TAMPA — Any marriage counselor would opine: Only fools rush in. Take your time, get to know each other.
Still, Ken Harfenist and Suzanne Scott's engagement seemed like a stretch.
On Dec. 27, 2014, the newly wedded couple shared their first dance to Etta James' iconic At Last, with more than a subtle hint of humor. "I love Suzanne dearly and I knew it would work out eventually," said Ken, who proposed on Valentine's Day 2001.
That first dance, like all great performances, was the culmination of lots of solid practice — nearly 14 years as partners. They also had to learn to go with the flow and take their cues from the audience.
Neither seemed to be in search of a dance partner at their introduction. Ken had a date at his side when they met at a hospital Christmas party in December 1999 in Westchester County, New York. Suzanne oversaw the hospital's volunteer program and Ken, a graduate of Stetson University College of Law, acted as hospital counsel.
But a month later, Ken arrived early — and solo — looking for Suzanne at a hospital board member's 80th birthday party. During dinner, their table companions covertly switched seats so they could sit together.
"He was very friendly," Suzanne said, "but I really didn't expect to hear from him."
His impeccable timing the following night still delights her.
"I was on the phone with a guy and he was telling me that he was going back to his ex-girlfriend when call-waiting clicked," she said. "It was Ken asking me to dinner."
Soon, not only their professional lives but their off-duty interests intersected: golf, exercise, travel and love of their dogs. His beagle, Spike, liked to bury Suzanne's things, including her cellphone, and Molly, her Pekingese, followed Ken everywhere.
A decade passed, and more. The couple took no timeouts, never sought "more space," didn't break up and make up.
Nor did they make it official.
"My divorce was still new and my two kids were teenagers when I met Ken," said Suzanne, now 61. "My daughter especially had a hard time."
Ken remained patient.
"I knew that any man Suzanne saw would be in the same position," said Ken, now 72.
Ken shortened his commute, moving to Suzanne's neighborhood in Westchester. They visited her parents in Cape Cod, found Venice utterly romantic and celebrated the weddings of three of their (combined) six children.
In 2007, a major career opportunity brought Ken to join a Tampa law firm. Suzanne arrived two months later, and they shopped for a home, eventually settling into Avila. She is now director of volunteer resources for Morton Plant Mease Hospitals in the BayCare Health System. Ken now represents health care providers at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt.
Ken said his stepdaughter's choice to attend Syracuse University, his alma mater, warmed their relationship. With that college bond, and time, came love and acceptance, he said.
Suzanne's son, Avery, walked the bride down the aisle at the Avila Golf and Country Club. Her daughter Samantha, the maid of honor, turned into an invaluable wedding planner, "helping with everything from finding my dress to flowers and menu for 80 guests," Suzanne said.
Ken's son, Chris, was the best man; grandson Ryan, 5, made an adorable ring bearer. Molly, the 16-year-old Pekingese, nearly stole the show as the "flower dog" in red leash and floral lei.
Readings by Ken's three oldest grandchildren included the lyrics to Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are.
Contact Amy Scherzer at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.