Sometimes, stressed students plodding slowly through the Diag with their backpacks bursting can’t help but postpone studying a little longer to gawk at the choreographed spectacle of bridesmaids and bouquets, groomsmen in tuxedos, the groom and (of course) the tulle-frosted bride posing together for wedding photos.
Weddings are easy to spot simply because they’re a cherished, hyped-up part of our culture. And for many married couples, the day they exchange vows and say “I do” is the most important day of their lives. A wedding is the fruitful culmination of months of planning: Picking a venue, the colors, flowers, linens, bridesmaids and groomsmen, the rings — there are countless components that make ceremonies like this as beautiful as they are. For couples who bleed maize and blue, some of those decisions, such as the color scheme and location, are obvious. There’s no place they would rather get married than the University.
Big House wedding bells
This summer, the Athletic Department announced the possibility of holding private events in many of the athletic spaces on campus. The most exciting of these locations is the football field, where just weeks ago, the Wolverines stole a victory from Notre Dame in the final seconds of the University’s first night game.
“It’s more than just weddings at the Big House,” said Athletic Director David Brandon. “It’s really taking these wonderful spaces that we’ve created that rarely get used, and trying to put them to work in such a way that people can enjoy them.”
Brandon played a crucial role in the Athletic Department’s recent decision to open the Big House and other athletic venues for private events.
“There are a lot of people who graduate from here who love this place and have an emotional connection to it,” Brandon said. “These spaces will often be appealing to people and give them a chance to connect with the University.”
Although this option just became a possibility in late June, there have already been several bookings.
“Everyone that has had anything in (the Big House) walks away raving,” said Katy Hepner, special events coordinator for the Athletic Department. “It exceeds all expectation. And when you have the historical tradition of Michigan football in the backdrop, we’re setting ourselves up for success.”
Surrounded by 109,901 empty bleacher seats and the memories of cheering fans, the betrothed can exchange vows on the field surrounded by bridesmaids, groomsmen and their guests. On a very hot and sunny July 7, the Big House’s first wedding took place between Craig Koss and Betsy Barrett-Koss on the 50-yard line.
For a wedding in the Big House, couples pay anywhere from $6,000 for an hour-long ceremony on the field to a $9,000 rental fee for the Jack Roth Stadium Club, a venue meant to offer refreshments, premium seating and deluxe cuisine for guests during football games.
Since the Athletic Department’s announcement, several groups have booked events and photo opportunities on the field and at the Stadium Club. With four events in October, this opportunity is quickly gaining popularity, as Michigan Stadium has a packed schedule in the upcoming summer months.
“Our winter months are a little slower, but in June, July and August, we’re pretty busy with weddings and some other corporate conference dinners,” Hepner said.
Ana Skidmore, the principle event planner of TwoFoot Creative, an event planning company in the Ann Arbor area, recently booked her first wedding reception at the Stadium Club for next year.
“Weddings in the Big House are obviously for people who love the University of Michigan,” Skidmore said. “The clients I have booked for next year don’t want to go crazy over Michigan, but because they’re in the Stadium Club, there will be a giant block ‘M’ staring at everyone from the stadium. Obviously, they want Michigan to be a part of the wedding, but not all of the wedding.”
From a planner’s perspective, Skidmore said there’s a fine line that’s easy to cross when planning themed weddings.
“You need to be careful not to go overboard, because then it becomes cheesy and it becomes a celebration of Michigan and not the fact that they’re getting married.”
But Skidmore also noted that it’s very easy to plan a themed wedding with class. She suggested warm mahogany seating and gold or copper linens to subtly and tactfully tie in maize and blue to the occasion.
When Skidmore was planning her own wedding in 2007, she tried to get married in the Big House. Her husband, a recruiter for the football team at the time, spoke to the department, but it wasn’t an option.
“We did get on the field for pictures … but that was the closest we could get,” Skidmore said. “I think what they’re trying to do now, bringing the Michigan experience to people who might never have had it before, is really cool because you might never get to be in a suite or on the field at the Big House unless you’re invited to a wedding.”
