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Rex couple wins free wedding at big event

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A local couple, engaged to be married, is looking forward to their big day, now more than ever, after winning a wedding package at an inaugural event in Stockbridge.

Stanley George Milligan, Jr., and Hannah Robinson, both of Rex, were awarded the grand prize in the Big Day Giveaway sponsored by the Merle Manders Conference Center (MMCC). The pair received more than $12,000 in free services, from 14 wedding-related vendors who were on hand for the occasion.

Heidi Sewell, the event manager for the MMCC, who devised the concept of the giveaway, said her motivation was to create a unique opportunity for couples, as well as local companies, whose business involves weddings.

"I wanted to get away from wedding-show types of events," said Sewell. "I wanted to do something fun that would get everybody involved, where the vendors would be excited about it."

Sewell views the first-time event as a success, not only in the level of interest it generated, but also in its implications for the future. "We had 16 couples enter the contest, and we've had a lot of people talking about it and getting excited," she said. "We want to make it an annual event. We hope it will get bigger and better every time."

The program began last month with couples submitting "stories" describing how their love for each other began, how they got engaged, and, according to Sewell, "anything that makes their relationship interesting."

Each story was reviewed by a panel of six judges, who decided which couple would receive the giveaway. As a result of Milligan's and Robinson's win, MMCC will house their wedding ceremony free of charge, on either Feb. 27 or March 13 of 2010. Their story will also be featured on the Atlanta Occasions web site, in Bliss Wedding Magazine and a future edition of the Henry Daily Herald.

Fourteen vendors participated in the event, including Grand Gourmet, Divine Balloons Unlimited, DMG Images photography, Beyond Beauty Cosmetics Studio and Fayette Candle Factory. During the evening's festivities, each of the couples had an opportunity to sample the vendors' offerings, before the winners' names were announced.

Contestant, Amanda Batchelor, of Locust Grove, has been engaged to her fiance, Wade Flora, since September, and eagerly signed up when she heard about the giveaway. Batchelor said she was pleasantly surprised by the array of services offered at the event.

"A lot of the vendors, I would use anyway, because they've done my friends' weddings," said Batchelor, 33, who works as an attorney in the Henry County Public Defender's Office. "It used to be that people would go to Atlanta to get married. It's just nice to have all these vendors on the Southside."

Although she did not win the grand prize, Batchelor did not walk away empty-handed. She was selected, in a raffle, to receive a guest-signing plate, for people attending her wedding to offer their well-wishes. "I was going to get one anyway," said Batchelor with a smile.

Kelly Bartram, of McDonough, came to the giveaway ceremony in support of her daughter, Katie, and future son-in-law, Jordan Cole, who got engaged on Christmas Day of 2008. The mother said even though Katie and Jordan did not win the giveaway, the event will benefit them as they continue to plan their wedding. "There are still a lot of vendors here for her to choose from," Kelly Bartram said. "This increases their options."

Sylvia Skinner attended the giveaway on behalf Cake House & More, in Stockbridge, a business run by her sister, Debbie Pugh. "We're basically a new bakery," said Skinner. "We've been here for a little over a year, but a lot of people don't realize that we're here. So, something like this gives us tremendous exposure, especially for weddings. If a bride comes in and uses our services ... people will taste our cakes at her wedding. So, one bride can hook us up to hundreds of people."

When the moment finally arrived for the winning couple's names to be revealed, Hannah Robinson's mother, Janet, sat with a look of anticipation on her face. When her daughter's name was called, the bride's mother stood with her hands raised in the air in celebration for the couple.

"I am just beyond thrilled," Janet Robinson said. "Right before [a disc jockey] announced the names, I said a prayer. Three seconds later, he called their names, and I said, 'Tell me prayers aren't answered.'"

Hannah Robinson, 22, and Stanley Milligan, 24, have been together for eight years, and have been engaged for eight months. The bride-to-be beamed with excitement minutes after she and Milligan received their gift. She said she is excited about returning to the conference center early next year, to exchange vows with the man she loves.

"My best friend got married here, and I love the site," said Hannah, who works at the University of West Georgia. "When I found out the contest rules, I just knew that we had a chance to win. This will allow us to do something we've been waiting on for eight years."

Milligan, a general manager for Chick-fil-A, held his fiancee, with a grin on his face, as he appeared to absorb the events of the night.

As he posed for pictures with Hannah, Milligan expressed a combination of relief and anticipation. "I've been waiting for this for so long, and it's all coming together now."