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A Match Made in Vegas: Vermont couples "do" it up with wacky weddings 

click to enlarge Lori and Pasha Lennon - JORDAN SILVERMAN
  • Jordan Silverman
  • Lori and Pasha Lennon

It wasn’t just any Elvis impersonator that Bernadette and David Mills landed when they tied the knot in Las Vegas last year. He was the most sought-after Elvis impersonator in show biz. The Burlington couple had eschewed a traditional ceremony at home for an elopement to Sin City’s famed Little White Chapel, where the walls are lined with red velvet. The King wannabe was part of the package, serving as both witness and entertainer.

For people hoping to give matrimony a unique twist, eccentric wedding options abound. In the Nevada nuptials, Love Me Tender became Marry Me Whimsical.

“It wasn’t like a lifelong dream,” Bernadette Mills explains, describing the escapade. “David was going to Vegas for a snowboard convention. We figured it was a perfect place, because lots of our friends would be there from all over the country.”

The 28-year-old education director for Burlington City Arts had seen a story on the Discovery Channel about the chapel, which boasts such basketball legends as Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman among its former clientele. Dressed in a fringed jumpsuit with a high collar and sequins, the fake Elvis serenaded them down the aisle and later delivered a finale of — what else? — “Viva, Las Vegas.”

In addition to enjoying an adventure in high kitsch, the Vermonters found themselves on a sentimental journey thanks to the Southern Baptist minister who officiated. “He made us both cry,” Bernadette recalls. “After-wards, we took our pals out for Chinese.”

They also merged wedlock with instant honeymoon by visiting the faux Paris, Venice and New York cityscapes constructed in Las Vegas, a tourist destination devoted to artifice.

Some couples prefer to go a little deeper. The real world of scuba diving sounds positively make-believe when Betsy Carter reminisces about getting hitched to Chris Whipple in an underwater Florida cave in late 1999. “We were about 60 feet below the surface on a flat rock that looked sort of like an altar,” explains the Colchester resident, owner of a property management company. “I was wearing a black Neoprene wetsuit with a garter my cousin gave me at my bridal shower, and I had white artificial flowers wound around my air tanks.”

Apart from two cave-diving instructors in attendance, Carter says the only other guests in the wedding party were uninvited albino crayfish and blind catfish.

Carter and Whipple, who met five years earlier through their mutual passion for diving, chose to take each other for better or for worse at Peacock Springs State Park in Luraville — about 40 miles northeast of Gainesville. The park sits on a freshwater aquifer with 1000 miles of submerged limestone caves.

They first walked through the woods and jumped into one of many crystal-clear sinkholes. After descending to a cave opening, the foursome in scuba gear swam one mile to reach the section with the makeshift altar. One of the instructors “went through the motions” of conducting a ceremony, according to Carter, 48. The bride and groom silently read vows they had written on special underwater slates. Whipple: “She’s my friend, lover, diving buddy.” Carter: “Our love’s as timeless as the rock that surrounds us.”

They tried to exchange rings slathered with dishwashing liquid and carried in plastic baggies. Vaseline might have proved a better idea, though, because the soap immediately dissolved. Carter and Whipple had difficulty slipping the rings on each other’s fingers.

And they couldn’t kiss without removing the regulators from their mouths — a bit dangerous at 60 feet below, Carter points out. “But we did hug.”

Although they opt to live in a landlocked state — Whipple grew up in Newport, Carter hails from South Burlington — wedded bliss remains a soggy affair. “We dive in the Rutland quarry and Lake Champlain,” she adds.“We ice-dive when it freezes.”


Water was an element in the otherwise grounded wedding of Emily Hayford and Jean-Paul Bisson, University of Vermont graduates now living in Arizona. In June, the ceremony took place at the Trout Club, a turn-of-the-20th-century fishing lodge near Stowe. The best man then rowed the bride and groom across a small, manmade lake, which the guests circumnavigated along the shore in order to greet them.

“It was a surprise to us,” says James Hayford, the bride’s Burlington-based father. “Even though she was wearing a nice white dress, my daughter was game for anything.”

Ricky Bowen, who has billed herself as the Wedding Wizard for 14 years of planning such events, also had clients who opted for a splashy flourish during their celebration at Kingsland Bay State Park. Instead of driving away in a limo with tin cans tied to the rear bumper, “they sailed off into the sunset,” she says.

“I’m a resource person,” Bowen explains. “My job is to match their fantasy or come up with an alternative that’s close, but ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary. I create whatever they want… unless it’s ducks.”

When a couple getting married in Johnson several years ago asked to mimic a quaint Chinese custom, Bowen had to think fast. “They wanted geese to walk down the aisle. I told them geese are nasty creatures, so they settled for wooden ducks as decorations.”

At around the same time, quacks gave way to oinks when Bowen was hired to do her thing for a young man from an upscale Connecticut family marrying a Quebec farm girl just across the border from Jay Peak. “Her vision was a pig roast with balloons,” Bowen recalls. “His mom asked for help. I came up with an elegant roast pig. We had a huge balloon arch, but white wicker chairs for the couple to sit in and linen tablecloths instead of plastic.”