Something maize, something blue
Many University alums have approached Skidmore with the desire to incorporate Michigan into their ceremony, even if they’re not in the Big House.
“A lot of people use ‘The Victors’ as their grand entrance, or instead of table numbers (at the reception), they’ll choose places on campus,” Skidmore said. “What happens is, they went to school here, they met here and they’re both from different places, but they want to get married here because that’s where they met.”
The romance Skidmore described is exactly what happened to Chris Best and Katharina Ley. Both Ph.D. students in the University’s department of industrial and operational engineering, they are currently in the process of planning their wedding, which is set for May 5, 2012.
“We met here, so it makes sense (to get married here). It’s the only place we’ve ever been together,” Ley said.
Best proposed to Ley last January at the State Theater, where they went on their first date the year before.
“The problem was that the State only shows two movies at a time,” Best said. “We went to see ‘Black Swan’ because the alternative was ‘Blue Valentine’ … which ends in divorce. So even though it’s a depressing movie we still went, and I proposed afterwards.”
After Ley said “yes” and the wedding planning began, it wasn’t long before they picked a venue. The couple is getting married in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union and will host the reception in the Union’s Ballroom. Ley recognized that a big advantage of a historical location like the Union is the level of school spirit already associated with it.
“Having it in the Union will automatically make our wedding kind of themed because of its location — we won’t need tacky things like blue and yellow balloons to incorporate Michigan,” Ley said.
According to Ley, almost everything in the wedding and reception will be white, but the 200 guests will still see a few hints of maize and blue from the University.
The couple has tastefully slipped maize and blue into distinct components of the day. At the reception, The Victors will be played, there will be a maize and blue ball pit in the kids’ area, and a specialty maize and blue cocktail — a blue drink with a lemon garnish — will be offered to adult guests.
Other touches feature a three-tiered cake that will showcase the couple’s time together. The lower two tiers will feature Best and Ley’s heritage, using flags from Ecuador and Germany. The highest tier will have a Michigan flag.
For Best and Ley, the Union is a logical location for the theme of their wedding because of its significance to the University, but it holds financial appeal as well. According to Ley, the couple would have considered getting married in the Big House, but the cost to rent the available venues was too extravagant for their given budget.
“The Union is only, like, $2,000 for the rental of both rooms, and you get some rental discounts if you’re a student,” Ley said.
On another side of the Diag, the Michigan League is also an affordable University venue for a Michigan-themed wedding.
Ann Cassel, a 2011 graduate of the University and bride-to-be, will marry 2010 alum and college sweetheart Brian Igoe at the League this May. Both French horns in the Michigan Marching Band, the couple met and began dating when Cassel was a freshman.
According to Cassel, while on a date after her graduation, Igoe took her on a detour to the Bell Tower, where he proposed. Because the University has been such a large part of their relationship, it will be a prominent part of their wedding ceremony as well.
“It was our way of life for the last four or five years,” Cassel said about their time at the University. “We’re huge football fans and it just means so much to both of us. Without having us both go here, none of this would be happening.”
A maize and blue color scheme and yellow flower arrangements revolve heavily around their connection to the University and the marching band. One of Cassel’s ideas for table centerpieces uses old marching band music like “The Victors,” “Let’s Go Blue,” and “Fanfare” as table numbers.
Besides the bride and groom, the majority of the wedding party is closely tied to the University as well.
“All of my bridesmaids were with me in the marching band,” Cassel said.
Surprisingly, Cassel and Igoe’s participation in marching band is one of the reasons that Cassel and Igoe chose not to get married in the Big House.
“The thing is, because we’ve gotten to do so much in the Big House, we’ve already made important memories there,” Cassel said.
Memories might be the biggest part of what make weddings so majestic. Despite unending weeks of preparation to create a bride’s (or groom’s) dreams of the perfect day, vows will be exchanged, the cake will be eaten, and the last guests will leave. What lasts and will be remembered are two people who have a profound connection to one another.
For Best and Ley, Cassel and Igoe and many other couples, experiencing these moments at the University, a place that keeps the memories of so many people, can only heighten an already wonderful occasion.