be a mix of white and ivory flowers — orchids, calla lilies and dahlias — wrapped in burlap. About Faces will be doing hair and make-up for the bridal party.

Chris, his best man, and four groomsmen will all be wearing dark gray suits, with some sort of navy accent. Their boutonnieres will be small orange calla lilies.

All the wedding party's attire — with the exception of Cori's gown — are the only things not included in the wedding prize.

After a cocktail hour — also outside — the 115 guests will make their way inside.

"The building itself is called The Adirondack Room, with this up-north woodsy feeling," says wedding planner Raquel Shutt, of Wedding Savvy. "The room has a lot of character. So, we're working with that [as a theme]."

Cori wanted a rustic, romantic feel. "With flowers everywhere — oranges and reds, and burlap and ivory."

The head table will have a white tablecloth with a burlap runner. On top of that will be white candelabras with crystals hanging from them and another "runner" of white and ivory flowers like hydrangeas, Bells of Ireland and ivory dahlias.

Guest tables will have ivory crinkle crush tablecloths. Chairs and linens are being supplied by Grand Rental Events.

"I love tall cylinder containers with floating candles and lots of flowers," says Cori. "The cylinders will have sweet gum branches mixed with curly willow with some orchids in there and a bell of Ireland, too," she says.

Around the base will be smaller glass cylinders wrapped in burlap with floating candles.

The flowers are being done by My Flower Box Events in Baltimore and Marina Rowley at Contessa Flowers in Annapolis.

"We're also going to do hanging lanterns with white pearl accents and hanging candles over the dance floor," says Racquel.

Cori and Raquel also wanted to include Chris' love of aviation in the theme, too.

So, the engagement photos and save-the-date cards featured the couple at the Bay Bridge Airport where Chris works. And the invitations will be aviation flight maps of Annapolis and the Bay Bridge airport area. Both are being done by Paper Trousseau in Severna Park. Raquel and Cori are also looking into using little balsa wood airplanes as place cards or party favors.

"[Raquel and Cori] really went out of their way to incorporate things I enjoy," says Chris.

Guests will have a choice of entree for the seated dinner: Chicken Chesapeake or steak au poivre.

The couple is still working with Fiona's Creative Cakes on exactly what wedding cake they want. And guests will all get caramel apples courtesy Oh My Chocolate.

"That works in really well with the theme," says Cori.

C&J Entertainment is supplying the deejay.

"He's a blast — he's animated and genuine," says Chris, who is also enthusiastic about Hamilton Photography, which did the engagement photos and will do the wedding, as well.

And there's another form of photography at the wedding, too — a photo booth, courtesy Maryland Mojo Photo.

"Our friends are going to be able to go into a photo booth and snap some pictures," says Chris. "And we're going to have a wedding album where people can slap in some of the photos and write something to us."

Ask Chris and Cori about wedding planning stress and you'll hear there is none, thanks to Raquel and the rest of the wedding prize.

"Everyone has made this so easy and smooth," says Chris. "Ultimately, we're not extravagant people. Small things make us happy. This whole thing is surreal for the fact that we weren't expecting everything we were going to have, and the Bistro is supplying it all."

"We are so appreciative — it feels like a fairytale, and we get to have the wedding of our dreams," says Cori.

"What she wants ultimately makes me happy," says Chris."I just want to be able to give her the wedding she deserves, and this has made it possible to do that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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