ODESSA — Opening your front door to find someone holding a supersized, cardboard check for $30,000 is something most people only dream about.
For one lucky couple, this dream became a reality.
Old McMicky's Farm owner Ralph Zuckerman surprised Samantha Dilberian, 26, and Army Staff Sgt. Christopher St. Onge, 27, last month at their home, naming them the winners of the Old McMicky's third annual "Mission I Do" Dream Wedding Giveaway.
"That morning when Ralph and all of their team knocked on our door, we couldn't believe it. We're just so happy and thankful," Dilberian said. "There were so many emotions that day."
Though the couple's story has a happy ending, they have endured some difficult times together.
Their relationship began in 2010 when Dilberian's brother, Bryan, was stationed with St. Onge at Fort Drum in New York. After Bryan Dilberian showed St. Onge a photo of his sister, he sent her a friend request on Facebook. In July 2011, St. Onge and Bryan Dilberian were deployed together in Afghanistan when their squad was hit by an improvised explosive device, or IED. Bryan Dilberian was severely wounded, losing both legs and an arm.
As doctors treated Bryan Dilberian back in the United States, St. Onge kept reaching out to Samantha Dilberian to check on her brother and family. She took great comfort in hearing from St. Onge, especially since he helped save her brother's life.
Once Bryan Dilberian healed and returned to Fort Drum, his sister went with him, and this allowed her time to spend with St. Onge. Though Samantha Dilberian lived in Brooklyn, the couple began dating, driving six hours on weekends to see each other.
In December 2012, St. Onge received recruiting orders to Tampa, and he asked Samantha Dilberian to join him. After dating for three years, the couple got engaged last August, and a few weeks later, St. Onge received an email about the "Mission I Do" wedding giveaway
The couple almost didn't enter the contest, which is open to active-duty military and veterans.
"At first, we weren't going to do it, and then on the last possible day, we decided to put the story together," St. Onge said.
Old McMicky's Farm received dozens of entries and narrowed it down to four local couples. Voting opened to the public in November, and more than 65,000 votes were received.
As the winners, the couple will receive an all-inclusive wedding at the beautiful waterfront venue at Old McMicky's Farm in Odessa. Zuckerman also credited retired Marine Brig. Gen. Gary Brown and Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson for lending support. Jackson received the NFL's Salute to Service Award this month for his support of the military community.
Wedding planner Blue Skies Events will help them coordinate all aspects of the wedding, including catering, photography, flowers, cake and a honeymoon getaway.
"Everything is taken care of for us," Samantha Dilberian said. "It's been so stress-free."
Old McMicky's Farm and many Tampa Bay area businesses sponsor this event. Zuckerman also donated the farm venue, staff and wedding planner to the three runnerup couples.
"This wedding gift is in appreciation of the service and sacrifice of those who currently serve or have served in our military," Zuckerman said.
Dilberian and St. Onge will wed on Sunday with 100 people expected to attend. Bryan Dilberian will serve as St. Onge's best man.
"It's just important to us for everybody to know just how thankful we are for Ralph and all of the vendors who are involved," said Samantha Dilberian. "I don't know what we would have done if we didn't win."
Contact Danielle Hauser at [email protected]