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RIGHT TIME RIGHT PLACE: He knew she was the one, across a crowded room

by Kimberly Dishongh | March 19, 2023 at 2:14 a.m.
Mandy Stanage and Vince Shoptaw were married on Nov. 19, 1999, in a private ceremony at the Capital Hotel. “She helps me be a better version of myself and encourages me to work hard for myself and for our family,” Vince says. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Vince Shoptaw was smitten from the moment he saw Mandy Stanage across a crowded ballroom.

It was February 1998 and Mandy was working during an event Vince attended at the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs.

"It was just immediately some type of connection," Vince says. "I was drawn to her."

Mandy was busy with making sure everything was going smoothly, and she didn't notice Vince watching from afar.

"I was reserved about approaching her, because I was not a very forward person at that time," he says. "But I remember she was wearing a little black dress and she was teeny tiny. I noticed her eyes and her smile and I kind of followed it, intending to meet this person because I knew she should play some part in my life."

Not long after that, a group of Mandy's friends invited her on a trip to Chicago. Vince, also a part of that group, was at the airport when she arrived.

"When we were on the plane, I kept feeling like somebody was watching me, and I would look over my shoulder and it was Vince -- he kept staring at me," she says.

Vince managed to take the seat next to hers when the group went to a Cubs game on that trip.

"He was super nice and very attentive but he had on a ball cap and sunglasses and I just could never get a really good feel for him," Mandy says. "You know, the eyes are the windows of the soul. I couldn't see him."

That evening, as the group prepared to go out for dinner, one of the women needed something from the front desk.

"I am almost always the last one to be ready but for some reason I was the first one that night," she says. "I offered to go get it while she finished getting ready."

Vince was on the landing talking with some of the guys from their group as she made her way down the stairs.

"He was drinking cocktails and laughing, cutting jokes, and our eyes met," she says. "It was like a lightning bolt. I was like, 'Oh my gosh. I need to meet this person.'"

Mandy expected to hear from Vince when they got back to Little Rock, but she didn't -- and she got tired of waiting. A week or so after the trip, she sent him an email.

She lived in Hot Springs -- Vince lived in Little Rock -- and she was driving up for a business meeting so Vince asked her to come by his office in the Federal Building. Mandy was so nervous that she didn't even recognize Billy Bob Thornton when he sat down next to her in her agent's office.

She parked in front of the wrong building and had to call Vince from her cellphone so he could direct her to the right one.

"We went to The Afterthought and I'll never forget looking at her and singing along to 'The Way You Look Tonight,' which sounds kind of silly now but it kind of became our song," he says.

Mandy and Vince discovered they were both born on a paternal grandparent's birthday -- she on her grandmother's, he on his grandfather's -- and that they both love curling up to watch old movies.

Mandy soon started a new job and moved back to Little Rock. A handsome co-worker asked her for a date, and she said no, because she had a serious boyfriend. She relayed the exchange to Vince later.

"I'm sure he was already thinking about the future but he just kind of blurted out, 'Well, you'll know when I'm going to ask you to marry me,'" she says. "I said, 'Would you like me to get a calendar out?' He was like, 'Well, yes.'"

They decided they liked the sound of "111-999" – Nov. 19, 1999. Nov. 19 is also Mandy's parents' anniversary, which seemed like a good sign.

"So much of our story is very practical and things just happened because they were supposed to," Mandy says. "That's just kind of been the guiding force of our relationship. Things work out the way they're supposed to when they're supposed to."

They exchanged their vows at the Capital Hotel, during a small dinner with their parents, their brothers and a sister-in-law, and their 3-year-old nephew.

"We did things on our own terms, like I wore a black cocktail dress that I bought at Dillard's, and Vince wore a gray work suit that he had," Mandy says.

He still has the gold tie that she gave him to wear for their ceremony.

Mandy was working for P. Allen Smith at the time, and she created arrangements of white roses and seeded eucalyptus, and they ordered a cake from Community Bakery. They took a delayed honeymoon to Germany, Italy and France.

Vince is a Saline County deputy prosecutor. Mandy is director of communications at AARP. Their son, Anthony, is a freshman at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

"I'm so glad our paths crossed when they did," Vince says of his wife. "There was certainly an undeniable force that pulled the two of us together."

If you have an interesting how-we-met story or if you know someone who does, please call (501) 425-7228 or email:

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The first time I saw my future spouse:

She says: "I thought, 'Why is that guy wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses on a plane? And why does he keep staring at me?'"

He says: "She was busying herself helping with the event, but I immediately felt some kind of connection with her."

My advice for a long happy marriage:

She says: "You have to recommit to your marriage every day. Be direct and tell each other what you need."

He says: "We have wonderful parents who are great examples to us and have shown us that marriage can last a long time, even through a lot of ups and downs. You just have to keep working together."

On our wedding day:

She says: "It was a small, private event. While we have an amazing friend group and extended family, for us it was just important to celebrate the day with our parents and siblings and our sister-in-law."

He says: "We took one day off to get ready for the wedding. I think they threw rose petals at us as we walked out of the Capital Hotel and then went home because we had a dog to take care of."


  photo  Vince and Mandy Shoptaw have been married for 23 years. “There were times in our orbits where Vince and I probably did interact or pass one another, in completely different phases of our lives, and it wasn’t the right time,” Mandy says. “We didn’t literally see each other until it was the right time.” (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

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