By Jennifer Florendo
And they lived happily ever after … while that may be a strange way to begin a story, one can easily imagine that is the way the story pans out for LeeAnn and Michael Godard. Both come from humble and checkered upbringings, yet the couple has shared a longing for that “white picket fence” life and are bringing that to reality today.
LeeAnn was born in Colorado Springs, CO to a single mom, as her biological father left before her birth. With two young babies and no additional support, LeeAnn and her family moved to Louisiana to live with her grandmother. “I didn’t have much of a stable life, but my mother always did the best she could with what we had,” said LeeAnn.
The move to Louisiana brought more change and unpredictability into LeeAnn’s life, from a baby sister to her mother enlisting in the Army and the later physical abuse to her mother, which often trickled down to LeeAnn and her sisters. “One particular night in 1980, things got completely out of control. I witnessed, along with my sisters, my mother in the fight of her life,” she says describing a physical encounter between her mom and her stepfather. “He left her for dead and we never saw him since. After weeks in the hospital, my mother got back on her feet, now as a single mom.”
More change came the following year when LeeAnn’s mother received military orders for a deployment in Athens, Greece and the entire family, including a new stepfather, started out on a new adventure. “I had an absolutely incredible experience while living there. I enrolled in a Greek-American school, learned the language and a new world. It was probably the happiest our family had been in a long time,” she said.
Four years later, at the age of 12, LeeAnn returned to the United States, where her mother was stationed in Fort Huachuca, AZ. Her excitement to return to an American civilian school was quickly crushed on her first day. “On my very first day, I got into a fight. It was awful. There were hordes of students gathering around my locker to see ‘the new girl from Greece,’” she recalls. “It was a battle literally almost every day for months. It got so bad I thought about just taking my own life and getting all of the misery over with.”
Her family moved to another town where she enrolled into a different school and, except for typical teenage rebellion, life seemed to be moving in the right direction, until it wasn’t. Her mother began a tough struggle with alcohol dependency and, at the age of 17, LeeAnn received power of attorney over her younger sister, after her older sister moved out of state. This forced her to grow up quickly; she eventually dropped out of high school to work odd jobs in order to support them. There was no way to tell at the moment that this unfortunate circumstance would prove to be a blessing later in life.
Her mother entered Alcoholics Anonymous and met Nils, whom she later married and today are the solid parental structure LeeAnn has always wanted. “They both are sober today for more than 25 years. They both have been my rock since then and I have the mom and dad I’ve always wanted. Although Nils is considered my stepfather, he is the only man who is my dad,” she said. “All families struggle through good times and in bad, and I feel it is truly those situations that bring people together, in most cases.”
She gained strength from the challenges experienced earlier in her life, which became a trait that bonded LeeAnn and Michael later.
At the age of 20, LeeAnn got pregnant and had her son, which got her thinking about the future more than ever. “I realized I was going nowhere fast, being a high school dropout and a young mother. Although my son’s father was a hard worker and a good man, we just kind of grew apart,” she said. LeeAnn packed up and moved to Tucson, AZ where she worked for a florist and at a hotel to support her family. She did not recognize it at the time but working behind the front desk at a hotel would land her in a new career.
She moved into the sales and marketing department, where she negotiated contracts for conventions and groups, and she excelled. “I continued to make my mark and move up the ranks of various hotel chains. I was good, and I knew it. I started to get my confidence back and was recruited to assist with opening my first hotel as senior sales manager in 2006 and then another in 2011 as director of sales and marketing,” she said.
She had a long and successful career starting at the bottom and working her way up, owning a home, cars and living off a six-figure salary when her sister suggested that she find someone. “My sister, Terri, said all I do is work,” said LeeAnn. “She signed me up for this dating app.”
At the same time, in Las Vegas, Michael Godard’s daughter was beginning to question what he was going to do with the rest of his life. She filled out the profile for her dad and was luckily matched up with LeeAnn.
“We started chatting in February 2016 and started sending videos back and forth to get to know each other and discovered how much we truly have in common and that our moral compass seemed to be pointing in the same direction,” LeeAnn said. She knew right away they had a deep connection, but she was not going to make it easy for Michael, even as he attempted to pull all the stops to impress her.
