Spencer Sutterfield's friends didn't know the song he was strumming on his guitar after high school play rehearsal in 1998, but the beautiful girl who strolled into the auditorium as he played did.
"It was kind of a folk song by the Indigo Girls and the lyrics were something about a lovestruck Romeo," he says. April Gentry sang them as she walked down the middle aisle toward the stage where he was sitting.
The first time I saw my future spouse:
She says: “We completed each other’s song.”
He says: “I was captivated by her performance and her presence.”
On our wedding day:
She says: “I got to marry the love of my life on Petit Jean in the exact place I had dreamed about my wedding as a little girl.”
He says: “I just remember both of us being overwhelmed by gratitude for the support and love and just the general excitement that the day created for us and I guess the opportunity for us to share that moment with our friends and family.”
My advice for a long happy marriage:
She says: “There’s often a stunning sunrise on the other side of a hard night.”
He says: “Communicate, even when it’s tough.”
He had seen her onstage as "Nancy" in their high school's production of Oliver! a couple of years earlier.
"I just remember thinking, 'Who is that girl?' I really wanted to know about her," says Spencer, who was in ninth grade then. April was a senior.
He hadn't officially met her by the time she graduated and left for college, Northwestern State University in Shreveport.
Two and a half years later, April transferred to Hendrix College in Conway, and she had returned to Morrilton to help with the high school production.
They became close friends, doing random friend-type things together, for more than a year.
"But there came a time that it was like, OK, this is a formal date, and we went out to eat in Conway, at El Chico, and we saw the movie Babe: Pig In the City," April says.
Spencer was going to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia when April started her first teaching job at Hot Springs Middle School in 2001.
He was with her as she hustled to get her classroom ready the week before school was to start.
"I had professional development workshops all during the day and I was so stressed out about getting my classroom painted," she says.
Spencer offered to paint while she was in her workshops. He hadn't finished painting when she got back, though, and he sighed when she said they should keep at it.
"I kept us working until late that night, until finally he was like, 'I'm really hungry. Let's stop for now,'" she says. "Reluctantly, I said OK."
It wasn't the work that made Spencer sigh.
"I didn't want to ruin the surprise of a proposal, so I couldn't say anything, but I had this whole plan of having a dinner for her and I had all these candles out and I was going to make it romantic," he says.
He was exhausted and covered in paint by the time they picked up a pizza and made it to April's apartment that night.
"I surprised her with the proposal but none of the candles were lit or anything like that," he says. "It's such a perfect example of our relationship. It seems like April and I always take the hard path together, and we're both doers and we just sort of live through the experiences that we have, rather than trying to make them the perfect experiences, the perfect thing."
They had discussed marriage well before their engagement.
"He worked so hard all summer, doing all kinds of jobs, because he wanted to purchase this engagement ring, so that's really sweet," she says.
They exchanged their vows on June 1, 2002, in the Studio at Winrock International, formerly Jeanette Rockefeller's art studio on Petit Jean Mountain.
"She had this beautiful art studio, right on the cliff, and you could overlook the river and lots of farmland, and I just always loved that spot," says April, who grew up on Petit Jean Mountain while her father worked for Winrock International. "That was the spot I would go to when I wanted to be alone, and just have some time to think. I would just sit on the rocks right on that cliff. I had known for a long time that that's where I wanted to get married. I just felt like there was no church that would be as beautiful [as] that spot."
In 2004, Spencer and April started graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin.
"We were in the same area in a cohort of 13 people," she says. "It was a very extreme environment for a marriage. It was really good. We love working together. That's been part of our relationship throughout our history, that we both do theater and we both love working together in theater."
In 2007, they moved to Little Rock so Spencer could teach at Parkview Arts Science Magnet High School. April owns Arts Integration Services, which contracts with arts organizations to provide in-school arts programming.
They have three children -- Clem, 10, Blythe, 7, and Hollis, 4.
When times get tough, April and Spencer think back to a trip they took to Big Bend in West Texas in 2007. High winds had made for a harrowing night in their tent.
"But that morning, because we were awake, we got to see this beautiful sunrise over the Chisos Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert," April says. "In the tough times in our relationship, when we've struggled, we go back to that trip. We tell ourselves, 'This moment that we're in is really hard, but there's a beautiful sunrise on the other side of this.' It really has made a huge impact on our marriage."
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April Gentry and Spencer Sutterfield were married on June 1, 2002, on Petit Jean Mountain, where she grew up. “I got to marry the love of my life in that place that was so special to me,” April says.
High Profile on 05/26/2019
Print Headline: She knew the words to the love song he played