When Janet Fenner and Gregory Dabice last stood together at the 50-yard-line in Montclair State University’s football stadium, it was 1992 and they were being crowned homecoming king and queen, complete with plastic scepter and tiara.
On Saturday, 28 years later, the pair were again united in a ceremony there. This time, however, the props were gold wedding bands and the couple were pronounced husband and wife.
Where the student body had stood cheering wildly, the couple’s combined seven children and guests sat quietly at a safe social distance, while Paul Cell, chief of university police, officiated.
Rocky the Red Hawk mascot served as ring bearer, and a proclamation from university president Susan Cole was read, naming August 1 as Janet Fenner and Gregory Dabice Day.
Dabice never dated in college, though they knew each other from Greek life.
“He was the player fraternity boy and I was the goody-goody,” said Fenner, 48, a straight-A student who ran track and was involved in student and sorority government.
Dabice’s fraternity, Phi Alpha Psi, followed the “Animal House” model and won the school’s “Kill-A-Keg” party every year, he said. “I wasn’t right for her in any way,” he said, laughing. “She was too good for me and I knew it.”
After their coronation, they went their separate ways, launched careers, married and had children. They both divorced in 2016.
Last year, more than two decades after either had seen or heard anything about the other, Dabice was on Bumble, a dating app, when a photo of Fenner popped up. She had swiped right on him, charmed by his photos with his children, though she hadn’t recognized him with facial hair.
“I was stunned in so many ways,” he said. “She looked the same. I hadn’t even thought of her in years and there she was. It was unreal.”
Dabice sent Fenner’s photo to one of his fraternity brothers to confirm that “I wasn’t going crazy,” he said. “He told me, ‘That’s Janet, all right. Go and get your queen.’ “
Dabice sent her a message: “Is that you, Janet?” and the couple met that night at a bar near Fenner’s home, where they talked for hours.
“There was instant trust and warmth,” Dabice, now 50, said. “We just slipped right into the conversation as if we were sitting in the school cafeteria. I didn’t want it to end.” Fenner said after a while she slid out of her side of the booth and asked Dabice to “scootch over” so she could sit next to him.
“It was so heartwarming to see him, his smile, his dimple. I remembered that dimple. It was like, ‘Death by Dimple, Game Over,’ ” she said, laughing.
When he got home, Dabice was so elated he did something uncharacteristic: He wrote down every detail about the date and posted the story of their “fairytale” meeting on Facebook.
“He continued to post after every date and every milestone,” Fenner said. “He’s quite a poet and gained quite a following.”
Though they both knew it was going to happen “almost from Day One,” Dabice said, they decided to wait a year to merge lives, to give their children time to adjust. Dabice has five children, ages 10 to 17; Fenner has two boys, 14 and 18.
He proposed on April 5 in front of his home in the Pompton Plains section of Pequannock, surrounded by their children, after a car procession of extended family members pulled up with a sign on each car spelling out, “Janet will you marry me yes or no?”
One son held up a boom box that played “Everything has changed,” by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, which had become the couple’s theme song. Her engagement ring is inscribed with the lyric, along with two crowns.
The proposal was all the sweeter, Dabice said, since the couple had been separated for two weeks, quarantining with their respective families. “It was killing me,” he said.
To their delight, MSU staff reacted enthusiastically to their request to wed there, working the ceremony in between graduation rain dates and managing all the logistics.
Afterward, the newlyweds hosted a small outdoor reception; that evening, guests headed to In the Drink in Wayne, where Dabice, who has played bass guitar in a band since college, was gigging.
The honeymoon will have to wait while the couple renovate the Pompton Plains home to make room for Fenner and her boys, one of whom starts high school this fall. The couple is adding two bedrooms and renovating the two bathrooms to “handle the extra traffic” for the now nine-person family, plus two dogs and a tortoise, Dabice said.
The stress of merging two families hasn’t caused any tension, even the morning of the wedding, when only one bathroom was available for bride, groom and seven children, Fenner said. “That’s the magic of us. We have yet to have an argument, we are both laid back; we’re goofballs.”
Dabice added, “When you’re almost 50 and have been around the block and you come across each other, you know: This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”