As such an important part of William and Mary’s presence, it comes as no surprise that a significant amount of alumni choose to have another milestone in the Wren Chapel.
“Just when I think I’ve heard and seen everything, I get a surprise,” Executive Director of the Historic Campus, Louis Kale said. “When it comes to weddings, if you wait long enough, everything turns into a funny story.”
Kale, Historic Campus Associate Director Kimberly Renner and Sir Christopher Wren Building Supervisor Bernard Bowman make up the team behind every Wren Chapel wedding. The team takes care of everything from date booking to calming the in-laws on the big day and takes care of roughly 80 weddings a year.
William and Mary students, alumni, current faculty and staff or the children of anyone in those groups may reserve the Wren Chapel for a wedding. Both the bride and groom do not need to have a College affiliation. Although it is rumored that a five-year wait list to use the Wren Chapel, this is not the case at all. The most common marriages that occur at the Chapel are between recent alumni, but not all weddings follow routine.
The Wren Chapel facilities can be used for weddings most every weekend of the year with the exception of the Saturday night of the Yule Log Ceremony, Homecoming Saturday and during Family Weekend. Kale coordinates with Kappa Delta to make sure that the Campus Golf course does not overlap with any weddings. For days on which other loud events are held on the Sunken Gardens, such as the Last Day of Classes celebration, the bride and groom take their chances.
“We try to let the bride and groom know what’s going on, but many of them are alums, so realize they are getting married on a College campus and know what to expect.” Kale said.
Standard protocol for a Wren Chapel wedding allows the couple to have 120 guests, not including the wedding party. Kale recalls that one bride and groom had a 26 person wedding party in order to stretch the number.
Kale recalls that her favorite wedding that ever occurred at the Chapel was between two alumni who graduated in the 1940s. They dated all throughout college, went their separate ways in life, married other people, lost their spouses and reconnected over 50 years later, eventually getting married in the Wren Chapel.
“That was the only wedding I ever snuck into to watch. The bride and groom walked down the aisle together, it was really a very special wedding,” Kale said.
Bernard Bernake has been working with the Wren Chapel for 25 years and has helped orchestrate over 1,000 weddings. An important part of his job is making sure that everything runs flawlessly on the wedding day itself. Moments before the bride walks down the aisle, Bernake fluffs out her dress and makes sure it hasn’t gotten dirty.
Jill Hutchko and John Evans MBA ’08 first crossed paths at a coffee with a professor from the Mason School of Business in the fall of 2008. Evans was a student at the time and Hutchko worked in admissions.
“It was where we met. We looked at several different venues and we thought that this would be a very special place to get married, “ Hutchko said.
Even though the two were the same age, Evans was hesitant to ask Hutchko out because she worked within the business school. However he sent her a casual email after Thanksgiving asking about her break, and the two formed a friendship and eventually started dating. After Evans graduated the two moved to Connecticut together. They returned to the College to get married on Oct. 29.
“We both have such great memories here. It’s such a beautiful campus. You can feel the tradition and there is such a great community here at William and Mary. We just felt that it was the right place to come back to,” Evans said.
While standing outside the Chapel, awaiting her walk down the aisle, Bernake helped keep Hutchko calm, something he does for every bride. He’s always waiting in the wings in case something goes wrong. In his day, Bernake has taken care of everything from a passed out groom to belligerent mothers-in-law.
From 1999 to 2001 the Wren Building was closed for renovations, but seven dedicated brides chose to get married even in spite of the rubble. At the time, the only part of the building that was clean was the inside of the chapel itself. Kale recalls getting several calls requesting to get married at the chapel during the years that it was closed and she remembered turning them down. Despite Kale’s warnings, each of these brides persisted and got married in the chapel amongst tractors, tools, dumpsters and rubble.
Not all grooms are ready to wed. Bernake recalls one groomsman, a former College baseball player, who had a bit too much to drink the night before the ceremony.
“He must have had a weak stomach, because he passed out at the alter. I had to run in right after he hit the floor.”
Alumni take advantage of Wren for more than just weddings, as well. In the mid 90’s Bernake recalls that a young man approached him about proposing to his girlfriend in the Wren Chapel. The man, who was dressed in casual clothes, asked Bernake if he could keep the Chapel unlocked for him to propose later in the evening. Later that night, a man in a suit approached Bernake with a young woman and asked if they could take a look at the chapel.
“I didn’t recognize him in his suit, so I just said ‘sure go on in, I’m just waiting for some man to come and propose to his girlfriend later!’” Bernake said.
The history that surrounds the Wren Building is continuously added onto by alumni who decide to have their weddings in the Chapel.
“For so many students at William and Mary the Wren building is the mother ship, it is their alma mater. Many of our alums are coming back because of the connection they make to William and Mary while they were here. It’s a real love for the school,” Kale said.