Sweet Serendipity

Stephanie and Don Seeber are at home in Don’s Oak Island back yard. Photo by Bethany Turner

Stephanie and Don Seeber are at home in Don’s Oak Island back yard. Photo by Bethany Turner

When architect Stephanie Seeber, then Stephanie Van Noordt, first began spending time with Don Seeber, she wasn’t looking for love or even a deep friendship. She was only extending a kindness she’d been bestowed years before.

As she suffered through a failed marriage, Stephanie’s friends and family lifted her up so she could cope with daily life. “I had been through a difficult time,” she concedes. “I had found just how much help it was when people would say, ‘Stephanie, come on, let’s go do something—let’s go out to dinner, let’s go to a movie.’”

Don—whose son, Stephen, has swum with Stephanie’s daughter, Rachel, since they were 6 or 7 years old—lost his first wife, Mary, in May 2010. “I had never even considered dating after Mary died,” Don shares. “I was kind of set with, ‘OK, here’s what I’ve got to do now. I have Stephen; I have to get him through high school. I’m still working full time, and I don’t have any expectations other than that’s my lot in life.’”

The spiral staircase makes for a grand entrance to the house. Photo by Bethany Turner

The spiral staircase makes for a grand entrance to the house. Photo by Bethany Turner

Coming up to another high school swim season, when the team needed more officials for the meets, they looked to parents who’d been helping out since the children were young. Don had officiated for years, and when a few parents agreed to sign on, he offered to drive to the training session in Wilmington. They all decided to meet at Stephanie’s house—except when Don arrived, they were the only two there. Others found rides or didn’t show, and so Stephanie and Don rode together as planned.

“Actually, Don’s late wife is the one who asked me if I would start officiating,” Stephanie says. “I had no interest in it, but she said, ‘She’s going into high school; she’ll be swimming, so it really probably is a good idea to learn how to officiate a swim meet.’ So [that conversation] was what prompted me to do that.”

The training and testing continued, and Don and Stephanie encountered each other through swim on many more occasions. “I will say, I was not looking to date anyone, absolutely,” Stephanie confirms. “All my friends would say I had pretty strict parameters. I was not interested in dating a stranger; I was not interested in dating someone that was not a Christian, not a person of faith. My friends said, ‘So—you’re not dating?’ And I said, ‘No—I’m not dating.’”

A sitting area pays homage to nature and family. Photo by Bethany Turner

A sitting area pays homage to nature and family. Photo by Bethany Turner

So as football season rolled around, Stephanie was still single and completely content, though without someone to join her at an upcoming game. “That week was a great game coming up at South [Brunswick High School], and I could not find anybody to go to that game with me,” she tells.

She thought of asking Don, only to share with him the kindness others had shown her when she needed help. Losing his wife, she knew, harbored a difficult pain. Perhaps, she thought, a football game could help relieve his mind. She only wanted to pay it forward, “because so many people had been so good about getting me out and getting me back into a routine, back into some normal things.”

So, she sent Don an e-mail asking if he were going, to please save her a seat. “He e-mailed me back, ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do that.’”

“Since I hadn’t been to a football game in probably four or five years, I couldn’t claim that I was going,” he says with a laugh. “But I have three stepchildren from Mary, and Stephen was our child, and I also didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.”

His response  was touching, according to Stephanie. “It was just very kind, exactly what he said: ‘I’m not sure how my children will feel,’” she remarks.

Immediately, Stephanie felt her stomach sink. “Oh my gosh,” she thought. “I’ve done something I shouldn’t have. This is bad; I’ve done something really inappropriate.”

The back yard leads right out to Davis Canal. Photo by Bethany Turner

The back yard leads right out to Davis Canal. Photo by Bethany Turner

It wasn’t what she meant by writing Don at all. But they did go to the game, because Stephanie sent Don one more reply, explaining her best intentions.

Afterward, however, he admitted he felt as nervous to spend time with Stephanie as being 16 again—and that is when the “not dating” began, as their joke goes.

“In that moment, that’s when I did become interested, because this e-mail comes through and it’s just very sweet,” she says. “What a really thoughtful, very personal, candid, honest way to respond.”

The friendship that unfolded was undeniable. In fact, they thought it a gift from God. “Like Stephanie told her friends—I wasn’t looking, but this would be my criteria if I were going to look,” Don says. “And after we’d been seeing each other for a while, she said, ‘I prayed for you.’ Not meaning me, but ‘somebody like you.’ I am also pretty spiritual and God-centered, so it was like, well, I can’t argue with that.”

