(Photos by Caroline Thomas)
Joe Diaz-Henson was directed to put on a nametag as soon as he arrived at Balance Tampa Bay’s June 2019 social meetup in Channelside. As he wandered through the crowded bar searching for the table with blank nametags, he “bumped into a very tall overshadowing person,” he says.
He asked where he could find nametags and the man – his future husband – pointed at the one he was wearing and said, “Hi, I am Chuck.”
This confused Joe, who eventually found the blank nametags on a table behind Chuck Diaz-Henson and his “equally tall” friend. “I was like, ‘Ok Chuck. Weirdo.’ From my 5 feet, 8 inches-tall perspective, they’re blocking the table,” Joe notes.
“In my version of the story,” Chuck says, “this adorable little Hispanic man comes up to me and asks where nametags are and I think he’s playing me, trying to get my name.”
They didn’t speak again that evening, but the next day, Chuck found Joe on Facebook and messaged him. He lived in St. Petersburg but had a meeting in Tampa and offered to bring lunch to Joe, who was working from home as a project manager for a health care company at the time.
Joe accepted and they found themselves getting to know each other over Wawa sandwiches. One of his dogs tried to eat their lunch and Chuck was quick to tell him, “No.”
“It was real authoritative, super alpha,” Joe says. “In my head, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to like this.’”
Chuck adds, “That was our first date, and I couldn’t believe I was yelling at his dog.”
For their second date a week later, they met at Dog Bar in St. Petersburg. Chuck brought two chaperones along – his friend, Jenny, and his sheepdog, Charlie.
The couple bonded quickly over their shared love of animals. Between the two of them, they have five dogs and Joe was quick to tell his new suitor, “If you date me, you date my dogs.”
“Joe’s love of dogs was one of the things that really drew me to him,” Chuck notes. “Joe’s humanity toward creatures that can’t really care for themselves is one of his most endearing qualities.”
At first, Joe was resistant to a relationship, sharing from their first date that he didn’t want a boyfriend.
“But my charms could not be resisted,” Chuck muses.
Joe says, “He was very persistent, but I was about to enter my third year single, and Chuck showed me an amount of respect and an amount of support of just caring that opened my eyes and my heart.”
They both recall a pivotal moment in their relationship, when they traveled to St. Cloud, Florida to try out a new zipline rollercoaster at an outdoor amusement park. Though Joe hated heights, after some urging, he jumped from the attraction’s 80-foot-high tower and ziplined anyway.
“That’s the day I fell in love,” Chuck says.
In June 2021, the couple visited Savannah, Georgia with some friends – where Chuck decided to surprise Joe with a proposal. Reaching out to a friend of a friend – an event organizer and decorator – he set up a special table with champagne and desserts in the middle of one of the city’s historic squares.
“The idea was we would just happen to come upon the table and I’d propose,” he says. “But it rained torrentially that night.”
Luckily, the decorator had a plan B in place, setting up the table underneath an overhang near the Savannah Convention Center.
“It was amazing – a beautiful rug, white twinkle lights in the trees, Victorian chairs, a silver cart with his grandmother’s lemon square recipe and strawberries,” Chuck says.
As they walked from dinner at a nearby restaurant, they found the table and Chuck suggested they take a seat. Joe hesitated.
“I’m pulling him away like, ‘Chuck, somebody’s got something going on here.’ We have to go,” he explains.
Throughout the weekend his future husband and their friends had also been teasing him a bit, as well. They tried to make him feel a little bit demanding, saying things like “OK, Joe, it’s all about you.”
Once they were at this spot, Chuck got down on one knee and said, “You know all weekend we’ve been saying it’s all about you? Well, this is all about you. My heart is yours if you’ll have it.”
Prior to the proposal, Chuck had engagement rings made from Kentucky bourbon barrels with deer antler inlay to represent his family history.
“Joey is Puerto Rican, and I am as white as they come. He’s very steeped in family traditions of Latin and Puerto Rican culture,” he says. “I wanted to give him something from me and my background. Now he has something of mine he wears.”
The couple likes to refer to their big day as “a flash-mob wedding.” They married under the Bending Arc public art piece on the St. Pete Pier and told anyone who wanted to join them that they were welcome. About 100 people showed up. They even rearranged the Adirondack chairs under the sculpture to create an aisle.
Afterwards they invited about 70 of their closest friends and family to their St. Petersburg home for a reception.
Three days before the event, their decorator backed out, leaving them in a lurch. Luckily, friends and family stepped up, donating the items they needed.
“It was perfect. Through the goodness of humanity, it ended up looking exactly like we wanted it to look,” Chuck says.
Joe notes, “We’re not very fancy guys anyway.”
“It was very us,” his husband adds.
Engagement Date: June 13, 2021
Wedding Date: April 16, 2022
Wedding Venue: Public ceremony under Bending Arc public art at the St. Pete Pier; reception at their St. Petersburg home
Theme: Maroon and silver
Officiant: Evan Howe, a minister and close friend of Joe
Caterer: County Market & Deli in St. Petersburg
Photographer: Caroline Thomas
Do you have an interesting wedding or engagement story you’d like to share with Watermark readers? If so, email the details to Editor@WatermarkOnline.com for consideration as a future Wedding Bells feature.