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Valentine's Day Photos (pg 2) Valentines Day Photos


Mvc-020f.jpg (50271 bytes)   The City of Niederwald was proud to present a "Key to the City" and honorary citizenship to Matt and Shelley Hardell of Fort Worth, Tx. on February 14, 1999.  The decision was made due to a unique connection between the Hardells' and the city of Niederwald.

The story goes as follows:


by Shelley Hardell

Though we have been married for only a short time, my husband and I already realize how important it is for couples to reinforce their love for each other by establishing and maintaining their own personal traditions. We continually foster our love with "Niederwald."

In 1996, shortly after we had begun dating each other exclusively, Matt accompanied me on a day trip to San Antonio. I had to attend a business conference and he was concerned about me making the "long" drive from Fort Worth alone. (I could easily have tolerated what to me was a mere jaunt, but I was happy for the company!) While I spent all day attending workshops, he touristed around San Antonio. He picked me up around 5:00pm, and we enjoyed dinner on the River Walk, before we starting home.

While driving back north on I-35, he suddenly looked over at me seated in the passenger's seat and said "Shelley, I am SO in love with you." Touched by his spontaneity, I snuggled over to him in the car and closed my eyes -- dreaming of the future we might have together. As his family has a strong German heritage, I was not surprised when seconds later, in a hushed voice, he softly uttered "Niederwald..."

Again, moved by his candid sincerity and his willingness to express himself so freely, I moved even closer to him and laid my head on his shoulder. Eyes glistening, I fluttered my lashes and gazed up at his face. Smiling shyly, I sweetly whispered, "Niederwald. Hmm…what does that mean?"

"Huh? What?" He stuttered blankly. "Uh…ahem… Oh. Oh! I was just reading that road sign," he explained, pointing at the large green highway marker disappearing as we passed. Quickly realizing what I had misunderstood, he couldn’t restrain his laughter. Chagrined, I, too, could do nothing but laugh aloud that I had been a little too carried away in the romantic moment.

Later, we learned that the literal translation of the German "Niederwald" is "low forest." Yet, the word has taken on a much more significant definition to us. It has become our unique expression of love. It was engraved inside Matt’s wedding band months later when we were married, November 8, 1996. He had it engraved on gold bands that he gave me for Christmas in 1998. A mysterious "Mr. Niederwald" has left cryptic messages for me at work and has sent me flowers on such occasions as the anniversary of the date Matt proposed and the anniversary of our first date.

For two years, we searched unsuccessfully for information about Niederwald, TX. Never realizing how important the spot would become to us, we couldn’t even remember its exact location. In fact, the city of Niederwald is so small (pop. 233) we couldn’t locate it on any Texas map! We performed many an Internet search for "Niederwald," only to find several references to a city in Germany! So (because this small town was Matt’s first choice for our vacation last December) we decided to just get in the car and drive. We planned to drive all the way from Fort Worth to San Antonio and back if we had to - determined to find it. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. We triumphantly discovered this humble farm community just southeast of Austin. There was no quaint cultural district -- no entertainment facilities -- no need! We used up almost an entire roll of film just snapping pictures of every sign we could find that said "Niederwald!" We had a blast!

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It was only after our visit there that I found the City of Niederwald website with an email address to contact their mayor, Rickie Adkins. Having captured the telephone number for City Hall on one of the photographs from our recent road trip, I was able to follow up with a call to the Niederwald City Council to make a special request. I shared our story with them and was thrilled when they agreed to surprise my husband, Matt, with the key to the city. The key to the City of Niederwald (designed by local artist and councilwoman, Glenda Buehring) was officially presented to him on Valentine’s Day, 1999 - long after he’d won the key to my heart!

The occasion took on dramatic proportions when I submitted the story to an online contest at and won the grand prize! Along with the traditional gifts of candy and flowers, Hallmark also awarded my husband and I with a box filled with exquisite gifts from their online store. In addition, Hallmark’s artists and writers custom designed a Valentine’s Day card for Matthew and I, commemorating our relationship with the small town of Niederwald. This incredible work of art is complete with ribbons, bows, and needlework and will become one of our most cherished keepsakes. It includes an original poem created by one of Hallmark’s most renowned writers, Barbara Loots, adapted from our love story about "Niederwald." We will treasure it always and know it will be an heirloom for our future children and their children. The media attention that the contest garnered gave us pictures and articles to record the event of a lifetime.

Upon hearing of this presentation and our wish to renew our vows there someday, the community of Niederwald and their local church congregation responded by banding together to organize a beautiful wedding renewal ceremony. We were chauffeured from City Hall to the church in a bright red 1968 Cadillac convertible. Pastor Bill Burns performed the ceremony including some of our favorite biblical scripture. He surprised us once again by calling on his friend Ruben Archield of the San Antonio Symphony to come up and sing for us. The service was followed by a charming Valentine’s Day reception resplendent with red hearts, flowers, and even a wedding cake! We were touched by the genuine hospitality of the community, and were honored at the number of townspeople who approached us to express their heart-felt gratitude! The memory of this day will be forever etched on our hearts.

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Mrs. Hardell entered their story of love and romance in a Valentine-essay contest sponsored by entitled "Why your sweetheart should be King or Queen of Hearts".  Mrs. Hardell's entry was awarded the grand prize.


Arrangements were also made for the Hardell's to renew their vows at the Niederwald historic Trinity United Church of Christ following the presentation ceremony.

Valentines Day Photo Album

Email Shelley and Matt!


Mayor Adkins would like to personally thank the following people for their contributions/assistance with the Valentine's Day festivities.

Warner Davis - for use of his red '68 Cadillac

Reverend Bill Burns and wife Florence

Gladys Sorrells - pianist

Ruben Archield of the San Antonio Symphony

Jenny Mehlow - Fleishman Hillard

Fern Howze

KEYE Television

Jesse Whisenant

Family of Matthew Hardell

Entire congregation of Trinity United Church of Christ

Planning Commission of Niederwald

City Council of Niederwald

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