One couples DIY take on planning their special day made for a festive forest fte.
The Fourth of July might be responsible for the start of a nation, but for Hannah Ward, it was also the start of a romance. With no set plans for her favorite holiday in sight, the 21-year-old threw on a sundress to head to a sorority sister’s family party. Suddenly, a summer storm sent revelers scattering for cover. Hannah took shelter under a deck, where a stranger greeted her with a hearty “Howdy.” “I was immediately intrigued,” Hannah says. “I mean, who sincerely says ‘howdy’ these days?” The two clicked, and the romance began.
Two and a half years later, the enthusiastic greeter—Matt Winslow—and greetee were living together in University City when Matt and his colleagues won a trip to Key West. The group planned to watch the sunset on the pier one evening, but the plans were a ruse to get Hannah alone in the romantic spot. As the last sliver of burnt orange was fading from the sky, Hannah felt a tap on her shoulder, and then Matt was down on one knee asking her to marry him, as their song, “The Keeper of the Stars” by Tracy Byrd, played in the background.
On with the Show
“You know the quote from ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ ‘When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start right away?'” Hannah asks. “Our engagement was six-and a half months, and I don’t think we could have waited any longer.”
The couple briefly considered eloping, but instead, they settled on an intimate September wedding in Hannah’s home state of Wisconsin.
Hannah rented a Marchesa cocktail dress from Rent the Runway, and her friend’s aunt made a tulle overskirt that Hannah could take off for the reception. Using the same tulle, she made a veil to pair with her Twigs & Honey headpiece. Matt picked out his own duds: Red suspenders and a wooden bow tie brought out his gregarious personality and added little extra splash to what would already be a very unique wedding.
Setting the Scene
“There is a place from my childhood that holds a sweet place in my heart,” Hannah says. “Every time I think about it, I’m overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. It’s a place of innocence, adventure and happiness.” That spot? Phantom Lake YMCA Camp, where Hannah used to spend summers as a girl. The couple found the perfect reception location on Airbnb—a gorgeous Victorian house set on a small lake. Their first look at the venue was the evening before the big day. “Most people would think we’re crazy for booking a venue without seeing it, but I felt confident that I could make it work no matter what,” says Hannah.
“Make it work” was the motto of the event: Hannah and Matt, along with an enlisted group of friends and family, designed programs, hand-cut confetti, sewed table runners and turned reclaimed pallets into a dance floor. They made customized wedding napkins from IKEA flour-sack towels and painted wood for lawn games like cornhole and Jenga. They sourced antique china from thrift stores and purchased a vintage wood ironing board from an estate sale to use as a welcome table.
Hannah’s dad baked the desserts; her grandma and mom arranged the flowers; and her mother- and sister-in-law set up the place settings.
Some of the few true purchases for the event were sets of custom cutlery from local Etsy vendor Sucre Shop: the kitschy-cute birch forks had their wedding hashtag, #WardGoesWinslow, printed on the handles. “We wanted the wedding to be ours, not everyone else’s,” Hannah says.
Since Hannah chose not to have bridesmaids, she got ready on her own as family and friends put finishing touches on the ceremony and reception sites. When it was show time, a school bus stocked with coolers of PBR picked up the 41 guests for the 5:30pm “woodland wonderland” ceremony. Preceded by a bagpiper, Hannah walked down the aisle, her dad at her side. “I got to walk into the clearing from the front and see the faces of my loved ones and the man I love the most waiting for me,” Hannah says. “It was the most surreal moment I had ever experienced. Then a hornet got caught in my skirt and it was back to reality .”
Her sister officiated the 15-minute ceremony, and the two said their hand-drafted vows, which were cleverly caught on tape by GoPro cameras: one in her bouquet, one on the altar and one on a bench among their nearest and dearest. “We felt like our friends and family were part of the ceremony because they were so close to us and we could see their faces,” she says. “I also loved that the ceremony was filled with laughter. It felt like a true celebration of our love.”
The school bus took attendees to the lake house, where everyone played lawn games and enjoyed cocktails and gourmet burgers and fries from a food truck. And just as the sun settled over the lake, the two had their first dance to “The Keeper of the Stars”—a perfect echo to the beginning of their wedding adventure.
Photo credit: Christian Gideon Photography