With This Ring

Weddings 2009The Emerald Coast Lures Couples from Near and Far to Celebrate Their Special Day

By Ashley Kahn and Jennifer Walker-Journey

For centuries, weddings have been a symbol of a couple’s love for each other, their ceremonies shaped by culture, tradition and religion. From intimate church gatherings to large joyous parties, weddings are individualized expressions of celebration and love.

There is perhaps no more beautiful a place to share wedding vows than the Emerald Coast. For brides who hail from our communities, as well as for those who travel here, there are countless amenities available to make the planning process enjoyable and memorable.

Join us in this special “Weddings” section for a peek into the beautiful celebrations of three couples who chose to celebrate their special day in the beauty of the Emerald Coast.


McKenzie Shelley & Gary Smith. Photo by Paul Johnson Photography.
From Childhood Friends to Lovers

Looking back, McKenzie Shelley says there was always a special bond between her and Gary Smith. She had known him practically all her life – the Smith and Shelley families spent countless days boating and fishing together in Fort Walton Beach. Growing up, McKenzie was more of a surrogate sister to the Smith boys – Gary and younger brother Travis.

But everything changed her senior year, when Gary confessed a secret to his brother.

Travis and McKenzie, who had become best friends by her senior year, decided to go to the Billy Bowlegs Holly Ball together. Before the dance, their families gathered for dinner. McKenzie and Gary barely spoke, but afterwards Gary told Travis, “If you don’t marry her, I will.”

McKenzie and Gary went their separate ways to college, but a year later they ran into each other at the Billy Bowlegs festival. Gary tried to kiss McKenzie on the front of her father’s boat, but she said he’d have to ask her out on a real date first. Later that week they went out on their first date, which began a several-year romance and, eventually, the realization of Gary’s prediction.

On a November night in 2007, Gary surprised McKenzie with roses, a ring and the words “Will you marry me” spelled out in rose petals. She said yes. Then he whisked her off to dinner at Ruth’s Chris, where they were ushered into a private room. There, they were greeted by dozens of members from both families.

“It was the greatest part of the entire evening,” McKenzie recalls. For dessert, Gary presented the guests with a chocolate cake with “She said yes” scripted on top with icing.

When it came to planning the wedding, McKenzie focused on the things that brought them together – family, fishing and the couple’s love for the emerald waters of the Gulf Coast. Engagement party and shower invitations were fish-and-boat-themed. Even the save-the-date cards followed suit, with a photograph of the couple sitting on the back of Gary’s parents’ 60-foot fishing boat, the words “Save the Date, October 25, 2008, Destin, FL,” superimposed as the boat’s name.

“We got so many compliments on them,” McKenzie says.

The fish-and-boat theme continued to the rehearsal dinner, which was a low country boil on the bayou in Gary’s parents’ backyard. The event had fish-themed invitations, place cards made with treble hooks and centerpieces featuring pictures of the happy couple on the boat. Guests received koozies printed with “The REEL catch – Gary and McKenzie.”

The wedding and reception were held at the exclusive One Water Place at Kelly Plantation in Destin, overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay. The groom’s cake was a replica of Gary’s parents’ fishing boat, and the groom and groomsmen wore fishing-reel cuff links and boutonnières made from fishing lures. During the reception, guests feasted on local favorites such as grilled grouper and oysters.

And what better way to end a fish-themed wedding than a fishing trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico? The couple had a most successful run on that trip, catching 38 striped marlin in just two days.

“It was an amazing experience,” McKenzie says. — Jennifer Walker-Journey

Wedding Location and Reception: One Water Place at Kelly Plantation
Bride’s Dress: Amsale from Saks Fifth Avenue
Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Two Birds Bridesmaid
Photography: Paul Johnson Photography, Panama City
Cake: Bake My Day, Destin
Reception Music: The Patrick Smith Band
Flowers: Nouveau Flowers, Santa Rosa Beach
Caterer: Classic City Catering, Pensacola


Matt Struthers & Bridget Walsh. Photo by Tim Ard.Matt Struthers & Bridget Walsh. Photo by Tim Ard.
A Tale of Two Weddings

When Bridget Walsh’s family arrived home from visiting potential colleges in the spring of 2003, her mother said to her father, “That was the man that Bridget is going to marry.”

