Before getting hitched, Stephenie and Aaron were stitching as textile and apparel design majors at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “In this program, you have the option to complete your final year at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC,” shares Stephenie. “We both participated in this opportunity that brought us both out to New York.” Being schoolmates, the pair spent a lot of time together in the classroom and out, first as friends, but eventually as couple. “I wanted to take the relationship to the next level for a few years, but I had to slowly work my magic, or wear her down…depends on how you look at it,” says Aaron. With the help of their three dogs, he popped the question in 2014, each wearing T-shirts with “will,” “you,” “marry,” and of course, “me?”.

The pair chose a destination wedding in beautiful Mendocino. “We liked the idea of taking everyone away to this special part of the country,” says Stephenie. “It was almost like the journey everyone had to go through to get there helped to remove them from their everyday lives, while also bringing them closer to all the other guests. It’s hard to describe, but it really felt like we were all in this thing together.”

They planned various activities over several days, and guests could choose to participate in whichever they wanted…from a pre-welcome dinner cookout to a small group sea kayaking adventure to a welcome dinner in place of a rehearsal dinner. The day after the wedding, on the “Anderson Valley Adventure,” guests were free to hit up various wineries and shops in the Anderson Valley throughout the day and the newlyweds provided a picnic lunch at Hendy Woods State Park.

The ceremony was held in Cypress Grove just north of Mendocino. “The grove is on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and the natural beauty of the place is stunning,” shares the bride. Aaron’s eldest brother, Nathan, officiated the ceremony. “The ceremony was by no means traditional,” says the groom, “but we wanted to include elements and traditions from Judaism to honor Stephenie’s upbringing.” They later heard from guests that eagles flew out over the ocean and whales were visible during the ceremony.

The reception at the Wedding Barn at Spring Ranch began with a cocktail hour featuring a wine tasting from Navarro Vineyards, as well the couples’ own personal cocktail list honoring their NYC home. They officially kicked off the dancing with the Hora. “We kept asking all the men to come out to the dance floor only to be met by some confused looks as many of our guests did not know about this Jewish tradition,” says Stephenie. “We eventually got enough men out there to lift us up in the chairs. At first, we were up in the chairs with no music, so some of the guests started clapping and singing “Hava Nagila.”  We were laughing so hard at the absurdity of it all that it felt like we were going to fall off our chairs. The music finally kicked in … and then we danced!” 

—Darren Elms