By Keysha Drexel
A Vestavia Hills couple’s betrothal and wedding last summer was a perfectly planned affair from start to finish and was heavy on the “something old, something new” theme.
From the proposal to the reception, the engagement and wedding of Nicole Alexandra Thomason and Bradley Paul Hardekopf honored the couple’s families in a thoughtful way that was uniquely theirs.
“We found a way to incorporate things that were important to both of us,” Nicole said. “We wanted to honor our families, but at the same time, we wanted to make it our own.”
Nicole and Brad were married June 8, 2013 at Mountain Chapel United Methodist Church in Vestavia Hills. Thirty-three years earlier on June 8, 1980, Nicole’s parents Mike and Kathy Thomason were married.
The idea of getting married on the Thomasons’ 33rd anniversary was something Brad said he thought about even before he popped the question to Nicole in October 2012.
“Before I proposed, I saw that June 8 fell on a Saturday in 2013, and I thought Nicole might be open to the idea,” he said.
Nicole said June 8 seemed like the perfect date to get married.
“I love the month of June and all things summer. That date also worked out because it meant that our engagement wasn’t too short or too long,” she said. “It was one of those things that was meant to be.”
And while the timing of the couple’s wedding date was spot-on, when they first met, it looked as if their relationship could be doomed by bad timing.
Nicole, a graduate of Vestavia Hills High School, and Brad, a graduate of Hoover High School, both grew up in the Over the Mountain area but didn’t meet until one fateful night in Birmingham.
“We met at a wedding reception at the Matt Jones Gallery in April 2011,” Nicole, 25, said. “It was right before I graduated (from Auburn University) and was about to move up to Nashville for a summer internship.”
But Brad, who is also an Auburn grad, said he was undeterred by the prospect of a long-distance relationship with Nicole.
“We instantly hit it off at the wedding reception, and I knew that it didn’t matter how far away she was, I wanted to see her again,” he said.
Brad made arrangements to visit Nicole in Nashville one weekend for their first official date.
“We had planned on going to a nice place but traffic was really bad when I was driving into Nashville, so by the time I got there, the only thing that was open was the Waffle House,” he said. “It wasn’t a very glamorous first date, but we had fun. After talking over some hash browns–scattered, smothered and covered–and some really bad coffee, I was committed. I knew she was the one.”
Nicole said she felt a strong connection to Brad after their first date but was unsure about taking the relationship any further because they were living in different states.
“I was smitten with him after Waffle House, but I still wasn’t sure how it would work with us living so far apart at the time,” she said.
But Brad kept asking to come up to Nashville to take her on dates, and she happily kept accepting his invitations.
It was during a date at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville when Nicole said she knew she couldn’t fight her feelings for Brad anymore, no matter how far apart they lived.
“He really lured me in with that date at the Bluebird Cafe,” she said. “It was a special night that I’ll always remember.”
And that’s exactly what Brad was hoping for when he planned the couple’s visit to the iconic listening room in Nashville.
“It’s one of the more famous hole-in-the-wall places and I knew she had done a lot of the trendy things since she’d been in Nashville, but I thought going to the Bluebird would make for a thoughtful date,” Brad said. “I wanted to put together a date that really grabbed her attention.”
The date certainly did that, Nicole said.
“It was a great atmosphere where we got to listen to these incredible live performances and have deep conversations about the music,” she said.
The performance of “Holdin’ a Good Hand” by Rob Crosby sparked some particularly interesting conversations for the couple that night, they said.
“Lee Greenwood originally recorded the song, and it says, ‘They say love is a gamble you can win or lose. Well, life dealt me a queen the day I found you. Now the cards are in my favor and I’m gonna play them right. You’re the one I’ve waited for and I’m gonna hold on tight.’ I had had that song in my head since I met Nicole,” Brad said.
Nicole said by the end of their evening at the Bluebird Cafe, she knew she was ready to gamble on a serious long-distance relationship.
“I was ready to take that risk with Brad because I knew we could make it work,” she said.
After her internship in Nashville ended, Nicole moved back to the Birmingham area to take a job at Walls Media.
Although Brad and Nicole were in the same state again, they didn’t spend every waking moment together, Brad said.
“Unlike my hash browns from our first date at the Waffle House, I did not smother Nicole when she moved back to Birmingham,” he said. “She had a lot of change going on in her life at that time, so I just wanted to be the steady rock in her life.”
But just because he wasn’t pressuring Nicole about taking their relationship to the next step didn’t mean Brad wasn’t already planning for it.
“I think I was probably ready to marry her from day one, but I knew I didn’t want to rush her. I thought a lot about how I would ask her to be my wife,” he said.
After dating Nicole for a year and a half, Brad had learned that Lake Martin held a special place in her heart.
“Lake Martin has always been her getaway spot, a place where she can just go and unwind and relax, and although she had never said she’d like to get engaged there, I kind of picked up on it and starting planning the proposal there,” he said.
But before he scoped out the perfect spot to pop the question, Brad approached Nicole’s father to ask for her hand in marriage.
“I guess it seems a little old-fashioned, but it was something that was important to me,” Brad said. “Two weeks before I proposed, I asked her father’s permission, and he helped me put together the perfect proposal plan.”
After Nicole’s father gave Brad permission to ask for her hand in marriage, the men went into the Thomasons’ attic and uncovered a coffee table that had belonged to Nicole’s grandparents.
“I got wood from my grandparents’ barn in Fayette and used that and the coffee table that had belonged to Nicole’s grandparents to make a bench,” Brad said. “It symbolized our two families coming together, and I knew it would be great for the proposal I had in mind.”
Nicole thought Brad was working in Birmingham on the day of Oct. 5, 2012, but what he was really doing was setting up the bench he made at Crowne Pointe, a spot overlooking Lake Martin.
