The week of their wedding in October 2014, Sarah and Bryan Cassell found themselves driving under the gleam of a double rainbow on their way into Athens from Boston. When the Ohio University alumni took their wedding photos a few days later, a bald eagle flew by a few feet in front of them. Just after that, a stray puppy interrupted the photo session and captured the heart of one of the groomsmen, who ended up adopting it.
No one can plan for such events to happen, but they certainly make a wedding day extraordinary. It also doesn’t hurt that they all happened in the small town where the young couple met and fell in love: Athens, Ohio.
Because young adults who meet at Ohio University often like to come back and get married where their relationships started, it’s pretty common to see the weddings of alumni on campus. Heather Thomas, assistant director of Event Management at OU, is one person who helps those couples create their perfect wedding days.
“My favorite part is sitting down and working with them from the very beginning,” Thomas says. “Just figuring out how they want their setup and then actually coming in and … seeing it all kind of come together, that’s kind of fun.”
Thomas says an average of 25 to 30 couples hold their weddings or receptions at OU each year. Five pairs of OU alumni share the stories of what made their wedding days in Athens, and their relationships, so special.
Sarah and Bryan
Sarah and Bryan Cassell met when Sarah started a job in the former Jefferson Dining Hall during her freshman year. Bryan taught her how to change the soda in the machines before she later became his manager — and his girlfriend.
“It was sort of a dining services love story, I guess,” Sarah says with a laugh.
The pair dated until Bryan proposed in a Boston park one rainy weekend in 2013.
“He held out the ring box, but he didn’t open it,” Sarah says. “I didn’t see a ring; all I was thinking was, ‘If that’s a bracelet, I’m going to be really mad.’ ”
Luckily for Sarah — and Bryan, too — it wasn’t a bracelet, and the couple wed just over a year later on Oct. 18, 2014, in Burr Oak State Park. They wanted to get married on campus, but couldn’t schedule far enough ahead of time. Thomas says couples normally book their wedding venues approximately a year in advance, which wasn’t enough time for the Cassells to plan their special day before they moved to Boston. Nevertheless, getting married where they fell in love was a pretty easy decision for the pair.
“We’ve always just loved the Athens area,” Sarah says. “It’s so beautiful, and I think it just symbolizes a lot of things for our relationship.”
“It was also like a mutual home,” Bryan adds. “It was the one place where we … both had a connection to.”
Their wedding was, in a word, “magical,” according to Sarah. All of the surprise events and omens on their wedding day only made it more special for the pair.
“It just helped to reassure us that we were doing the right thing, and not to sound cheesy, but it made me realize that I have found my soul mate,” Sarah says. “Oh, and he just rolled his eyes at that.”
Bekah and Matt
Hundreds of students eat in Nelson Dining Hall every day without a second thought. For Bekah and Matt Ashcraft, Nelson is much more than a dining hall; it’s the place where they used to enjoy casual lunch dates and later celebrated becoming husband and wife.
“Nelson is where we always went to go eat for dinner or lunch because I lived over there,” Bekah says. “So it just seems funny … to have our reception there.”
Mr. and Mrs. Ashcraft were married on May 30, 2015, in Christ Community Wesleyan Church, the place where they met, and held their reception on campus. Their wedding decorations incorporated characteristics of their first date, relationship and something they shared a love for: shooting at a gun range.
“Because we kind of started our relationship and proposal with shooting, I focused a lot of the arrangements on gun themes,” Bekah says. “Our table names were different gun names, and the boutonnieres were made out of brass casings from bullets. It was just like little, tiny pieces were everywhere, but it just felt like us.”
The wedding day went by quickly, but that didn’t stop the couple from enjoying every minute of it.
“It was just awesome to have everyone who we have crossed paths with in our lives there with us, and it just kind of seemed a little bit surreal,” Bekah says.
Sydney and Cooper
Sydney and Cooper Shank met when they were resident assistants at OU. Sydney was the senior RA and Cooper’s supervisor at the time, but she couldn’t help but feel a connection between them.
“I had a crush on him since the first time we met at the first staff meeting,” Sydney says.
They dated until Cooper proposed during a hike in Rising Park in Lancaster, Ohio. Sydney wasn’t sure why he had been acting odd leading up to the hike, but the reason became apparent once they reached the top of the hill.
“All of the strangers around us [were] cheering for us,” she says. “[Then] two of our photographer friends emerged from the woods. Cooper had them taking pictures of the whole thing!”
The Shanks were married on June 13, 2015, and held both their wedding and reception at the Barn at Heather Glen in Surgargrove, Ohio. Although the ceremony didn’t happen how they expected it to, the couple and their guests were able to adapt.
“Our ceremony was supposed to be outside, but it rained the whole night before and even on the day of,” Sydney says. “But I couldn’t care less the day of, as I was preparing to marry my best friend.”
The menu at the wedding wasn’t exactly traditional, but it was perfect for the couple’s “fairly casual wedding.”
“We served Chipotle for dinner and donuts instead of cake,” she says. “And I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
Colleen and Kevin
It was hard for Colleen and Kevin O’Hare to be optimistic when there was a chance of rain on their wedding day, but their mutual interest in weather definitely lessened the blow.
“It’s ironic because the conversation where we originally clicked, when we met in 2011, was about weather,” Kevin says. “I’ve always been fascinated by weather, and Colleen was like, ‘Oh, my dad’s a meteorologist,’ so she was fascinated by weather as well. And on our wedding day, we were like, ‘Oh, a thunderstorm is coming. I hope we get our wedding in.’ ”
Aside from the rain, Colleen and Kevin’s wedding day, according to Kevin, was “picture perfect.” They wed on July 26, 2014, at Wilhelm Amphitheater behind Scripps Hall and held their reception in Baker Ballroom. The on-campus reception was so beautiful that friends of the couple wanted more.
“We did have one of our friends ask us to get married every year so we could have the reception at Baker Ballroom because they had that much fun,” Kevin says with a laugh.
The couple is happily married now, but there was a chance they wouldn’t have that favorable ending.
“We met at the end of my fifth year, so … if I didn’t stay for my fifth year, we probably wouldn’t have met,” Colleen says.
Leah and Dave
College students are advised to get involved in organizations, but some may find more than just friendship when they join a club or two.
Leah and Dave Sadlon met in Young Life, a religious organization at Ohio University. After a three-year-long friendship, the pair started dating at the end of Dave’s senior year, and he took a job in Columbus, Ohio, a few months later.
During Leah’s senior year, Dave drove back to Athens to do a scavenger hunt for Leah’s birthday. The clues led the pair to the golf course bridge by South Green. When they reached the middle of the bridge, Dave handed Leah a letter and dropped to one knee as she read it. His proposal on the bridge held a special significance for the couple.
“Whenever we were dating, we had walked on there before,” Leah says. “And we just remembered there was this one night where we both knew that we wanted to marry each other.”
Leah and Dave were married in the Central Avenue United Methodist Church on July 3, 2010, and held their reception in Nelson Banquet Hall. The pair wanted to involve their friends as much as they could in the preparations for their special day.
“Friends made the invitations, and we had friends who were graphic designers and friends who were musicians,” Leah says. “So we tried to involve people that we love into the little details so everyone could enjoy it.”
Although Leah’s new last name is pronounced “sad lawn, like unhappy grass,” she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’ve joked about it before,” she says. “But it’s worth it; it’s okay.”
Thanks to Ohio University, the Sadlons, O’Hares, Shanks, Ashcrafts and Cassells were able to live “Happily Ever Athens.”