Building A Bridge Between Two Lives


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.



The Day (Finally!) Arrives

On the morning of their much-anticipated autumn wedding, hair and makeup sessions took place in the Extreme WOW Suite at W Minneapolis – The Foshay, where Mercedes and Jake later spent their wedding night. The 1,700-square-foot penthouse suite, generously donated by the hotel, includes a fireplace, wet bar, living room, dining area, oversized soaking tub, state-of-the-art technology, and W beds with 350 thread-count linens and a goose down duvet.

While Mercedes got ready at the W, talented photographer Meghan Doll of Meghan Doll Photography was busy documenting the moments in fabulous photojournalistic detail. (Meghan is a friend of Mercedes’ physical therapist. This was the first of many connections discovered throughout the day.)

After the bride looked red carpet glamorous, the couple and photography team were off in style—courtesy of Eclipse Transportation—for some fun shots outside of First Avenue and in the Sculpture Gardens at the Walker Art Center.

The Ceremony

Photo by Meghan Doll

Exactly where a bride and groom decides to tie the knot is an important decision, and Mercedes and Jake’s wedding was no exception. It had to be as unique as the couple themselves—contemporary with a flare of art—with windows facing the west so they could recite their vows at sunset. The Wedding Guys worked with long-time friend Carolyn Dunne at the Walker Art Center to create a stunning ceremony in the Cargill Lounge area. The venue was perfect, with just the right mix of contemporary and modern. The seating arrangement was set up as a half circle arc, with clear acrylic chairs and aisle stands surrounding an acrylic altar by BeEvents, an event planning service based in Minneapolis. The ambiance was further enhanced with cylinders and softly glowing candles.

“The half circle represents the hands of friends engulfing the couple in love and support,” Bruce explains. “It added a sort of etheral feel to the environment.”

The flowers, courtesy of Violet’s Flowers, were colorful and dramatic. Tall branches and a floral display warmed the room. Three foot tall clear glass cylinders were filled with oranges and clementines, green cymbidium orchids, mini orange calla lilies, cherry brandy roses, burgundy roses, curly willow dripping with tear drop crystals, and cone-shaped glass vases holding roses and orchids. A rock crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.

The Wedding Guys thought it would be fitting to commemorate the bridge victims, so outside the lounge window, 13 sets of candles—signifying the 13 victims of the 35W bridge collapse—burned brightly. Prior to being seated, guests mingled in an area filled with framed wedding photos of the friends and family who gave strength and encouragement to Mercedes and Jake; friends and family who were viewed by the couple as marriage role models. As the guests were seated, they were asked to place a flower on a special wreath—another Wedding Guys creation—featuring 13 candles representing the victims of the collapsed bridge. The wreath was in honor of those who lost their lives on the 35W bridge.

With Jake being a DJ and music being equally important to Mercedes, it went without saying that music was an integral part of the ceremony. Each song was chosen with careful thought and deliberation. Twin Cities jazz vocalist Maud Hixson and guitarist David Singley provided music. The prelude included Autumn Leaves, S’Wonderful, and Nice ‘N Easy, and bridesmaids walked down to I’ve Got A Crush On You.

With Mercedes on Jake’s arm, they ascended the aisle to an instrumental rendition of And I Love Her. Love Is Here To Stay followed the lighting of the unity candle, and the recessional was Frank Sinatra’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To. Guests departed the ceremony location to the tunes of Michael Buble’s Sway, as well as classics The Look Of Love, and So Nice.

Photo by Meghan Doll

An Emotional Tribute

On the way to the reception, Mercedes, Jake, and The Wedding Guys stopped at the Mississippi River—where the bridge collapsed—for a moment of silence. Together Mercedes and Jake lit the candles on the ceremonial wreath and set it afloat as a tribute to the victims, an idea devised by The Wedding Guys as an adaptation of a royal tradition in which marrying brides released a wreath to recognize the soldiers who had died for their country. On the other side of the river, just as Mercedes and Jake placed the wreath into the water, church bells rang in the distance. Everyone got chills.

“Some of the most magical moments in life can’t be planned,” Matthew says.

The Reception

After they left the emotional tribute at the river, it was time to lighten the mood and celebrate. It made sense that Mercedes and Jake, a very classic contemporary couple who love the aesthetic quality, great tunes, and cool style of the Rat Pack, would have their reception at a retro venue.

“We thought instantly of Jitters in Northeast Minneapolis,” Bruce explains. “It has a supper club feel and jazz club look with kitsch metal walls and a wild mix of tabletops and chairs. It is so Sinatra, we knew it was the perfect place for their reception.”

When The Wedding Guys chose Jitters as the reception site, they didn’t know that Mercedes used to be a server at The Times (Jitters is located in the basement of The Times). When the owner, Dan Lessard, heard who the bride was, he was more than happy to graciously donate the venue, food, and beverages for the celebration.

“Like many things regarding this particular wedding, we soon found connections with the locations and people that we didn’t know until after we started planning,” Matthew says.

When it came to decorating the space, very little needed to be done to set the mood. The vibe was great on its own.

“We just enhanced what was already there,” Matthew says. “BeEvents provided the up-lighting, and Studio 6 Specialty Linen & Décor donated a variety of linens for the tables.”

Old-fashioned booths with curved seats looked especially rich in orange pintuck, and several tall cocktail tables were dressed in brown pintuck. A head table—also in brown—was created with a row of square tables and booth-style benches. Each table had a small floral arrangement centerpiece, courtesy of Violet’s Flowers, to match the bridal party’s bouquets.

As guests arrived at the reception, they posed for fun snapshots in a Photobooth Memories original photobooth, listened to music provided by Ticket to Brasil, and enjoyed butler-passed brochette with basil pesto, Gorgonzola, and artichoke topped with Parmesan. They also enjoyed a light noshing station—draped in gold pintuck linens by Studio 6 Specialty Linen & Décor—with selections including sweet potato fries with lemon-caper aioli, fried cheese ravioli with chilled marinara, grilled vegetables, green beans, baby carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, and cream cheese wontons with Asian ginger sauce. Basil tomatoes, mushroom pate, and hummus with baguettes were popular tapas options.

Comfort foods, and a few of Mercedes’ favorite dishes when she worked at The Times, were also on the menu. Guests dined on spinach salad, garlic mashed potatoes, chicken provencal in a tomato sauce, green bean and Gorgonzola, breaded walleye with both regular and jalapeno tartar sauce, and delicious macaroni and cheese. Jake and Mercedes chose two flavors for their wedding cake: carrot cake filled with cream cheese frosting, and sour cream chocolate cake filled with ganache and milk chocolate mousse. The cake, courtesy of Jessica’s Cakes, was frosted in vanilla buttercream with an intricate string work design.

The speeches and congratulatory wishes were especially moving; everyone knew what this couple had been through. “I love you more than anything,” Jake told Mercedes. “And I thank everyone for making our ceremony such a beautiful occasion.”

Once dinner was over, the moment Mercedes had been waiting for became a reality—her first dance with her husband. It was very important to her to be able to dance with Jake at their wedding.

The moment was extremely moving. All eyes were on the couple as they danced to their special song, their first dance together as husband and wife.

At the end of the night, each guest was handed a copy of a CD with a favorite playlist of the bride and groom. Music had been a constant in their lives and an important component in their relationship through the good times and the challenging moments.

In the words of author H.A. Overstreet: “I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights; and you have yours. But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us, in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality.”

Tune in on March 25, 2009 to watch Mercedes and Jake’s wedding featured as a “Miracle Wedding” on the Discovery Health Channel (a division of the Discovery Network).