When newlyweds Sarah Abrams and Eric Wagner emerged from Our Lady of Victory Church at Harveys Lake on Aug. 17, Sarah remembers wondering, “Why is there a horse in the parking lot?”
“I was on cloud nine, and it didn’t even hit me,” she said. “Then I saw a white rose on the horse and thought, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s for us.’ “
Parents of the bride, Joan and Bill Abrams of Dallas, had succeeded in keeping the horse-drawn carriage a surprise, and it was an appropriate one, considering how much their daughter and new son-in-law love animals.
Back when Sarah, 27, and Eric, 26, were both pharmacy students at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, a little dog named Winston helped forge their bond.
A beagle mix, Winston was “a malnourished, poor little pup” when Sarah rescued him from the streets. Those streets weren’t the safest place, so when Eric noticed his classmate out walking the rescued dog, he offered to accompany them.
“There was a turning point in our relationship,” Sarah said, remembering how she and Eric nursed Winston back to health after he was struck by a car. While the dog was recuperating, it took both of them to carry him up and down stairs, with one person supporting his back legs in a towel harness and the other opening doors.
“If we could get through this,” she remembers thinking, “we could get through a lot together.”
Winston has died, but the newlyweds have new pets — a 120-pound black lab/bull mastiff named Dakota that Sarah gave to Eric as a Christmas present, and a black lab/boxer named Bella they inherited from Eric’s sister, Nicole, after she died in a 2007 car accident.
That was the same year Sarah’s sister, Beth Abrams Finarelli, was recovering from a hemorrhagic stroke and a series of seizures she suffered while pregnant with her son, Mikey.
“She’s one of the strongest people I know,” Sarah said of her sister. “She taught me how to fight back against the things life throws at you.”
During the wedding, the couple honored both sisters, having Beth serve as matron of honor, and lighting a candle in front of a photograph of Nicole at the church.
The couple got engaged in 2011 on the beach at Cape May, N.J., where they were sharing a picnic and bottle of wine. “The reason I picked there (for the proposal) was because it was her childhood vacation place,” Eric said. “She’d gone there every year of her life.”
The sentimental choice was perfect, said Sarah, who had come to believe Eric would be an ideal life partner when she saw how he interacted with his family.
“When I saw how he treated his mom, when I saw how he acted with his own family, that made it all clear to me,” she said.
So the couple exchanged vows in Our Lady of Victory Church, attended by a large group of bridesmaids, including Elizabeth Finarelli, Elizabeth Hutton, Jennifer Mioduski, Annie Donley, Emily Herman, Bonnie Patek, Natalie Dow, Maggie Randazzo, Courtney Cavileri and Lainee Sensenig. Groomsmen were Stephen Wagner, Christopher Pannebaker, Matt Melott, James Abrams, Michael Finarelli, Christopher Valintakonis, Joseph Breton and Matthew Hagelberger.
Jacob Sensenig and Mikey Finarelli were ring bearers.
After their trip to Costa Rica, the couple returned to Mauldin, S.C., where Eric works as a pharmacist and Sarah teaches at Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy. They are both graduates of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and Sarah is a 2004 graduate of Bishop O’Reilly High School.