ST. PETERSBURG — The third time was the charm.
Shirley Collins and Anthony Sanders met long ago, in 1986, when both were working at Red's Snak Shak, the longtime St. Petersburg institution on 16th Street S that closed in 2011.
"Then, probably the latter part of '87, I want to say, we really became, like, a couple," Shirley says. The next year, she was expecting their daughter, Danielle. They moved in together, but at the time of Anthony's initial proposal, she didn't think he was ready to commit.
Several years later, he "really was serious about getting married," she says, "but we were having a lot of difficulty." Her mother was elderly, and Shirley is an only child. In addition, their daughter has autism, which presented some challenges.
"We just decided that we weren't going to get married at that time. I really was into it, and I was heartbroken that we didn't do it, but there were just too many things to be resolved."
After Shirley's mom died last May, she says, "It really was our time for us to get close to each other and start thinking more in terms of the life we wanted to have because we had been together so long."
Shirley, 54, describes herself as a Jill of all trades at Happy Workers Children's Center, where she has been employed for 25 years. Anthony, 56, works in food service at the deli inside the Obama Express Food Market.
When Shirley was ill and could eat only ice chips, Anthony came to the hospital and fed her.
When he finds her reading self-help books, he asks her why.
"You don't need that," he says. "You're perfect just the way you are."
Shirley's friend Josephine Seafus helped them secure the worship space at Abundant Life Ministries for their wedding on Feb. 9. It was the first marriage for both bride and bridegroom. At their reception, held at the Wildwood Recreation Center, they had their first dance ever.
"My husband knows how to dance," Shirley says. "I'm a total wallflower. Never have we danced until the wedding."
The ceremony included their daughter and Darian, Shirley's son by a previous relationship. It took place five days before Valentine's Day, at which Anthony excels. His birthday falls on Christmas Eve, and Shirley's is Dec. 26, so they focus more on Feb. 14.
"He has never missed a Valentine's Day, ever," Shirley says. "Each one of us tries to outshine the other."
At the wedding, both of them wore white.
"I felt like Cinderella," Shirley says, "the princess, the queen, the whole thing. I think the only thing I could say is there is nothing greater than love. Not to give up on your dreams. If there's nobody there to share with, then it's not the same."