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In sickness or in health

After COVID cancellations in spring, weddings are back on

She was supposed to be a May bride, but the novel coronavirus had other ideas.

Brittany Chasteen and now-husband Mitchell Barker of LaMoille initially had the big day set for May 2, but the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing restrictions forced them to set a rain date. Then another. And then another.

The LaMoille couple decided the nuptials couldn’t be postponed forever and made the fingers-crossed decision to tie the knot July 18, pandemic or no pandemic. They told some 300 invitees to use their best judgment and assured everyone their decisions would in no way be second-guessed. About 100 showed and all were vigilant staying 6 feet apart.

“We actually got really lucky,” the new Mrs. Barker said, though she hastened to add they didn’t merely roll the dice. “We had hand sanitizer everywhere. We had masks. We tried to social distance.”

They tinkered with the wedding-day itinerary, too. The Barkers had initially ordered a dinner buffet but switched to a limited-selection menu so that plates could be brought to the tables in safety. They also skipped the “dollar dance” held to pad the new couple’s purse.

A rising number of couples in Starved Rock Country have followed suit and are braving trips to the altar despite the again-rising risk of infection. But while some couples such as the Barkers opt to hold nuptials with infection controls in place, others are making vows privately with the promise of a public reception when the pandemic has eased.

Aubrey Smigel and new husband Alex Vlastnik, both natives of Peru, opted for the latter. They held a small wedding and then pledged to hold a big blowout some time in 2021.

“We had already been planning on a small wedding — under 100 people — at a historic home in Peoria,” Smigel said. “In April or May, we saw it wasn’t going to work the way we planned.”

They pushed back the ceremony until phase 4 restrictions made it possible to hold even a small ceremony — “We changed it so many times” — and finally exchanged vows June 26 before fewer than two dozen loved ones in Peoria, where they now reside. To those who otherwise would have been invited, Aubrey and Alex said to watch for a reception next year.

One longtime wedding photographer said she’s seen a mixture of marry-now and marry-later plans from the couples who booked her services. Annette Barr owns Annette Barr Photography Studio in Ottawa and she said there was “a bit of a panic” when COVID-19 first struck. One client opted to hold a reduced-size wedding while the other married privately and then scheduled a vow-renewal ceremony and large reception, tentatively set for May 2021.

“People are adapting,” Barr said. “The funny thing I’m hearing is the people who are doing scaled-down versions are really enjoying it because they’re able to spend more time with those in attendance, which doesn’t always happen at large weddings.”

Linda Kelsey, owner of Kelsey’s Kakes in Peru, estimated she’s baked a dozen multi-tier wedding cakes over a span when she’d typically bake 50. All the April and May weddings orders were rescheduled, she said, but since then several couples have forged ahead with their nuptials.

“I’m finding if they went ahead with the wedding,” Kelsey said, “it’s either in somebody’s backyard or some place out in the country and it’s mostly 50 people or less.”

But another vendor observed that most local engaged couples are in a holding pattern. Dio Rios runs the rental hall for Calvert Council Knights of Columbus 792 in LaSalle and so far he’s gotten mostly cancellations and postponements until 2021.

“I do have one (wedding reception) coming up in December, but we’re going back and forth with the couple and it will depend on what the state does. It’s a lot of stress for the couple because they don’t know what to do or who to invite. I can tell she’s frustrated.”

Any frustrations that Smigel felt were simply obliterated on her wedding day — “It was the best day ever” — but many understanding friends will have the chance to toast the bride and groom some time next year. She and her groom know of many similarly-situated couples.

“We do have some friends who have changed their dates four or five times now,” Smigel said.

Jen Stack of Chicago, formerly of Utica, also is planning a “sequel wedding” — that is, a vowel renewal with a much larger ceremony than she was able to organize amid the pandemic. Stack said she advises other brides and grooms to temper their expectations some if they plan to get hitched amid COVID-19.

“The day most likely will not be what you envisioned, but it will be beautiful,” Stack said. “And it’s about the marriage, not the wedding itself.”

One couple moved the big day up, believing (correctly, as it turned out) that the pandemic would not simply vanish by summer’s end.

Katie March of Oglesby and husband Justin were originally going to marry Sept. 5, during Labor Day weekend, with some 160 invited. However, the spring arrival of the pandemic hindered their planning and they reached a now-or-never crossroads.

“We were starting to run out of time for planning when COVID hit and we were waiting around and waiting around,” Katie said. “We also realized we’d have to either cut our list to 50 people or they’d be afraid to come.

“We didn’t want people to have to choose between supporting us or being safe so we decided to change the date.”

The decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. The vendors and venue operators were as bound by the pandemic as they were and the various postponements forced their hands somewhat.

“They all apologized to us,” Katie said. “They were sorry we had to go through this. We just wanted to get married. We didn’t care.”

Katie and Justin exchanged vows July 18 at an outdoor setting, McPhedran Park in Oglesby, with just 25 in attendance. They did not insist on masks — “We trusted them all to use good judgment and we were outdoors most of the time,” Katie said — but they did get a group photo of everyone in masks. The pandemic is now part of their life story and it seemed fitting to memorialize it.

“I don’t care if it’s the end of the world,” Justin March remembered thinking. “I’m marrying Katie.”

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