The Walshes had met Matt Struthers at The College of New Jersey’s open house. Bridget had received an Air Force ROTC scholarship, and Matt was working the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps table.

The couple wouldn’t meet again until school began that fall. Instead of dating, they developed a deep friendship.

“The year we spent becoming friends was when we really started to fall in love,” Bridget says. “Life moved us in different directions, though, and gave us time to grow on our own.”

At sunset in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 3, 2007, Matt took Bridget on a tram to the top of the Sandia Mountains, where she grumbled about the chilly temperature and the bugs. At the top of the mountain, just as the sun began to dip below the peaks, Matt asked Bridget if she would “make him the happiest man in the world and marry him.”

There was only one problem. Before Bridget graduated from college, the Air Force classified her into the “Space and Missiles” career field, limiting her options of military bases to those Matt would never see.

Knowing they would never live on the same base, they had a decision to make.

On May 25, 2007, just three weeks after their engagement, Matt and Bridget walked into the downtown courthouse in Albuquerque and were married by a judge.

Of the legal ceremony, Bridget says, “It felt natural and right, but we wanted something more real and traditional, something to validate our marriage in the church and to celebrate with our friends and family.”

The newlyweds both would be stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, but Matt deployed to Iraq later that year.

The couple would have their dream wedding on July 12, 2008. They were married at Resurrection Catholic Church, with a reception in the Coral Ballroom at Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa.

The bride wore a simple strapless, bright white dress from David’s Bridal. Her party wore black, tea-length dresses of their choice, and the groom and groomsmen wore sleek black tuxedos.

Celestine’s Special Occasions arranged the flowers for the bouquets and centerpieces. Hot pink roses and orange Asiatic lilies brightened up the room.

The 60 guests were given three choices for dinner – filet mignon; grouper, mahi-mahi and jumbo shrimp; or baked breast of chicken. The cake was crafted by Heidi McAnulla of Bake My Day in Destin. The three-tiered confection was iced in white butter cream frosting, with orange and pink ribbon at the bottom of each tier.

Local musician Kyle LaMonica played relaxed, acoustic music throughout cocktail hour and dinner. After the meal, DJ Joey of Emerald Coast DJ Service played dance tunes into the night.

Bridget says the best part of the wedding was how intimate it was. Her younger brother, Brendan, composes music and sings; older brother Ryan plays guitar; and best friend Erin has a beautiful voice.

Next came the first dance – and a surprise song written by Brendan.

Ryan played the guitar as Brendan and Erin sang, “I love you more than words could ever say, I love you more and more each day, and I’ll be there for you ’til death do us part, because I have loved you from the start.” — Ashley Kahn


Ceremony: Resurrection Catholic Church
Reception: Coral Ballroom, Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
Photography: The Ard Gallery Photography
Wedding Cake: Heidi McAnulla, Bake My Day
Bridal Gown: David’s Bridal
Flowers: Celestine’s Special Occasions
DJ: DJ Joey of Emerald Coast DJ Service
Live Music: Kyle LaMonica

Allison Ming & Jeffrey Carter Jones. Photo by Lindsay Osborne Photography.Allison Ming & Jeffrey Carter Jones. Photo by Lindsay Osborne Photography.
Divine Romance

As clichéd as it sounds, it was love at first sight for Allison Ming and Jeffrey Carter Jones. The couple met November 2005 on the deck at Harbor Oaks. Both Allison and Jeff had come separately with friends to listen to the band Cadillac Willy play on the mild fall night. They gazed at each other in the distance, but it was Allison who first worked up the nerve to speak to Jeff.

“I thought that he was really cute,” Allison recalls. “But we both were head over heels and were excited to learn more about each other.”

Jeff had recently moved to Destin with his job after losing his Gulfport, Miss., home in Hurricane Katrina. Allison had just returned to Destin after graduating from college. The events that ultimately brought them together were divine, Allison says.

“God put us together. It was just meant to be,” she says.

A year and a half later, on June 15, 2007, Jeff took Allison to the Beachwalk Café. There, at a beachfront table with the gently breaking waves splashing in the background, Jeff told Allison he didn’t want to live a moment without her and asked if she would be his wife. She readily agreed.