“The precursor to that, of course, is going through a failed marriage,” Stephanie says. “Taking it seriously, my part in it… I really had to do some soul-searching and really think, These were the things that I did, my part in the failure was this.

She prayed to God for help in sorting it all out. “My prayer would be, ‘Lord, please help me work through this about my personality’—and my prayer began to be, ‘Lord, I’d like to try again sometime.’’’

Stephanie felt as though God was replying, telling her to be patient, and saying that he had great plans for her. “I think it was very natural when we started seeing each other,” she says. “but it also felt like a gift. There are always things to be learned, but this was not self-serving; we would very much like the gift of our marriage to be about God’s grace, too.”

Don knows he is not the person he was three years ago. “All those things were there—I know I was blessed and I’ve been watched over all my life,” he says. “It’s not that I had a bad marriage before, but I knew things I’d done wrong. It’s just the important things are what you do together and what you believe together.”

Don courted Stephanie in what she calls extraordinary and old-fashioned ways, with cards, flowers and genuine conversations. But the couple chose to avoid being strong too soon in front of others. “I think both of us were really sensitive about how our children were taking that or would take that, and my son especially,” Don said. “So I think we kind of tip-toed around and just made sure that when we were ready to think about getting married, that they were going to be, at least, as ready as they could be. There was some understanding that there wasn’t any great time for them.”

Bucolic items make for lovely décor on the Seebers’ front stoop. Photo by Bethany Turner

Bucolic items make for lovely décor on the Seebers’ front stoop. Photo by Bethany Turner

Stephanie says she thinks the children trusted she and Don, and loved them even if they couldn’t grasp everything. “We were just wrapped up in trying to love each other until we do understand,” she says.

They were married on September 17th, 2011, in the back yard of Stephanie’s home in Southport. Their hand-written vows exuded their love for each other and for their faith, asking that their union be a prayer and present for God, and that together they may draw others to Him.

“When we started to plan the wedding, I did not really want to have a ‘wedding,’” Stephanie muses. “I think we just really wanted to celebrate, because there were so many people in our court, so to speak, cheering for us. It was a very simple ceremony, and Don’s godfather is a minister, and so he performed the ceremony.”

Their wedding was a gathering of family and close friends underneath the oak trees in her yard, with their children by their sides. In lieu of a towering wedding cake, everyone brought pies. It was the humbling, organic celebration the Seebers had hoped for.

“I did not move anything [into Don’s house on Oak Island] until after the wedding,” Stephanie says. “I really wanted to set an example for my child about courtship and marriage and my beliefs.”

Knowing it would be difficult on Rachel to be unfamiliar in a new home, and hard for Stephen to accept a new family in his home, Don and Stephanie tried to move very gradually. “For me, it was very important to be sensitive to Stephen and [that idea of] ‘This is my house; my mom’s stuff is here,’ and just not push that very quickly with him. I still probably pushed it too quickly, looking back.”

For the first six or eight months, Stephanie brought over only what was necessary. Almost as extending an olive branch, the Seebers remodeled both of the teenager’s rooms, replacing floors and applying a fresh coat of paint in each room. Other than that, not much has changed in the home.

The nearly panoramic windows along the long living room outside wall affords the Seebers a view of nature each day. “I love the big openings to look out to Davis Canal,” Stephanie says. “The birds are just so beautiful. One morning during Christmas holiday, there were two deer that just came down there and fed for a long time.”

The wood-burning fireplace is in the center of the home—another quality Stephanie adores. “It’s got a great shape to it, and it anchors the house.”

Fishing rods from family members—such as one from a patriarch on Don’s side above the television—line the walls of the living room as part of the rustic, bucolic décor.

The master bedroom peers out to the canal as well through sliding glass doors, while meaningful antiques give the room a cozy, historic feel. An old ice chest serves as an armoire, and a military trunk from Don’s family acts as a coffee table.

In the foyer, guests are immediately welcomed by a wooden spiral staircase with metal rails, leading to a loft. A several-foot-tall nutcracker, once one of Mary’s favorite Christmas decorations, greets newcomers year-round.

Outside, an old jon boat houses various bulbs. Bird houses Stephanie crafted by hand dangle by the unusual deck—its shape angular and open. “I like the deck,” Don says. “It’s really good for gatherings.”

“Everything in the house is a blend,” the architect shares. “The furniture is some from Don’s house and some from my house. Very little has been brought in new.”

The Seebers enjoy finding new ways to utilize items, to recycle them. “I think I’m very pragmatic and I very much like to see new uses for things that you may discard,” Stephanie says.

“I don’t like the idea of throwing something out; I like reusing and discovering a new way to make use of something serendipitously.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Southport Area's Culture & Events Magazine