They’d been acquaintances for a long time, having lived in the same neighborhood then moved away from one another for years. But in May of 2016, the two reconnected and began dating.
The Great Flood of 2016 sealed the deal for Jake Donaldson and Jennifer Bailey, the two working alongside one another as members of the impromptu Cajun Navy to rescue people stranded by the high water.
“Jake never left my side,” Jennifer said. “He was forever constant. I remember the defining moment that I knew for certain that Jake was ‘the one.’”
“We had been performing rescue efforts along with many others in the middle of Range Avenue the Saturday morning the flood waters peaked,” she continued. “I was sitting in the truck having that moment when Jake came and got in the truck.”
“He looked over at me and said, ‘Baby, I’m sorry about your birthday,’’’ Jennifer said. “‘I wanted it to be unforgettable but this is not exactly what I had planned.’”
“Through all of the destruction, craziness and heartbreak that surrounded us that day, he still thought of me and the thought that it was my birthday,” she continued. “I said to myself that if we can make it out of this, we can make it through anything this life throws at us.”
Neither said anything to the other, but Jake’s realization that Jennifer was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with came on the same day.
“We worked together as a team as if we were trained for it,” he said of that dreadful weekend. “We helped to move people of all ages and backgrounds to higher ground.”
“Knowing that day was her birthday meant so much to me, knowing she could have chose a million other things to do or even evacuate herself, not knowing if we were flooded at home or not,” Jake continued. “Instead, she chose to be with me. I fell in love with her, knowing she was the ‘one’ on that Saturday, Aug. 13.”
“He is truly amazing,” Jennifer said of Jake. “It hit me like a ton of bricks that day. I had this wonderful man and I never wanted to see my life without him.”
“He was my best friend, I knew without a doubt I loved him,” she said.
The two had met 14 years prior when Jennifer and her family moved into Jake’s neighborhood. “We all became good friends and I was often fishing or hunting with her sons,” he said, but two years later, Jennifer and her boys moved away.
“We kind of lost contact,” Jennifer said. “Our lives took us on different paths. Jake’s work took him out of state and I was busy raising children and working myself.”
Several years later, the two reconnected through Facebook, but had little contact through the social media site until Jennifer one day posted “about a difficult time I was going through.”
Jake messaged her and asked her if she’d like to join him for a fishing outing at his mother and stepfather’s camp. “It was just what I needed,” Jennifer said.
“I was reluctant but he was persistent,” she continued. “I never forgot the way he could always make me laugh when we were neighbors.”
“That weekend was filled with laughter, good food, competitive fishing between old friends and anchored out in the lake with talks about old times and where life had taken us and watching sunsets,” Jennifer said.
“From that weekend on, we were inseparable,” she continued. “Then on Aug. 13, Jake and I watched up close and personal the people that we loved and the places that we grew up being consumed by massive amounts of flood waters.”
The romance reached a tipping point during hunting season, when Jake “bit the bullet,” in his words, and bought an engagement ring.
To begin a day of hunting, Jake “scrambled to beat her to the (surveillance) camera to hide the ring in it,” he said, his hands shaking as he did. “I dropped the ring three or four times, so I was glad she was distracted.”
“I asked her to go flip a switch on the camera,” he continued. “She opened it up and didn’t see the ring at first, but once she did, tears of joys began to run. I asked and she said yes.”
Next item of business was to choose a date, which turned out to be easier than either of them thought.
“My mother mentioned Mar. 11 is her and my late father’s anniversary,” Jake said. “We checked the calendar so what better day to have it.”
“I believe my dad placed Jennifer back in my life for a reason – to remind me that Denham Springs is my hometown and that genuine love and appreciation still exist,” he continued.
“Good things come when you least expect them and to think, I never saw him coming, but so I’m blessed he did,” Jennifer said. “There are those who think you can’t be blessed through a disaster. I beg to differ.”
“I have been blessed beyond belief,” she said.
The two were married in the barn on the grounds of the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds, surrounded by friends and family. The bridesmaids and bridesgrooms were all people the couple had connected with during the flood.
Tommy Comeaux is the Lifestyle editor at The Livingston Parish News. He can be reached via email at TommyComeaux@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @tommycomeaux.