From a bad first date to 30 years together
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From a bad first date to 30 years together

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Most people celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day with sweet treats and flowers. But one local couple celebrates their wedding anniversary each year on Feb. 14.

Jeff and Brandi Swyers have been married 24 years today. They have been together just one month shy of 30 years.

The couple’s wedding date wasn’t one they chose themselves. It was actually chosen for them by Y98.1 KYKY, a radio station located in St. Louis.

The year was 1996. The engaged couple entered Y98’s essay contest in which they were asked to describe their first worst date experience.

Why not enter? The couple thought.

“We had a pretty good story,” said Brandi.

And the couple ended up winning the contest! The prize? A totally free mega wedding at St. Louis Union Station’s Hyatt Regency.

“For two broke kids in their early 20s, this was a godsend,” said Brandi.

So the wedding was scheduled on Valentine’s Day 1996.

“Did we just get married because we won a free wedding or were we already planning a wedding?” Brandi said. “Well, we were broke but engaged so why not look an opportunity in the eye and poke it?”

So the couple said their vows in front of a handful of close family members in the Hyatt Regency’s Grand Ballroom. The ceremony took place in the early hours of the morning show and was broadcast live on Y98. Then-host Guy Phillips and Michelle Dibble were part of the ceremony. The couple was married by a nondenominational priest.

All details were paid for except Brandi’s dress, which she and her mom picked out together.

The question is, how did the couple win this awesome prize? Well, it was the couple’s first-date experience that did the trick to win the mega wedding.

It’s the story which Jeff considers rather embarrassing…

It was March 21, 1990, when Jeff, a senior at West County High School, and Brandi, a sophomore, ran into each other near the locker room. They greeted each other and then Jeff stood up to ask Brandi if she had a second. His next question was to inquire if Brandi would be his prom date that April.

“Of course I said yes, because who wouldn’t want to get glammed up for a night and sit in a school gym listening to a bad DJ, right?” she said.

After Brandi’s first “yes,” he followed up with a second question: would she go on a date that upcoming weekend to see a movie in Flat River?

Brandi again agreed.

At the time Jeff worked at Dave’s Food Mart in Leadwood and sometimes rode his bike to school. He was academically ranked in the top part of his class. He read Stephen Hawking books.

According to Brandi, Jeff was extremely knowledgeable in computers and video games, at the time when the Atari gaming system and Apple IIe and Commodore 64 – both personal computers were “the pinnacles that only a handful of homes in our area could afford.”

For her, the only real thought of school and life at the time was what outfit she was going to wear the next day.

“So yes, we were complete opposites,” Brandi said. “Many doubted our compatibility. But heck, it was just prom and one date, right?”

According to Jeff, Brandi was very outgoing, charismatic, and in other words, his “total opposite.”

“I took a chance and was probably more shocked than anyone when she said ‘yes,’” he said.

When Jeff and Brandi’s first date rolled around, he picked her up in his mom’s brand-new black Chrysler New Yorker. They headed to Flat River and parked behind the movie theater to walk down the tiny corridor between the theater and the bank to reach the front entrance.

“We were killing it in early ’90s fashion with my bright green sweater and black MC Hammer pants and you in your white baseball-themed ¾ length sleeve shirt with blue jeans and WC baseball jacket,” said Brandi.

The two had chosen to see the movie “Bad Influence” with James Spader and Andrew McCarthy. They got snacks and then endured “an hour-and-a-half of the absolute worst movie ever,” said Brandi.

Afterward, they decided to go cruising. The couple said this was the “social media” of their day, complete with the bowling alley parking lot and slab where their group had private chat rooms.

After a couple of laps around Flat River, waving to friends and enjoying music, they found themselves in a small vehicle accident with a red Chevy S-10 right in front of the movie theater.

With nothing else to do but go home since the car was nearly undrivable, Jeff drove Brandi home to Irondale. Before they could make it completely home, the couple, again, found themselves involved in another small fender bender.

Two small vehicle accidents in one night on their first date!

Flash forward six years and the couple was still together. They had done a lot of growing up together, living on “mere pittance through college and life.”

Then along came the Y98 contest … and the rest is history!

“What a ride it has been, ups and downs, definite highs and lows,” said Brandi.

“It’s definitely been an adventure, and we have seen a couple of movies worse than 'Bad Influence' since then,” said Jeff.

Brandi said Jeff lavishes her with daily sweet texts and plenty of hugs and kisses. He’s always been an expert at getting their kids, daughter, LillyAnn, now a sophomore and cheerleader at Mineral Area College, and Josie, a seventh grader at West County Middle School, to their many activities and events. From doing dishes to housework to gifts and flowers, he is always thoughtful and caring.

Jeff said Brandi does, “everything and that’s not an exaggeration.”

“She keeps the train on the tracks at our crazy house,” he said. “Most importantly, she does what I hate to do myself: the shopping. Groceries, clothes, everything we need to survive. It would quickly diverse to ‘Lord of the Flies’ around here without her.”

Now as the couple celebrates 24 years of marriage today – on Valentine’s Day – they’re grateful for the two car accidents that kept them together.

“Was that a preview for our lifetime together?” said Brandi. “Dent, then fix and repeat?”

She said she guessed the formula was not written in stone, rather “on an old-fashioned chalkboard with different formulas to meet the equation and different colors to represent the stages of life.”

Brandi said she’s just very grateful to Jeff for “doing the ‘math’” with her.

Jeff agreed. “The variables have changed several times over the years, but every equation is solvable if you have the right constant.”

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