Heather Jo Mangum and Gene Goroschko
May 6, 2017, in Philadelphia
After two years of fizzling dates, Heather Jo gave up. She had her supply-chain career at Johnson & Johnson, and more important, three beloved stepkids from her earlier marriage — kids who were spending the summer of 2014 with her.
EHarmony had not quite given up on Heather Jo. An email informed her a match had reached out, and over July Fourth weekend, she could read his profile and respond free. From the start, Gene seemed different from the fizzlers. Heather Jo read thoughtful answers to the dating website's get-to-know-you prompts. Example: The person who had most influenced him was not some celebrity, but his high school band director, whom Gene admired for the example he set.
With the free weekend about to end, Heather Jo, a Malvern native who is now 44, wrote: "Hey, I'm not on here anymore, but here's my phone number, if you want to talk."
Gene, a Hamilton, N.J., native who is now 48, had rarely read a more disappointing sentence.
Heather Jo's profile — from the photos of her laughing with kids Jorden, Zachary, and Jarred, to her confession that she sings too loud at stoplights — made her seem so very real. But as senior vice president of information systems for Physicians Endoscopy, Gene is paid in part to notice patterns of cyberfraud, and he doubted she was real. That "I'm not on here anymore, but here's my phone number if you want to talk" was right out of a catfisher's handbook.
Wanting to be wrong, he invited her to correspond by email.
Heather Jo was disappointed and insulted. "I gave him my phone number, and he sends back his email address? Forget this!" she thought.
Both tried to forget, but throughout the summer, each looked at the other's profile and wondered. After the kids left at the end of August, Heather Jo rolled the dice: "Sorry I haven't written," she wrote. "I've been busy."
Gene called immediately. They talked for hours that night and have talked each night since.
They met at Harvest Seasonal Grill in North Wales, and Date Two was set before Date One ended.
"It took us a long time to get started, but once we got started, every moment after that was perfect," Gene said.
It was exciting, yet comfortable. "I knew where he stood from the beginning," Heather Jo said. "I never had to wonder."
Heather lived in Furlong and Gene in nearby Chalfont with his father, Valentin. Valentin had dementia, and Gene was his primary caregiver. "In moments of clarity, he would tell me she's the one I was meant to spend the rest of my life with," Gene said.
Heather Jo's parents — dad John, stepmom Valerie, and mom Susan — all loved Gene, too. Shortly after meeting him, Susan bought a new set of Tupperware so she could set Gene and Valentin up with home-cooked meals.
In July 2015, as Gene, Valentin, and their dog, Skippy, were preparing to move in with Heather, Valentin died. Gene, whose mom, Alexandra, died when he was just 7, took it very hard. "Trying to go through that alone would have been impossible," he said. "Heather Jo made it possible."
Gene, Heather and Skippy live in Furlong, where some special teens are also spending the summer.
Live performances have always been among this couple's favorite pastimes, so a Broadway trip to see Jersey Boys was not unusual. But in June 2016, any event — or no event at all — had Heather Jo wondering whether the ring she knew had been ordered would soon be on her finger.
Once the show and dinner came and went, Heather Jo figured it wouldn't be that weekend. She planned to sleep in on Sunday morning, but Gene was up and at 'em by 7 a.m. and bugging her to get a move on. Why, she pleaded, couldn't she sleep more? Brunch reservations at the Rainbow Room weren't until 11. Gene was practically bouncing around the room. "Let's go to the Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center!" he urged. Since her logic that the dreary weather meant they wouldn't see much wasn't working, she gave in.
The photographer Gene hired sent texts urging him to act quickly so they could beat the rain. The first drops fell as the couple walked through Rockefeller Plaza. Heather Jo wanted to seek cover, but before she could speed-walk off, Gene took both her hands.
Thirty seconds in, he saw Heather Jo's eyes well up as she realized what was happening. Gene was overwhelmed, too, and he kept forgetting what he planned to say. "When I forgot where I was, I would kiss her," he said.
He got to the question, and Heather Jo gave her jubilant answer. Gene jumped to his feet. "She said yes!" he yelled. At the Rainbow Room, Heather Jo's mother, father, stepmom, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt and uncle were waiting to celebrate.
"That's when I really started crying," she said. "He sent a limo to Pennsylvania to pick them all up."
The couple's ceremony and reception for 130 were held at the Academy of Music, where they are subscribers and gold members. Heather Jo's grandfather, the Rev. Walter Taylor, a retired Methodist minister, had always performed family ceremonies, but his health won't allow it now. Her Uncle Jeffrey was ordained online, and he announced to all he was honored to officiate on her grandfather's behalf.
Gene is generally more a crier than Heather Jo, but not that day. "We wrote our own vows, and he was like a public speaker. When I started reading mine, I had to stop and tell myself that if I lost it, I was going to lose my eyelashes, and I couldn't walk back up the aisle with lashes stuck to my cheek."
Any teary guests were well-covered. In a nod to their 1940s elegance theme, everyone received a classic white handkerchief at the door.
Both sets of vows ended with the same sentence: "I did, I do, and I always will."
The groom wore a wedding gift from the bride on his sleeves — cuff links with photos of his parents.
Donations were made in honor of the guests to the Alzheimer's Society and the American Cancer Society. Wedding flowers were donated to the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware through Forget Me Knot Flowers of Haddonfield on behalf of Ronan, a young friend of the couple's.
"The entire time we were taking pictures before the ceremony, I couldn't stop staring at Heather Jo," Gene said. "The photographer asked her to step away from me for a moment and twirl around. The smile on her face and the way she was twirling made my heart sing."
"The moments we stepped back to just watch everyone dancing and having fun, I felt nothing but love and happiness," said Heather Jo. "I was so happy to be [Gene's] wife, and I honestly felt like everyone was so happy for us."
A bargain: Electronic invitations from Paperlesspost.com appealed to the couple's environmental and techy sides. Including the handful of paper versions the company printed and mailed to guests who don't use email, the total cost was $100.
The splurge: Googling photos of ballrooms led them to a space that not only awed them, but turned out to be right in Philadelphia with one of their favorite restaurateurs – Jose Garces – as caterer. They couldn't say no.
A night in Hong Kong, and 17 in Bali.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Jeffrey Gabriels, uncle of the bride, was ordained by the Universal Life Church to perform the ceremony.
Ceremony and reception venue: Academy of Music, Philadelphia.
Food: Garces Events.
Photography: Mike & Jana of mkPhotography, West Chester.
Videography: Jeff at New Milford Productions, Hatboro.
Flowers: Brittany at Petals Lane, Philadelphia.
Bride's Brooch Bouquet: Elegant Wedding Decor by JoAnne.
Dress: Le Bella Donna, Jenkintown.