Thanks to one very determined mutual friend, Kristina and Richard Fretz knew about one another for years before actually meeting.
Kristina, 33, worked at a New Jersey hospital as an ultrasound technician, and had a coworker who insisted she meet her firefighter friend, Richard.
After years of trying to play matchmaker, Kristina and Richard, 34, ended up briefly meeting while exercising at a local gym. Kristina said she wasn't really sure what would come of it, but they exchanged numbers and — with some more encouragement from her friend — ended up meeting for drinks soon after.
"My friend was very persistent," Kristina says. Two months into dating, she understood why: "We realized things were going pretty good."
While Richard likes to think it was his dashing looks that won her over, Kristina insists that his family-oriented mentality and hard work ethic was what attracted her most to the third generation fireman.
Two and a half years after meeting, Richard decided it was time to pop the question. The two had a tradition in their relationship that every fall, they would go pumpkin picking. When the fall of 2012 rolled around, they picked their pumpkins, and a week later, Richard invited Kristina over to carve them.
When she arrived, she found the pumpkins on the kitchen table, and got to work with the carving supplies that Richard had laid out. She began sketching out her design, taking her time to include eyelashes and other minute details, while Richard watched nearby. She then cut an opening around the pumpkin's stem to reach in and scoop out the interior, but when she looked inside the pumpkin, she found a surprise.
"He had a note planted inside the pumpkin," Kristina recalls. Richard had drilled a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin and carved out the inside, leaving a simple message asking if she would marry him.
"I had no idea it was coming," she says. "We had never talked about getting married, although we knew we would get engaged eventually."
She said yes.
They both agreed that they didn't want a summertime wedding, so they set the date for Dec. 6, 2013 and began planning for an elegant, classy winter wedding.
While many couples often get lost in the wedding planning process, Kristina and Richard made an extra effort to make sure that they stayed focused on what really mattered when it came to getting married.
"I didn't care what went on that day," Kristina said. "I just wanted to marry this perfect man."
The two were lucky enough to have several friends who married in New Jersey, so they were able to recommend reliable vendors. They decided to have their wedding at The Park Savoy Estate, a venue large enough to fit their 225 guests while still maintaining an intimate atmosphere.
"It didn't seem like it was a regular hall," Kristina said. "It felt like you were getting married in your own house."
Everything for the wedding was coming together seamlessly until four days before the big day, when Kristina went in for her final dress fitting at the bridal store where she purchased the gown. There, she discovered that the dress had been drastically taken in and no longer fit.
"It pays not to get stressed out about things," Kristina says, and in this case, it sure did — the store offered her any dress she wanted for free. She selected an $11,000 Lazaro gown that she says far surpassed her original dress.
On the morning of Dec. 6, 2013, Kristina and Richard woke up — in separate rooms — to a downpour outside.
"It was rained from morning to night," Kristina says, but again, she and her groom were determined to not lose sight of what was really important. "The rain didn't ruin any part of our day."
Kristina, her family and bridesmaids had their hair and makeup done together at a nearby hotel, then went to the Park Savoy to get dressed, where Richard and the groomsmen where already getting ready.
After a stressful morning managing their wedding parties, Kristina and Richard were itching to see one another. They decided to do a "first look" with just the two of them before the ceremony began.
“It was a very intense morning with people asking a million questions,” Kristina said. “We just wanted to be together.”
Then, with her mother by her side, Kristina walked down the aisle to her groom while a pianist played "La Boheme" by John Bayless. The song held special significance for Kristina, whose father had passed away before her wedding day — when she was a little girl, he used to play it to put her to sleep.
The couple also incorporated Kristina's father into the ceremony by attaching a locket with his photo to her bouquet, and by using one of his ties to hold her and Richard's hands together during a portion of the ceremony. She said these were all her way of having her dad by her side on her wedding day.
After being pronounced husband and wife, the brand-new Mr. and Mrs. Fretz left the ceremony and escaped to a private room to spend 20 minutes alone together to soak in the day.
"It let us take in the moment," Kristina said.
They then joined their guests for cocktails, dinner and toasts, when one very special guest was able to make an appearance.
“We had a video of my dad giving a toast at my sweet 16,” Kristina said, adding that her father talked about how his little girl is all grown up and how happy he is to see her fulfilling her dreams. “It was completely appropriate for my wedding and ended up being the most perfect speech.”
The remainder of the evening was spent dancing, and because it was a December wedding, Santa even made an appearance to hand out wedding favors.
Now, six months later, the newlyweds are enjoying life in New Jersey and itching to buy a house together.
“We’re just happy,” Kristina says.