Though the couple had family and friends spanning the United States, they chose to get married in Destin. After choosing the date – May 10, 2008 – they realized it was Mother’s Day weekend. This made the weekend even more special to the happy couple.

The ceremony was held at noon at Grace Lutheran Church. Afterward, a limousine transported them to the Emerald Grande ballroom, which features stunning views of the Destin Harbor. The reception was catered by Legendary, and the flower arrangements were designed by Suzan Lesko of Special Occasions. Cadillac Willy entertained the crowd with many of the same tunes that brought the couple together the first night they met.

The wedding celebration was filled with family and friends who traveled from California, Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. With so many out-of-town guests, the Emerald Grande proved to be the ideal location.

“The resort gave us a great room rate and we were able to get one-, two- and three-bedroom condos for our guests,” Allison says.

Having the wedding early in the day afforded the couple time to board a plane the next morning for a two-week European honeymoon, which was planned through Davis Travel. The couple toured the Netherlands, Italy and Greece, staying in small inns and eating in local restaurants.

“We explored historic canals in Amsterdam, shared gelato in St. Marks Square, walked around priceless artwork at the Vatican in Rome, climbed volcanoes and dipped in magical hot springs in Santorini, and we realized how blessed we were to have each other on the giant hilltop of the Parthenon in Athens,” Allison says.

The glorious honeymoon was the icing on the cake of a perfect wedding celebration and romance.

“If I could do it all over again,” Allison says, “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” — Jennifer Walker-Journey

Wedding Location: Grace Lutheran Church, Destin
Wedding Reception: Emerald Grande, Destin
Bride’s and Bridesmaids’ Dresses: David’s Bridal, Mobile, Ala.
Photography: Lindsay Osborne Photography, Tallahassee
Cake: Publix Bakery, Destin
Catering: Legendary
Music: Cadillac Willy, Destin
Flowers: Suzan Lesko, Special Occasions, Destin
Hair: Jim Cooper, La Renaissance, Destin
Travel: Davis Travel, Niceville

Desination: Emerald Coast

Online Resource for Emerald Coast Brides

As the marketing professional for a local wedding magazine, Jamie Gummere built her career around connecting wedding retailers along the Emerald Coast with brides busily planning their weddings. But when the magazine folded early last year, Gummere suddenly found herself out of a job – and brides everywhere quickly lost their pipeline to wedding vendor listings.

Gummere sought out investors to revive the magazine but instead found valuable advice from a friend.

“He said, ‘Why not put the magazine online?” Gummere says.

The idea took her by surprise. After all, she was an “online” kind of girl. She shopped online, researched online. Putting the magazine online seemed like a logical solution.

Gummere immediately set to work Googling similar sites, developing a Web site and seeking out advertisers. After a few short months, Gummere launched MarryMeAtTheBeach.com, a comprehensive guide to getting married on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The new Web site offers in-formation about caterers, florists, photographers, beauty specialists and venues, including – but not limited to – Emerald Coast’s stunning beaches.

“We are so much more than sand-meets-shore,” Gummere says on her Web site. “We’re botanical gardens-meets-nature, lakes-meet-natural-wetlands, culture-meets-creativity and sunrise-meets-sunsets.”

Gummere is building the Web site’s offerings by recruiting new advertisers regularly. Brides who browse the site need only click on a category listing to get photographs of each advertiser’s work, Web site address and contact information.

She is quick to say she does not help brides plan their weddings.

“There are plenty of great wedding planners out there,” Gummere says. Her job is just to make the bride’s job easier.

The Web site also has other helpful features, such as the “White Dress Workout” for brides wanting to get in shape before the big day, Jamie’s personal blog about wedding trends and etiquette, and a “Real Weddings” section in which brides can pull ideas from photo montages of other Emerald Coast weddings.

Most of the Web site’s users are destination brides – those who travel a short distance from neighboring cities and states to get married on the Emerald Coast. Local brides make up the second largest group of site guests. But Gummere has her sights on luring brides from all over the country – and beyond.

“There are a lot of brides looking to get married in a tropical setting,” she says. “Instead of looking at Mexico, they should come here. We have plenty to offer.” — Jennifer Walker-Journey