Two proposals, two ceremonies: "I'm living a fairy tale,'' says Lauren Denney. Fulfilling Denney's dreams is what Tom Pepin says makes him happiest, including exchanging vows in St. Bavokerk, a 15th century Gothic cathedral in the Dutch city of Haarlem. The wedding brought a storybook ending to a tale with an unconventional, eyebrow-raising beginning. "There have been skeptics,'' Pepin says, “but we never wavered."
In 2002, Pepin says, he told Denney he needed a date for a charity ball.
"I started thinking who he could take,'' says Denney, who then was his children's nanny.
"How about you?'' asked Pepin, president of Pepin Distributing Co., the exclusive Anheuser-Busch beer distributor in Hillsborough and parts of Pasco County.
Heads turned at the gala that night when Pepin appeared with his young date. Headlines were chronicling his messy divorce. Allegations flew back and forth when Pepin filed to end his 13-year marriage in August 2000. A settlement was reached three years later, and the Pepins share custody of four daughters.
Pepin and Denney tuned out the chatter as she enrolled at the University of Tampa and he continued his business and philanthropy. The Pepin name is associated with funding for dozens of nonprofits, most notably Pepin Heart Hospital and Pepin Academy charter school.
Their age difference — he is 57 and she is 26 — "is a bond," says Pepin, not a barrier.
“We come from different worlds," he says, "but we share and learn from our perspectives."
Take texting, he says. She texts six messages before he can answer the first.
“Put it this way," she adds: "Lauren has an old soul and Tom is young at heart."
The couple kept their suitcases packed as they roved the globe throughout eight years of dating — diving with sharks in the Bahamas, paragliding in Switzerland, sightseeing in India, skiing in Colorado, houseboating in Kentucky. This past May, they walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.
Denney's graduation with a marketing degree from UT in May 2008 presented the perfect proposal opportunity, or so Pepin thought. Surrounded by her family, including her maternal grandmother, Oma, visiting from Holland, he expressed his love and pride in her achievements.
Oops, says Denney. "I thought he was making a toast." He didn't have an engagement ring and she missed the message.
He succeeded six months later as they walked toward Caladesi Beach, dropping to one knee.
Senior Judge E.J. Salcines married them in a civil ceremony Aug. 6 in his courtroom on the Tampa campus of the Stetson University College of Law. The groom slipped a White Owl cigar band on the bride's finger, as his father, Art, had with his mother, Polly.
Then they rushed to the airport for a champagne sendoff to Amsterdam.
About 50 American and 100 Dutch guests, including 12 bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen, joined them at St. Bavokerk on Aug. 16. The bride designed two white weddings gown, one for church and one for the reception.
Rather than disappear on a honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Pepin regaled friends and family nonstop for the next three days in Holland.
"Because our life is a honeymoon," he says.
Now back in Tampa, the newlyweds re-enacted the wedding for 600 friends and customers Aug. 28 at the TPepin Hospitality Centre. There were 10 food stations, 25 kinds of beer, a society orchestra and singer, a DJ and karaoke. Watching the wedding video on huge monitors around the ballroom made the guests feel as if they were right there at the ceremony.
Reach Amy Scherzer at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.
Editor's Note: This is the final installment of our annual summer Heart Beat series. Stay tuned in coming weeks for the return of Amy Scherzer's Diary.