By Jen DeGregorio

As COVID-19 began to creep into our lives shortly after the new year, I and so many others felt a sense of loss and uncertainty. The number of victims who suffered from the virus itself was overwhelming and scary. Then I began to hear stories of those affected in other ways, like small business owners who couldn’t financially survive the shutdown. The hospitality industry, for instance, was completely shattered, and friends who just weeks before had enjoyed workplace success and job security began to get laid off. With little to be excited for, the future seemed a bit dim and depressing.

Then, I met Hannah…

While intercepting a message for The Beer Grotto, for whom I manage social media, I learned of a young bride who was determined to share vows with her fiancé on the date that they had set nearly two years before. Because the hospitality industry had been shaken to its core, all of the countless hours Hannah had put into planning her wedding came crumbling down. Still, she was sweet and positive about her situation, and simply wanted to marry the love of her life in spite of 2020’s continuous hurdles.

Hannah met Jacob when they were in high school. Hannah, a Dexter High School alum, was working at the Portage Yacht Club in Pinckney while Jacob bussed tables. They developed a quick and easy friendship as Jacob prepared to go to college at MSU. He returned home every summer and finally, after two years, worked up the courage to ask Hannah out on a date.

The couple’s relationship continued to flourish as Jacob studied physics and Hannah pursued a degree in social work. In 2018, the two moved in together. One afternoon in March, after Jacob called Hannah into the bedroom to come look at something funny on TV, she rounded the corner to find her boyfriend down on one knee with a tiny box in hand. The two decided they would get married once they had completed graduate school and set a date of Saturday, August 8, 2020.

After untold hours of thinking through every last detail, the couple decided on a traditional wedding at Crystal Gardens in Howell. Hannah envisioned sharing vows with her love in the venue’s beautiful open-air chapel, followed by a formal ballroom reception complete with dancing, tearful speeches, and all of the things little girls dream of.

By December, all of the pieces had fallen into place, and after trying on countless dresses Hannah finally found the perfect gown. But 2020 had different plans for all of us.

As the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on everyone’s lives, Hannah was still optimistic about her impending nuptials. She had just started a new job as a social worker for Dexter Community Schools, and even in March when Michigan schools closed for the rest of the academic year, Hannah remained hopeful. But as weeks turned into months, she and Jacob began to realize that they were going to have to reimagine their special day.

Once the couple realized they would have to cancel their dream honeymoon to Maui due to travel restrictions, they finally made the decision to cancel the wedding they had spent so much time planning.

“We tried to hold out hope as long as possible, but we ultimately decided to keep our loved ones as safe as possible,” said Hannah.

Still, Jacob and Hannah were determined to get married on their originally set date, so they started to think outside the box. Having grown up in Dexter, Hannah knew she wanted to exchange vows in her special town and use as many local vendors as possible. She called the city to inquire about getting a permit for the gazebo on Main Street. Suddenly everything felt easy, and her reimagined wedding started to take shape.

About four weeks before the wedding day, I met with Hannah to discuss plans for a small reception of twenty of their closest friends and family. After learning of her story via email, I was expecting Hannah to be dejected and stressed. But when she came to check out the newly-renovated Beer Grotto, she was all smiles and full of excitement. We planned to host their group of twenty inside the bar in a spaced-out, socially-distanced setup, but 2020 had one more curveball.

Just days before the wedding, Governor Whitmer placed an order barring groups of more than 10 to gather indoors. Knowing all that the couple had already gone through, it crushed me to deliver the news, but once again Hannah surprised me with her upbeat outlook. “We’ll just have the reception outside and take our chances with the weather,” she calmly responded.

On the day of the wedding, it seemed as if all of the positive energy Hannah and Jacob had been putting into the universe was flowing back to reward them. While Phil Blass, the Beer Grotto GM, and I pushed tables together to accommodate their group, we watched the beaming couple share their vows under a beautiful, cloudless sky.

After a lovely gazebo ceremony, the party made their way to the Beer Grotto, where they enjoyed a barbeque dinner provided by Hotel Hickman. Passerbys honked and waved, excited to witness the pure joy and energy that radiated from the newly married couple. Other patrons seemed happier, reveling in the reminder that some things, like love and friendship, can never be canceled or interrupted.

On July 31, 2021, just days before their first wedding anniversary, Jacob and Hannah will renew their vows at their originally chosen venue in front of nearly 200 of their friends and family.

Jen DeGregorio

BIO:

In addition to serving The ChadTough Foundation as the Director of Communications, Jen DeGregorio manages PR/marketing and events for several non-profits across Washtenaw County. She began her career in newspapers in 1995 as a means to cover college expenses.  After completing her degree at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in English, she continued to build a career in advertising with the Ann Arbor News.

She was one of the first hires at AnnArbor.com and became an integral part of the management team.  In 2012, Jen decided to start her own businesses, with a focus on helping small businesses and non-profits.  

She splits her time between her home in Dexter, Mi and an apartment in NYC where her husband has worked for almost a decade.

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