A Love Worth the Phone Bill

Jody Prendergast and Lancelot Ferguson were teenagers when they met in their native St. Mary Parish, Jamaica, in the summer of 2004. Both had jobs at a local medical clinic: Mr. Ferguson was interning in the dental department. Ms. Prendergast was filing papers and filling out immunization cards alongside her best friend, Tara Jo Ferguson (no relation to Mr. Ferguson). Though the girls had spent previous summers playing soccer in the streets and dancing, Ms. Ferguson’s mother was a nurse, and that year she put them to work.

Ms. Prendergast, 13 at the time, thought of Mr. Ferguson, then 18, as big brother material. “To me it was like, this is a friend of Tara Jo’s, and he’s nice, and we’re going to get along,” she said. So they did.

In October 2005, when Ms. Prendergast’s family migrated to the United States, the connection between the two endured.

Ms. Prendergast, now 30, and Mr. Ferguson, 36, spoke so much on the phone in the year after she moved to Rosedale, Queens, that her father, Noel Prendergast, eventually cut the cord. The running up — “all the way up,” as Ms. Prendergast characterized it — of the family bill had to be stopped. Although the phone may have no longer worked in the house she also shared with her mother, Ionie Gordon, and her three siblings, Ms. Prendergast had no intention of severing ties with Mr. Ferguson. The two remained confidantes via email and later Facebook. Through milestones, including the death of Ms. Prendergast’s father and the births of their own children, they never fell out of touch.

Ms. Prendergast now lives in Shelton, Conn., and is the chief executive of White Rose Home Care Agency in Bridgeport. She founded the company, which provides care for the elderly and disabled throughout Connecticut, in 2014, after working as a financial administrator in the oncology department at Norwalk Hospital. She started with a handful of employees. Her staff has since swelled to 300. “Now that I see my path, I’m proud of myself,” she said. Her success is a badge of honor for her family, who migrated to the United States for better economic opportunities.

Ms. Prendergast’s maternal grandfather, Enos Lee Gordon, came to New York from St. Mary Parish in the 1980s to be a farmworker in the state. He was naturalized in 1996 through his marriage to Ms. Prendergast’s grandmother, Louise Gordon. Soon after, he started applying for his eight children, and their children, to become citizens. When those clearances came through in 2005, Ms. Prendergast was loaded onto a plane bound for Kennedy Airport with 15 relatives. She had never left Jamaica.

Her early years in New York were difficult. In addition to missing phone calls with Mr. Ferguson and Tara Jo, she felt lost at public school. “I didn’t assimilate well,” she said. “Believe it or not, the schools I was going to in Jamaica were harder, and I was really good at school.” Ms. Prendergast was bumped up a grade, where making friends wasn’t easy. She graduated from Andrew Jackson High School in 2008, when she was 17, and started college at the University of Bridgeport the same year, on a full scholarship.

Two years later, her father suffered a heart attack and died. But her family life had started unraveling before then. “I have to get into a little bit of chaos to explain it,” she said. Her mother left the house in Rosedale soon after the family arrived for a new home in the Bronx, she said. “The part that hurt is that she didn’t think to take me with her, but she took my other siblings.” Ms. Prendergast has an older brother, Romone Prendergast, and a younger sister, Janeil Lyons, and younger brother, Jevannie Cousins. Her grandparents became her primary caregivers when the family split. In 2019, Ms. Prendergast wrote a book, “Boss Enough to Start,” about her motivation for becoming an entrepreneur. “It’s a journey that started with not having my mom there.”

Mr. Ferguson, who grew up in St. Mary Parish with three sisters and three brothers and his parents, Loney and Leichester Ferguson, was never off the radar through her teens. By the time he became a local firefighter in 2010, he was seeing her at least once a year when she came to Jamaica during spring breaks from college. “Even when one of us was involved with someone else, we would see each other,” she said.

For Mr. Ferguson, the thrill of being around Ms. Prendergast never waned. “My heart rate would increase when she visited,” he said. For Ms. Prendergast, as she became more Americanized and less connected to the island, Mr. Ferguson helped restore a sense of native equilibrium. “Sometimes it was difficult for me to come to Jamaica, because when people hear my accent and that I’m Jamaican, they don’t treat me with the same respect that they would someone coming from out of town,” she said. At hotels and restaurants, that treatment felt dispiriting. Mr. Ferguson made the feeling vanish. “We had this connection because we had the same values,” Ms. Prendergast said. “He’s humble, and he brings me back to that humble side. We could sit on the beach eating cheap food and be happy and O.K.”