LeeAnn came to Las Vegas for a sales and marketing convention and decided to meet Michael face-to-face for the first time. She wanted to make sure that they got to know each other organically and made the most of her first visit to Las Vegas to meet him. “I said to Michael, ‘I will meet you for one drink. If I like you, we will go on another date. If not, we will be friends,’” said LeeAnn.
She recalls their first date, when Michael said he would pick her up at a Strip property valet. “He told me what car to look for … and I waited and waited … and eventually saw it drive by without stopping” said LeeAnn. Michael shares his side of the story, “I was all sorts of confident until I pulled in and saw her and I just could not bring myself to stop, so I kept driving,” he said. He kept driving, not because LeeAnn did not look as stunning in person as she did in her online profile photos … she did, but Michael knew in that instant this is the girl for him and needed a moment to compose himself, while LeeAnn thought that she was being stood up.
Michael came back around, owned up to his nerves as she got into the car, “I said that I needed to get this out of the way now and I kissed her,” said Michael. While they would like to say, “The rest is history …,” that would downplay what LeeAnn is contributing to our community today.
For LeeAnn, something felt different as well. What she did not know in that moment was that meeting Michael would change her life in many ways.
“From the moment we met it was love at first sight for both of us. Although this is not the first relationship for either of us, I still feel deeply in my heart that had I not gone through the struggles with past relationships, I cannot appreciate the one that I’m in now,” she said.
The past struggles in life and relationships are one of the traits that bond LeeAnn and Michael so closely. Yet, they still feel like this is too good to be true and that someone is going to pull the rug out from them at any time. When LeeAnn met Michael, she was looking for someone who not only complemented her, but also appreciated her values. She found both. If there is a quality one seems to be lacking, the other can easily make up for it. It is apparent in the ways they speak about each other.
Once they knew that this was the relationship for them, LeeAnn had some decisions to make about what would be next for her. Michael’s career as an artist keeps him busy with projects, frequent travel and appearances. For LeeAnn, she would much rather lay low and stay behind the scenes. “I am someone who would rather stay on the down low. I have never liked attention, I still do not like attention, but it is something that I am happy to adapt to in our marriage,” she said. While the adjustment has not always been easy, it has been worth it. “It has been a little bit of a strain at times, but at the same time, we love each other so much and the way that we decided to handle this is as a team,” says LeeAnn.
She continues, “I see it as we have two different roles. Michael enjoys being the macho breadwinner, but you know what, I am the nurturer, I am the person who takes care of his schedule, organizing appearances, packing and more. I am the person who would tell him he is working too hard and to take a break, I am the person who loves his daughters as much as I love my own child, as he does mine.”
While Michael’s career comes with bright lights, big names and responsibilities, LeeAnn remains focused on putting quality into the down time they have, while not diminishing the opportunities they have been given. “We travel so much that one of the most enjoyable things for us is just to have some relaxation at home because we work so hard,” she says. “At the same time, we get to see the entire world and that is one of the things I truly enjoy. The two of us could go to someplace we have never been before and spend an extra day or two. We enjoy each other’s company and truly enjoy other people and experiencing other cultures.”
There is also a loving and playful aura about the couple. When we sat down to do the interview for this story, the laughs never stopped, and the duo easily finished each other’s sentences. “He has a great sense of humor, which makes me very happy … I am constantly harassing him,” LeeAnn says lovingly.
Although she is happily married, maintaining a sense of self and independence is important for LeeAnn. “I’ve always enjoyed taking care of other people, and giving back to my community,” said LeeAnn. She also knows that as such a giving person, having balance is just as important. “I also want to, at least for my own sense of confidence, have a sense of independence,” she says. “I feel like my independence means everything to me.”
While it may seem to some that LeeAnn gave up a career to be a wife caring for her husband’s busy schedule and needs, it could not be more opposite. Prior to meeting Michael, LeeAnn worked with multiple nonprofits in Arizona along with serving on the board of the Military Affairs Committee and as an honorary commander for the 755th Operations Support Squadron in Tucson.
