He Caught Her Attention at the Community Center

Caroline Combs used to call John Dansby the “hot nurse.”

The two Tennessee natives — she is from Chattanooga and he, Lawrenceburg — first met in Nashville in 2015. Ms. Combs, 25, was interning at an after-school program run by Harvest Hands, a local community center, when Mr. Dansby, 32, started to volunteer there after his shifts as a cardiothoracic operating room nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital.

“He would come in scrubs and I would be swooning,” said Ms. Combs, who had what she described as a “cordial” relationship with Mr. Dansby at Harvest Hands, which she left in 2018.

The next year, after Ms. Combs graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, she invited Mr. Dansby and some of their mutual friends to a party. “There were a few times that we hung out as a group after that, but pretty quickly we started hanging out individually,” said Ms. Combs.

Soon, hanging out “started morphing into dating,” she said.

Ms. Combs, who in 2019 became a first-grade teacher at Fall-Hamilton Elementary School in Nashville, said that she and Mr. Dansby grew closer by supporting each other as they navigated careers that are often emotionally heavy.

“I work in a trauma-informed school, meaning that we approach student behavior in a way that supports emotion regulation and self-awareness,” she said.

Mr. Dansby, whose work at the hospital evolved to include covering Covid units when the pandemic set in, agreed. “Seeing how supportive and encouraging she was through any semi-meltdowns I had made me realize she was the real deal,” said Mr. Dansby, who graduated from Eastern Tennessee State University.

A similar realization dawned on Ms. Combs, she said, when Mr. Dansby had to miss a planned outing with friends in order to help a stranger.

“One particular night we were going to see a movie with a bunch of friends, and John missed it because he was taking someone home who needed a ride,” she said. “That always sticks out as a moment when the flashing lights said, ‘This man is insanely good.’”

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]
Credit…Saul Cervantes Photography

In June 2021, Mr. Dansby surprised Ms. Combs with a proposal with help from her former boss at Harvest Hands, who invited Ms. Combs to what she thought was a volunteer appreciation dinner on June 27. The invitation was a ruse, and when Ms. Combs arrived at the event, she was shocked to see Mr. Dansby and a heart made of rose petals on the floor, beneath a banner that read, “I choose you.”

“It was magical,” Ms. Combs said.

The couple wed on Jan. 29 at Long Hollow Gardens, a vineyard in Gallatin, Tenn. Mark Irving, the pastor of Fellowship Nashville church, officiated before roughly 160 guests. They included the bride’s parents and the groom’s mother, father and stepmother. (Both Mr. Dansby’s mother and stepmother later danced with him at the reception; “The only thing better than one mom is two,” Ms. Combs recalled the D.J. saying.)

At the ceremony, guests were seated in a circle around the couple, a setup Ms. Combs said allowed them “to really feel the intimacy of our community around us.”

The reception that followed did not have a seated dinner; instead, attendees mingled with each other and the couple, who wanted to “feel in touch with our guests,” said Ms. Combs, who credited their wedding planner, Josiah Carr of Ninth & Everett, with creating the ambience for the whole event.

In lieu of a guest book, the couple rented a phone booth, where guests could record voice messages for Mr. Dansby and Ms. Combs, who moved into the bride’s home in Nashville after the wedding.

Ms. Combs’s students also played a part in the festivities by writing questions and thoughts about marriage on pieces of paper that were displayed at the venue.

“Some of the questions were really genuine,” she said, “and some were really funny.”

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