After graduating from the University of Bridgeport in 2012, Ms. Prendergast received a master’s degree in health care management from the University of New Haven in 2015. By then, White Rose Home Health Care was up and running, and Ms. Prendergast had become a parent, as had Mr. Ferguson.

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Ms. Prendergast’s son, Jayden Craig, was born in 2012, a year before Mr. Ferguson’s daughter Lakaydia, now 8. He also has a daughter Shaniqua, 14, and a son, Liam, 5. Neither Mr. Ferguson nor Ms. Prendergast had ever been married, though they both got close. Throughout the years, in their phone calls and visits, they didn’t dance around the subject of relationship status. “Whenever we would see each other in Jamaica, it would be like: ‘Are you engaged? Did you get married?’” Ms. Prendergast said. “We were always hoping the answer was no.”

When the coronavirus started tearing through the United States in March 2020, Ms. Prendergast and Mr. Ferguson picked up the pace of their check-ins, mostly to ask about each other’s health. But they also started talking about their onetime puppy love, and how it had grown into something more substantial.

“For the first time we had no barriers in our way other than distance,” Ms. Prendergast said. “We decided we should bet on ourselves.” At the end of March 2020, Ms. Prendergast flew to Jamaica, which was partially open after weeks of quarantine. She planned to be there a week but stayed a month. “We lost ourselves in each other,” she said. Tara Jo Ferguson felt she had waved a magic wand all those summers ago. “Lance was like my brother, and Jody was my best friend,” she said. “I was so happy to see they had come back together, that they were really in love.”

Ms. Prendergast’s next trip to Jamaica came five months later. On Aug. 10, 2020, on the beach at the Sandals Royal Caribbean resort in Montego Bay, Mr. Ferguson dropped to one knee and proposed. “It was one of those things where, my heart was beating so fast I didn’t know what was happening,” Ms. Prendergast said. “My exact words were, ‘What are you doing?’” By the end of Buju Banton’s “Lovely State of Mind,” cued up on the resort’s outdoor speakers at the request of Mr. Ferguson, she found more appropriate words: “Yes. A million times, yes.”

In December, Ms. Prendergast secured a fiancé visa for Mr. Ferguson, who moved in with her in Shelton. His relocation was less traumatic than Ms. Prendergast’s transition had been in 2005, though he, too, had never been to the United States. An instant bond with Jayden helped. “We’re so close, I feel like he’s my son,” he said. He misses his own children, but is planning frequent visits to Jamaica.

Ms. Prendergast and Mr. Ferguson initially set a wedding date of Aug. 28, 2021, in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. But by June, Covid restrictions on the island brought about a switch to Connecticut, which they found does not always make a poor substitute for the tropics.

On Aug. 14, Ms. Prendergast and Mr. Ferguson were married on the beach at Anthony’s Ocean View, in New Haven, by John Diamond, a pastor at Cathedral of Faith, a Pentecostal church in Bridgeport. Palm trees swayed as 145 guests, seated in white folding chairs before an altar decked out in white and pink roses, kicked off their shoes and wiggled their toes in the warm sand; 16 of them, including four of Mr. Ferguson’s former fellow firefighters, had made their way from St. Mary Parish.

Ms. Prendergast, in a strapless white gown with a sweetheart neckline and a long, fluffy train that caused a struggle through the sand, was helped down the aisle by an uncle, Wilburt Prendergast. Mr. Ferguson wore a cream jacket with black pants and a bow tie. Once Pastor Diamond confirmed that the couple promised to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, he asked guests to reflect on the rings they exchanged. “The true beauty of these rings wasn’t revealed until they had first gone through a bit of fire,” he said. “And everything that nature hurled against them they withstood.”

On This Day

When Aug. 14, 2021

Where Anthony’s Ocean View, New Haven, Conn.

Yes, It Is The harpist Brandee Younger played Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” as guests recessed from the beach into a courtyard, where a buffet dinner that included tropical cocktails and lamb chops was served.

Twice is Nice Though Ms. Prendergast and Mr. Ferguson consider Aug. 14 their official wedding date, they were legally married by Pastor Diamond April 28 at Cathedral of Faith Church in Bridgeport for immigration reasons. “We had to do it then so Lance could stay in the country,” Ms. Prendergast said. “But the real meaning of being married didn’t happen until our friends and family were there with us.”

Keeping Busy Mr. Ferguson is in training to become a Connecticut firefighter. In addition, he and Ms. Prendergast will open Everything Irie, a Jamaican fine-dining restaurant in Shelton, in September. “Everyone we talk to loves Jamaican music and Jamaican food,” Ms. Prendergast said. Though both like to cook, they are in the process of hiring a chef; they will curate the menu.

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