Since meeting Michael, a door opened for LeeAnn to use that passion in a way that was not possible before. “This has given me the opportunity to be a bigger part of raising money for: St. Jude’s; the NSPCA, which is a no-kill animal shelter; Wounded Warriors, which are those suffering from PTSD and more.”
Giving back to the community is a wonderful part of their lives together, but one of the ways they give back to society begins right at home with their families. Uniting in marriage meant blending two families together, which they seem to have done seamlessly. “Today, it is not unusual to be in a second or third marriage and be part of a blended family. We share an equal love of our children and have made that a priority, and it has worked out extremely well for us. I am not saying that it has not had some obstacles, but overall it has been wonderful,” she says.
Michael came into the marriage with two young daughters, in addition to two older daughters, one of whom he lost to brain cancer at age 16. LeeAnn brings a son into the marriage. “Michael now has the son he’s always wanted, and I have two little girls that I never had the chance to have myself. The love this family creates makes it so amazing and makes us feel so alive,” said LeeAnn. While she may not have given birth to his little girls, they are the little girls she has always dreamt of having. “All I truly want is to have a positive impact on the girls. I want to help them learn to be happy and our relationship be a marker of how relationships should be when you are truly in love.”
Both LeeAnn and Michael recognize how important their past is when creating a new future for their children. Her childhood lacked a sense of security, stability, and being surrounded by unconditional love. Even with demanding schedules, giving their kids a better life than they had experienced growing up is a top priority for the couple. She envisions this grueling schedule will last a few more years before they are able to slow down and enjoy their family time together even more. “I will tell you this, I cannot wait to be a grandmother, and I am so looking forward to the day when my son or my daughters have babies. That is one future plan,” she says excitedly.
Like many women, LeeAnn acknowledges that there are daily challenges in finding that balance many of us crave. “Finding balance is a difficult issue. First and foremost, you must have your priorities in order and understand that in order to make things work, there does have to be some sort of balance,” said LeeAnn. She states that, for her, she is Michael’s wife, which means that she supports him and all his endeavors, from preparing their touring schedule, to making sure he is prepared for his shows across the world. It can be challenging at times, as sometimes shows run back to back with no downtime. “But I also try and find a balance because I know my husband well enough to know he will work himself to death if he is allowed to. That is where I come in and say, ‘Honey, enough is enough.’”
LeeAnn and Michael have had their fair share of challenges in their lives but know that they are in a position now where they can help so many through their status. They share the story of Michael’s daughter Paige, whom they lost to brain cancer at the age of 16, to many who are in similar situations within their own families as a way of having hope. “We have met so many people who open their hearts to us, but do not have the means to raise all of the money that may be needed for their situation,” she continued.
“So many fans and clients have supported us through Michael’s art,” says LeeAnn. “We are connected with so many incredible people and resources that if someone needs anything, I can call some of our friends and say, ‘Hey listen … we know somebody who is suffering from a particular disease and we would love for you to help us contribute …’ and we pool our resources together and get these families the help they need.”
LeeAnn and Michael shared the story of a friend whose daughter was hospitalized. They reached out to Michael to see if he can cheer their daughter up with a phone call. “He said, ‘I can do even better than that’ and placed a few calls to other Strip headliners and friends. Before we knew it, the girl had get-well messages from Carrot Top, Criss Angel and more,” said LeeAnn.
Once their daughter recovered, LeeAnn and Michael invited the family to Las Vegas, where the daughter was able to meet her favorite performer, Criss Angel. “We are able to do this because we have the resources. We have the support, the love, the friendships and the connections. It is not just an opportunity for us to give back, we feel it is our obligation to our community to help,” said LeeAnn.
And that is how happily ever after started for two strangers who met online, fell in love and made a commitment to not only themselves, but their community to make a difference.
Wedding Coordinator: Desirable Events by Desi, Floral and Decor: Destinations by Design, Photographers: John Payne Photography and Adam Trujillo Photography