Another iffy proposition, three years back in Waitsfield, was the bride who envisioned a contra-dance wedding with red-and-white-check tablecloths and hay bales. “When I saw that her dress was silk and lace, I thought: ‘This is not for hay bales,’” Bowen remembers. “We switched to taupe tablecloths, potted flowers and herbs as centerpieces, and blue hydrangeas as landscaping in the tent. After dinner, they all changed into blue jeans and tie-dye shirts to dance.”

A more sedate shindig last summer involved a civil union during which two male partners walked through a labyrinth of stones in Monkton. “They wanted a ceremony with all kinds of auras,” Bowen notes. “It was like a silent meditation that took about 15 minutes. There wasn’t a dry eye.”


Pasha and Lori Lemnah’s civil union last fall was a step back in time. After the South Burlington lovebirds decided to make it official on Hallo-ween, Pasha sewed them both Empire-waist costumes with Renaissance flair. Lori’s satin dress was off-white and peach over a sheer peasant blouse, with a light green satin cape that had a three-foot train. Pasha’s more ornate brocade gown, in various shades of beige, was trimmed with lace and pearls; her beige coat included a one-foot train.

“I’m a very poofy, politically incorrect, lipstick lesbian,” she acknowledges. “Femme all the way.”

Both women wore masks that would have been all the rage in the 16th century, as did their two witnesses: Lori’s mother and Pasha’s 16-year-old son.

In this century, Pasha is a nurse, Lori a processing manager for a large corporation. They gave each other gold rings with rainbow-colored diamonds. Lori’s was inscribed with “My Love Forever” in Spanish. “We’re both very romantic,” explains Pasha, whose own ring spelled out an updated version of her childhood nickname: “Winter Princess.”

Personal history was also a factor when Lisamarie Charlesworth tried to figure out how to marry Thomas Simpson on a modest budget last Novem-ber. With help from artistic colleagues, she made invitations by scanning the 1928 wedding photograph of her maternal grandparents. That was just one way the St. Albans couple brought the past into the present on their wedding day.

Although the lace was still salvageable, much of the fabric on her grandmother’s flapper-style dress had disintegrated — the garment spent more than 70 years wrapped in newspaper. Charles-worth decided to resurrect it.

Her pal Karen Sener researched wedding attire from that period and bid on eBay for an old pattern that seemed to echo the antique. “It was almost identical, actually. It was uncanny,” says Charlesworth, a production manager at Christensen Design in Burlington. “Gram’s dress was tea-length. I wanted ankle-length. We matched the champagne-colored fabric.”

Her grandmother’s veil was reconfigured as well; two bundles of pale wax flowers that had been fastened to either side were taken apart and fashioned into a halo shape. “The original was too Princess Leia,” Charlesworth suggests.

Her diamond and sapphire engagement ring, meanwhile, had been given to a great-great aunt in the 1920s by a man she never actually married. At their recent wedding, Simpson — wearing a tie from his maternal grandfather with a tie clip from his paternal grandfather — put on a gold band that once belonged to Charlesworth’s grandfather, the chap on the invitation.


Evoking highlands full of purple heather, one of caterer Roy St. Pierre’s favorite assignments was a low-key gathering at the Old Lantern in Charlotte last summer. “After the ceremony, a bagpiper came out of the mist,” he says. “Then, they offered swing dance lessons.”

In Milton two years ago, St. Pierre worked on a conventional wedding that wound up as a sports activity. Milk crates full of golf balls were produced. The guests, in tuxes and gowns, grabbed the clubs they had brought along and transformed a field into a fairway.

“There are so many second and third marriages these days, not to mention less money to throw around,” St. Pierre observes. “So, weddings tend to be more relaxed now.”

Quite possibly nothing can top the relaxed — make that wacky — ambiance when Lisa and Larry Martin said their I do’s at what was a second marriage for both. While the Jeffersonville duo staged a memorable festivity, Lisa’s recollection of the actual date is now a bit fuzzy. Perhaps 1991, she speculates.

The bride wore a black lace dress with a blue feather boa, blue mask and long, blue silk gloves. Her hair was red with blue highlights for the occasion, and she carried a bouquet of “flowers” carved from turnips, carrots and peppers. “Larry came as a frog,” Lisa says of her groom. “He had a silver lamé tux, a green papier-mâché frog’s head, black flippers and black rubber gloves.”

The justice of the peace, who happened to be their landlady, was decked out as Georgia O’Keeffe and read vows attached to a painter’s palette. The best man had outfitted himself as Bozo the Clown. Lisa popped a long Pinocchio-like nose on her daughter Galadriel, named for the Lord of the Rings elf queen.

But the highlight of the evening surely came with the “fish slap dance” that the Martins performed. Although they told assembled friends and relatives it was a French-Canadian “rite of passage,” the routine was actually inspired by an old Monty Python skit: As they executed a little jig, Lisa and Larry smacked each other with dead fish. Someone slipped her “a big smelly cod, and I floored him with it,” she says of the humorous husband-bashing.

A “fiftyish” Stowe native and ad saleswoman for the County Courier in Enosburg, Lisa admits her unsuspecting parents were stunned. They also had to make sense of a wedding cake in 10 different flavors, with little plastic arms, mice, poinsettias and such sticking out from the blue frosting. If they could see it clearly, that is, what with the smoke machine emitting atmospheric fog all evening.

Taking marital idiosyncrasy to new heights, Lisa recalls, “we just went as gaudy as we could get.”

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