“I knew it was her favorite view of the lake, so my sister’s husband helped me lug it up this remote trail, chase off a fox and get everything set up with flowers,” Brad said.
And while he had worked hard to keep his proposal plans a secret, Nicole said as soon as Brad knocked on the door of the lake house, she knew what he was up to.
“I knew he was going to propose as soon as he came to the door and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk,” she said.
But just because Nicole anticipated what the evening would hold didn’t mean she was any less nervous about the whole thing, she said.
“I felt like I was going to faint. I was so nervous all of a sudden that I was asking him the most ridiculous things, like whether or not I should bring my purse with us to go for a walk,” Nicole said.
The couple made their way to Crowne Pointe and arrived just as the sun was setting.
Nicole said her breath was taken away by the scene that awaited her there.
“He got down on one knee, and he called me by my full name and he asked me to marry him, and it was the sweetest thing ever,” she said.
When Nicole said yes to his proposal, Brad slipped a cushion-cut diamond ring in an antique setting onto her finger.
“I took her mother and her future maid of honor with me to Levy’s to pick out Nicole’s ring,” he said. “I found the setting first and then picked out the diamond, which was kind of a risky, unique way to approach buying the ring, but it worked out–just like our relationship. At first, it seemed like a risky move for two people who were living in different states, but it turned out just the way it was supposed to.”
After Nicole and Brad returned from their walk around the lake as an engaged couple, they gathered with their family members to celebrate at SpringHouse Restaurant.
“It was just a perfect night,” Nicole said. “From beginning to end, it just couldn’t have been any better.”
After they settled on a wedding date of June 8, 2013, the couple started planning their big day and soon realized the bridal party would have to be pretty big.
“I knew I just had to have these 18 best friends by my side on my wedding day,” Nicole said. “The bridesmaids were a mix of my friends from childhood, high school and college.”
Next, they started thinking of venues that would allow them to incorporate wedding traditions from both of their churches.
“I’m half Greek, and it was important to me that a Greek priest be involved in the ceremony,” Nicole said.
The Rev. Father Paul Costopoulos of Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham gave the blessing to start the wedding ceremony. The Rev. David M. Devane of Hunter Street Baptist, Brad’s home church, officiated.
Tatum M’Lea Henley of Birmingham attended as maid of honor, and Erika Strother Moncrief of Troy was the matron of honor.
Brad chose his father, William Gary Hardekopf of Hoover, to be his best man. There were 11 groomsmen, two ring bearers and two flower girls.
“We wanted to include as many of our family members and our friends as possible in our wedding,” Brad said. “These are the people who have walked through life with us, and it was important that they be a part of it.”
The bridesmaids wore sage green dresses in different styles and pearl earrings that Nicole gave them. The groomsmen wore black tuxedos with champagne vests.
When it came to choosing her wedding gown, Nicole saw another opportunity to incorporate the “something old, something new” theme.
Nicole wore a custom gown designed by Project Runway alum Heidi Elnora. The fit-to-flare gown was embellished using the pearls and lace from the dress Nicole’s mother wore on her own wedding day more than three decades earlier.
“My grandmother was a seamstress and owned a dress shop in English Village, and she had helped my mother pick out her dress,” Nicole said. “Even though she has passed away, it was like she was with me on my wedding day because she helped choose that dress.”
Nicole carried a bouquet of white peonies, antique roses, white ranunculus, lysianthus and white stock by the Pink Pear Florists. The bottom of the bouquet was wrapped in a blue embroidered handkerchief Brad gave Nicole on the night he proposed. The handkerchief was adorned with an antique pin that belonged to Nicole’s great-grandmother.
The couple also honored their grandparents by dedicating the flowers at the altar in their memory.
The couple’s friends, Anna English and Shannon Stewart, read scriptures during the wedding ceremony, and their friends Stetson and Cia Adkisson sang “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” after Nicole and Brad exchanged vows and rings.
After the ceremony, the couple hopped into a vintage Rolls-Royce to be whisked off to their Greek-themed reception at the Avon Theater in Birmingham.
“We wanted a classic reception site, and I love the brick and the look of the Avon,” Nicole said. “We wanted a big dance floor and a lot of room for seating because we had about 350-400 guests at the reception. People knew it was going to be a good time, so we had some crashers.”
The couple danced their first dance to “At Last,” and Nicole danced with her father to “Brown-eyed Girl.”
Then, the couple said, the real dancing began.
“I’ve danced all my life, and so it was important to me to incorporate the traditional Greek wedding dances into our reception,” Nicole said. “We got everyone in the wedding party together a few weeks before the wedding to learn the dances, and it turned out so well. At the reception, we had like 200 people, people of all ages, out there dancing the Greek dances. It was so much fun for everyone.”
The Greek theme continued with traditional fare catered by Yellow Bicycle. In another nod to their families, the couple’s wedding cake topper was the same one that adorned the wedding cake of Nicole’s parents on June 8, 1980.
The couple and their guests danced the night away to the Motown sounds of The Connection Band.
The wedding guests illuminated the couple’s departure from the reception with sparklers, and they made their way to the Tutwiler Hotel in a vintage Rolls-Royce.
On the Monday following their wedding, Nicole and Brad left for their honeymoon in St. Lucia, where they stayed at an all-inclusive resort for six nights.
“It was so nice to just be able to relax together after all that planning and activity,” Nicole said. “It’s amazing how much planning goes into your wedding day.”
But the couple said all of the planning was well worth it.
“I think our wedding showed respect for what the Christian marriage means, and it was very personal. I had grown men come up to me and say they were very moved by it,” Brad said. “It was a good mix of seriousness and fun–just like us.”