Melissa Hale, 22, and Anthony Holeman with their 1 year-old son Mason on their wedding day Sunday Dec. 16, 2012. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:29PM
Melissa Hale couldn’t have been more excited when she first visited Aberdeen Manor in November 2011.
There, the young bride-to-be from Chesterton met the Valparaiso venue’s owner, Denna Fyock.
“We hit it off instantly,” Hale told me. “I knew from the moment I walked in that we had to do our reception at Aberdeen. Not only is the place gorgeous, but Denna is such a sweet woman, I was just drawn to her.”
The 22-year-old Hale and her 30-year-old fiancé, Anthony Holeman, were about as thrilled as any bride and groom could be.
“I think of any bride we’ve had here in a very long time, Melissa was the most charged up about the whole thing,” said Fyock, who then began planning for the Dec. 12, 2012, (12-12-12) wedding and reception.
Because 12-12-12 landed on a Wednesday, the couple decided to move their wedding date to the following Sunday, so their families could attend without any work hassles.
“Over the next year we slowly planned the whole thing,” said Hale, whose new baby, Mason, would be able to join his older sister, Cadence, for the big day.
A deposit was made for the chapel and ballroom, as well as deposits for the ceremony’s officiant, Doug Klukken of Free Spirit Interfaith Church, and a deejay from Trans Audio Mobile Music, both in Crown Point.
“Melissa and Anthony were so happy, and their family of four was complete,” said Anthony’s sister, Amber Forhan of Seattle, who made plans to attend the wedding. “Everything was falling into place and they were living on top of the world.
“But things were about to change.”
Everything taken care of
Last June, the couple’s son, Mason, was diagnosed with infantile spasms, an ultra-rare and possibly catastrophic form of childhood epilepsy. The condition can possibly include developmental problems, mental retardation and physical handicaps.
He was referred to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis as his confused and shell-shocked parents surfed the Internet for answers.
“They grappled with the notion that their 6-month-old son might never walk,” Forhan noted.
Things got tough for the young family. Treatments were costly. Medical bills piled up. Money got tight. Plans had to be changed.
“We realized we had to cancel the reception and just do a small ceremony at the church to be married. No bells and whistles,” Hale said.
When she broke the disappointing news to Fyock at Aberdeen, she was asked to explain what happened. Hale did so through tears. Fyock cried, too, about Mason’s health condition and the young couple’s heartbreaking new reality.
“Hundreds of tears later, Denna asked me if I would let her give me a wedding. I was speechless,” Hale said.
Fyock explained: “When she came in and told me she had to cancel the wedding, I was shocked. I just couldn’t let her do that, knowing how much this wedding meant to her.”
The wedding — and reception — were back on.
Fyock took care of everything, including special arrangements with the pastor, deejay, vendors and her staff.
“She planned my reception without asking for a penny,” Hale said last week. “I am still in shock over how incredibly generous this woman has been to me and my family.”
“I can’t believe there are still people out there who truly care about others above their own personal gain,” added Forhan, who initially contacted me.
The couple invited me to the wedding, to see for myself how things turned out, so I sort of crashed the reception on Sunday night. By that time, dinner had ended, loud music blared and the newlyweds danced with family, friends and their two young children.
“We’re married!” beamed a visibly giddy Melissa, whose last name is now Holeman. “Everything was beautiful, like a fairy-tale wedding.”
Watching on with a warm smile was Fyock, who made it all happen.
“Doing this wedding was something that made all of us feel warm and fuzzy,” she told me. “The joy and happiness on Melissa’s face made it all so worth it.”
Not only did she arrange for the chapel and ballroom, her entire staff volunteered their time for the event, and the vendors also volunteered or greatly discounted their services. Even the bartender donated her tips for research into infantile spasms.
“I certainly don’t deserve all the credit,” Fyock said. “So many people made it happen. All I did was drive the bus.”
In the coming years, Melissa and Anthony will be dealing with Mason’s health issues, so the Aberdeen staff joined to give them this very special wedding gift, Fyock explained.
“We wanted to make sure she had a wonderful day and beautiful memories that she could go back to when her days were dark and she needed something to cheer her up.”
Fyock had concerns that her quiet act of generosity may be misconstrued as some kind of “publicity stunt,” but I assured her otherwise. The family contacted me, not her.
“Believe me, it was truly a privilege to do this for them,” Fyock said. “We received so much more than we gave. It was kind of our own little Christmas miracle that we could make happen.”
‘Competitors’? Not at all
Mark Kiesling once gave me sage advice when it came to writing newspaper columns.
The long-time reporter-turned-columnist for The Times newspaper told me simply, “Jerry, once you become a columnist, you either make fast friends or fast enemies with your readers because your opinions get into print.”
He was right. I’ve experienced it first-hand since I became a columnist, and I’ve never forgotten it.
I worked with Mark for almost 10 years at that newspaper, often watching and learning from him along the way.
Since I began writing for the Post-Tribune in 2006, readers from both newspapers often made reference to us as “competitors.” But I never viewed it that way.
We were as different as different can be regarding our writing styles and content. Good thing for me, I always told him.
As you may know, Mark died unexpectedly last week and he was laid to rest on Tuesday. Like most everyone who knew Mark or who regularly read his award-winning work — including his fast friends, fast enemies and fast-learning comrades — he will not be forgotten.
Isn’t that the legacy all of us want to pen through our actions?