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Building A Bridge Between Two Lives

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Mercedes Gorden and Jake Rudh: The I-35W Bridge Wedding

In 2006, when Wedding Guys® Matthew Trettel and Bruce Vassar sat down to discuss wedding plans with Mercedes Gorden and Jake Rudh, the term “structurally unsound” was almost unheard of. The I-35W bridge was just another bridge crossing the Mississippi. Mercedes and Jake were newly engaged and excited about planning their wedding.

They were at Solera, sitting across from The Wedding Guys, because they had bid on (and won) a charity event’s silent auction item—the chance to sit down to a wedding planning dinner with industry specialists’ The Wedding Guys. During the four-hour planning session, The Wedding Guys shared ideas on how the couple could customize their wedding. The Wedding Guys gave them tips about invitations, flowers, catering, and decor.

When they left the dinner, The Wedding Guys just assumed that Mercedes and Jake would continue on with their wedding plans.

The Reconnection

Meghan Doll snapped candid
photos outside of First Avenue

Mercedes ran into The Wedding Guys at the Graves 601 Hotel during the November 2007 Butterball, a charity event with a mission to raise money for community nutrition and hunger programs. It had been a year since she’d last seen them. The reintroduction was confusing at first, because Bruce didn’t recognize Mercedes. The last time he saw her she was walking. This time she was in a wheelchair.

When he asked why she was in a wheelchair, she responded, “I was on the 35W bridge when it collapsed.”

It’s a miracle that Mercedes is alive. On August 1, 2007, she was traveling northbound on her way home from work as a human resources professional when the now infamous 35W bridge went down. Her car plunged six and a half stories into the stone bridge support and was rammed by several other vehicles following behind her. She was pinned in her car for an hour before help came.

Mercedes’ injuries included a broken back, shattered bones in her legs, and a fractured spine. Her doctor said her injuries were equivalent to a person jumping from an airplane without the parachute opening.

She was in the hospital for five weeks, underwent numerous surgeries, wore a back brace for three months, then spent more time healing in a wheelchair. It took her four months to walk again. Needless to say, their wedding plans were put on hold while Mercedes recovered from the physical and emotional aftermath and Jake rearranged his schedule to become her loyal caretaker.

After hearing all that this resilient couple had been through, Bruce and Matthew’s initial reaction was to help with their wedding in some fashion. They talked to friends in the wedding industry and asked if they’d be willing to pitch in and donate their time, talents, and services. The ball gathered momentum as more and more event partners expressed an interest in donating items and services for the wedding.

“We feel blessed and fortunate to have so many wedding industry friends willing to help a couple they had never met get through such a difficult time,” Bruce comments. “As we told our friends the story, each of them said, ‘Count me in’ before we even asked them to come on board.”

A week later, The Wedding Guys sent a vague e-mail to Mercedes and Jake saying they would like to help with the wedding—that was all the information they divulged.

They met at Clubhouse Jager, where Jake DJs on Wednesday nights. Jake and Mercedes were eager to hear how The Wedding Guys were going to help, but didn’t have a clue just how much they were going to help.

“The key fact is that they never once asked us for anything. We offered to help them,” Bruce says.

When Bruce and Matthew started talking to Mercedes and Jake, Bruce told them that they wanted to help by donating special table linens or something, but after a lot of thought, The Wedding Guys decided instead to give them a wedding.

“Your wedding will be taken care of,” Matthew explained to the (now speechless) couple.“You won’t have to do anything.”

“It was so touching to see their reactions,” Bruce remembers. “I think all of us were practically in tears.”

After months of putting their wedding on the backburner to concentrate on Mercedes’ emotional and physical recovery, the news was almost too good to be true.

The Planning

Mercedes had purchased her dress before the accident, a gorgeous gown designed by Carmen Marc Valvo, but had yet to find a veil. That’s where Wedding Gown Care Specialist Karen Boehn came in. Karen created a beautiful Spanish flare veil to coincide with Mercedes’ heritage and altered her gown free of charge.

Next, the bridesmaids met with Carolyn Fritz at The Wedding Shoppe in St. Paul. The girls had a great time with Carolyn, trying on different styles and listening to her talk about the latest trends and wedding-day fashions. The girls finally selected espresso chiffon tea-length dresses by Jasmine B2, complete with a ruched bodice in a tank scoop and V-neckline. The Wedding Shoppe generously donated the bridesmaid dresses.

Jake and his groomsmen went to Heimie’s Haberdashery in St. Paul for their complementary rental attire. Owner Anthony Andler, a fourth-generation tailor, fitted Jake for a custom tuxedo—ala Frank Sinatra’s classy style—then fitted the groomsmen for traditional formal black tuxes.

With the gowns and tuxes on order, the next task was creating the invitation ensemble. After getting to know the couple better, The Wedding Guys suggested a central theme of 1960s Rat Pack era. With Jake being voted “Best DJ” in City Pages for five years running (as well as being a former Radio K, REV 105 & NPR alum), and Mercedes having a passion for music and dance, it made sense to incorporate Sinatra-inspired songs and the timeless style of the Rat Pack into the wedding.

The couple worked with local invitation designer Sarah Glad of A Milestone Paper Company, creating simple invitations in the style of a swanky lounge during the height of the Rat Pack’s popularity. Brown, hot pink, and white printed on cream stock were accented with a desert star motif. The font was reminiscent of 1960s Las Vegas casino lounge signs, and the text was a message of friendship and joy. A sleek, long program in a matching motif was created for the wedding ceremony.

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