OAKMAN –Chad Hagwood of Birmingham believes it was divine intervention that brought his high school sweetheart, Patti Armstrong, back into his life last year. The two dated in high school, but …
OAKMAN –Chad Hagwood of Birmingham believes it was divine intervention that brought his high school sweetheart, Patti Armstrong, back into his life last year.
The two dated in high school, but after college they drifted apart. Childhood friends of both Armstrong and Hagwood always believed the two would end up together, but they had no idea it would take over 30 years, a helicopter, and the Indian Creek Youth Camp in Oakman.
“We met at church in 1984,” Hagwood said. The two attended Center Point Church of Christ. He saw her getting out of her car one Sunday. She was the new girl at church. As he watched her walking across the parking lot, he remembered telling his mom, “That’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. Even today, he still agrees with that first assessment.
In 1988, Hagwood decided to take the relationship up a notch. “After I got my driver’s license, Patti was the first person I asked out,” he remembered.
Their first date was a disaster, according to Hagwood. He was all thumbs and tongue-tied. Turning the wrong way down a one-way street was not helpful - as well as being pulled over by the police for having an expired tag.
“I was more anxious about asking her out than getting to the tag office,” Hagwood said.
“I had been going to Indian Creek Youth Camp (in Oakman) every summer religiously since I was 10 years old,” he said. Hagwood hatched a plan when he was a senior in high school, and Armstrong was in college. He lobbied with the staff of Indian Creek for Armstrong to be asked to be a counselor with him that summer at the camp.
This was in 1989. They were there together the entire week.
“There were no phones, radios, or computers to distract you, according to Hagwood. “You actually had to talk to people,” he said. “You get to visit with people one on one.”
June 22, 1989, was the last night of youth camp. That’s when Hagwood and Armstrong kissed for the first time. “It was a beautiful starry sky that night,” he remembered. “It was a pivotal moment in a young man’s life.”
After college, their paths diverged. Armstrong enrolled at Faulkner University in Montgomery. Later she got married, started a family, and became a teacher. Hagwood went to work with Hunt Real Estate Capital, where he financed commercial real estate across the country. He was married to his career.
Then last year, the two ran into each other at Highlands in Birmingham. She was single again and her younger brother had taken her out for her birthday. Hagwood came over and they sat and chatted for a while, according to Armstrong.
Timing is everything. “I’m not sure what you call it but it had to be divine intervention,” Hagwood said. “It was the right time, the right place when you’re ready.” He’s a big believer in that type of stuff.
“I’d been raising children so I had not been out and about,” she said. Hagwood invited her to spend some time with mutual friends. “It was fun and light,” she said. “No pressure, just to get reacquainted.”
They weren’t in a hurry at first. “People change over a period of time and you wonder how they’ve changed,” he said. He doesn’t think people’s core personalities really change. “When you get older, hopefully you are a better version of who you were,” he said.
“I’ve always loved and enjoyed Patti’s company and friendship,” Hagwood said. “I’m 47 and I know who I am, and who I’m not, but there was no doubt she was always the one.” Rekindling the friendship felt very natural, they both agreed.
You do things subconsciously whether you realize it or not, according to Hagwood. They learned at their bridal party through stories of their friends that both Hagwood and Armstrong continued to talk about each other even though they had not been together in years.
Hagwood still has the car he had when they first dated. Around five years ago, he started restoring the car and he wasn’t sure why at first.
"Why did I keep that car? It’s a 1990 LeBaron and it’s not exactly a collector’s item,” he said, noting replacement parts for the car are difficult to find.
Later he realized that the car was an inanimate connection to Armstrong. The prom mixtapes they listened to when they were in high school are still in the glovebox, according to Hagwood.
Somebody asked Hagwood how long it took him to plan the proposal and he answered, “About 30 years.”
Once he had a pretty good idea that Armstrong would say yes, he began putting a plan together. When considering places to pop the question, he first thought of the beach, or maybe New York. But he wanted a place that was unique to their story. Then it occurred to him that the ideal place was Indian Creek where they had their first kiss 30 years before.
Once he decided on the perfect place, the planning began. Had the couple driven to Oakman, it would have taken over an hour. “That might give a little too much time to think about it,” Hagwood said with a smile.
He decided on the quickest most efficient way to get there that has a little zing to it and adds a little mystery. They flew to the camp in a helicopter on Oct. 6, 2018.
At liftoff, Armstrong had no idea where they were going. “It was a tightly kept secret,” he said. “She thought we were going to dinner."
Armstrong’s dad and children knew because Hagwood had asked for their blessing first, but they were sworn to secrecy, according to Hagwood.
When they left Hagwood’s house to go have “dinner with friends,” he told her he had to turn left instead of right to keep from scraping the bumper of his new car. But they continued going in the wrong direction.
“You’re going to have to turn around because there’s a helicopter down there,” Armstrong remembered telling him.
Hagwood told her they were going for a little ride. She said “OK, but we’re going to be late for dinner.” Once airborne, she thought they were going to look at some projects that he was looking at. When they started descending, she had no idea where they were until she saw a softball field and the back of the church sign at Indian Creek Youth Camp.
When she saw the LeBaron she was even more confused about what was going on. He told her they were going to take a little drive. He’d had his co-conspirators set up a tent near where he planned to propose.
Once they arrived at the tent and saw people there, she figured out what was coming next. When they got to the tent area, Hagwood asked her to marry him.
“Luckily she said yes, because Plan B would have been a very long drive home,” he said.
The couple will get married June 15 and they will honeymoon on a little off-the-grid island near Belize. They will honeymoon on the 30th anniversary of their first kiss.
Even though they drifted apart, all their friends kept telling them that they were meant for each other.
“One of my childhood friends told me that it was just a matter of time,” Armstrong said.
When asked about their hopes for the future, she said she wanted to be an example for what true love is. Hagwood agreed and added that he feels their story is extremely unique and speaks to true love, hope, and happiness.
“It’s a big beautiful road ahead of us now,” he ended.