Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online

Montella and Carlos Whitmore - March 26, 2016

Montella and Carlos Whitmore - March 26, 2016

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Their long love awaited its perfect celebration

Montella “Shay” Norwood and Carlos Whitmore lived the beloved scriptural lesson that “love is patient” as the couple persevered to build a strong relationship and seal it with the wedding day of their dreams.

“Everything in our lives together feels like it was supposed to work out the way it did,” Shay said. “Carlos and I met in 2009 and dated for a short time but broke up.”

Always an active, involved student who also worked steadily while in college, she was “only a student” in nursing school when she reconnected with him a year later.

His time was also filled, as the co-owner and barber of New Image Barber Shop and as a volunteer coach of youth teams at Boys and Girls Club. City champion teams, he emphasized proudly.

In 2010 they came back together and started dating again. Two years later, a tragedy brushed their lives that put them both in danger and ended in a death in Carlos’ family. Through the ordeal Shay found that Carlos was protective and resilient.

“After that experience, we have almost been together nonstop,” she said. “Maybe we can count on our two hands the amount of time we have been apart.”

She continued to advance in her career as an R.N. for Sparks Regional Medical Center with an intense schedule where she cares for post-surgical patients. To propose, Carlos took advantage of her care-giving instincts, pretending he had fallen to the floor.

“I was faking and shaking like I was really down,” he joked, recalling his trick. When she came to his aid, he said “While I’m down here,” getting up to his knee, “Will you marry me?"

Always a trickster, had already set her up to get past Valentine’s Day, when she might have suspected he’d pop the question, to propose on her birthday, three days later.

“On Valentine’s Day, he had given me the most wretched flowers and candy. I’m a gift person,” she explained, “but these flowers were dead and it wasn’t my kind of candy. I was raised right, I just thanked him, but ...” On her birthday, there were beautiful roses and a ring to make up for it all.

Despite the fact she’s a compulsive organizer, they took a vacation just afterwards to Disneyworld and they didn’t set a firm date. But when she started planning, she brought all her forces to the task.

She chose March 26 after careful research and taped the date on a wall where she saw it every morning. She also had to honor Carlos’ few but serious requirements. He had to finish his boys and girls season for Team Gerber. He had to have his pastor and had to wear white.

As she searched for a venue, a small link caught her eye online in a Choctaw Casino ad. “This little dot was labeled special events,”she said.

Things flowed as if they were meant to be, again. Shay met with Sheryl Buckner, hotel sales manager. Choctaw Casino and Hotel had never hosted a wedding and reception, but Shay’s wishes and their facilities clicked right down the list. She wanted an outdoor wedding and the hotel had a beautiful shaded portico that guests could access from valet parking service. Their CenterStage event center was steps away and would hold the Whitmores’ hundreds of guests. Their chef could cater a splendid meal. Guests could stay in the hotel.

Buckner was delighted to accommodate Shay’s every need and said she is glad this congenial couple was the facility’s first wedding.

With her setting in mind, arrangements fell together as if destined. She found almost everything she wanted in Fort Smith, including a beautiful wedding dress with a delicate pink blush hinted in its color and a variety of styles of bridesmaid’s dress all a shade or her color, amethyst.

When March 26 arrived, the bride and groom dressed with their attendants and were fussed over by families in spacious, separate suites. Skies were clear, but there had been an indoor fallback plan.

On the arm of her mother, with her father and stepfather behind, she said her vows with her tall, handsome groom under a beautifully decorated arbor with their attendants and Carlos’ son and daughter. His parents and grandparents looked on from their seats. As they made their way from the altar, they “jumped the broom,” an old tradition. It was the most resplendently decorated straw broom ever.

With the professional waitstaff attending every detail, their 200 guests enjoyed cocktails and appetizers while wedding photos were taken. Shay changed to a deep purple gown, also flawless, for the reception. She wanted to dance, she explained, and also admitted “in my wedding dress, I couldn’t sit or even bend at the waist!”

The atmosphere was transformed by lighting effects and projections. Two DJs helped with music and announcements. After a delicious meal there was wedding cake and also a table of intricate miniature cakes guests of all ages danced. Shay knew their arrangements were successful when they lost no one to the casino.

Shay was in bliss and said she cherished her guests and relatives. She didn’t care when they realized they had forgotten to light their unity candle and calmed Carlos when he realized his new ring had slipped from his finger as they left the reception. She was ready to order a replacement.

But there’s another advantage to a casino wedding – with their high def security cameras, staff located and returned it in day.

The couple continues to live in Fort Smith where she is an R.N. with Sparks Regional Medical Center and he is a partner in a barber shop while finishing a degree from Carl Albert State College.

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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