All couples go through their fair share of ups and downs, but for Marty Bruckner and Lauren Saia, their Asheville wedding this summer was a true testament that together, they could–and they can–endure the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
The pair first met in the Virgin Islands more than six years ago when Bruckner was working at a boat captain with a rental office adjacent to the restaurant where Saia was bartending. “I would always sit [at the bar] when she worked and create small talk,” Bruckner tells The Knot. Naturally, their first date was a boating excursion and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I never really believed in that saying, ‘You just know,’ until I met him,” Saia says. “I feel complete when he’s around—he’s my other half and my best friend. I enjoy his company. Marty’s heart won me over more than anything. He is such a kind and caring person. He would do anything for anyone.”
“She loved the thrill in my life and loved me for who I was,” Bruckner adds. “She never questioned one thing I made us do. She was always there by my side and ready to take the jump with me.”
The couple spent most of their time on the scenic Caribbean island of St. John (home to stars like Kenny Chesney and other ), so when Hurricane Irma hit on September 6, 2017, their lives were turned upside down. Bruckner was on the island when the Category 5 hurricane made landfall, where he sought refuge huddled inside a laundry room with 16 other people. Saia was on the mainland with her family in the States, watching helplessly as the storm unfolded.
“I wouldn’t let Lauren come back due to the intensity of the storm,” Bruckner says. “And I was stuck, because there were no flights in or out. We were apart for about a month until she could get on a plane to get back. Our love and bond grew strong by being apart. It was some of the toughest times through our relationship.”
Saia, who had to watch as news of the devastation permeated the news, tells The Knot that the period following the storm was particularly difficult because it was hard to know whether or not Bruckner was safe due to limited cell and internet service.
“I would get one phone call every few days if the signal was strong enough,” she recalls. “I knew he was chainsawing people out of their homes and helping others in general, all dangerous but heroic work. I had to trust that he was okay and trust that everything was going to be okay, and that we would be reunited soon.”
She muses, “The unknown can be so hard. When we finally reunited after the storms, [it was then that] we made a conscious decision to move forward.”
Following the devastating storm, the pair tried to recreate their life out on the Virgin Islands and revisit their plans to wed. They did their engagement photoshoot among the debris of the decimated island as an homage to the place they call home. Fellow hurricane survivor and island resident Anne Bequette, a photographer from STJ Creative Photography, took their engagement photos.
Nearly a year later, after keeping in touch with the couple, Bequette realized that there was a very real way that she could help the deserving pair, who had lost their jobs in the interim and dedicated all of their time and efforts to helping rebuild the islands. She reached out to NYC-based event planning and design firm LLG Events with the idea of creating a pro bono dream wedding for the couple, and thus began the giant upswing back toward the positive.
Vendors from all over the country agreed to donate their time, efforts, and services to help bring some good luck back to the pair’s down-on-their-luck circumstances. Dallas-based florist David Kimmel Design created breathtaking arrangements and installations for the pair that fit in perfectly with the event space, The Venue, donated by Marta Santamaria of Asheville, North Carolina.
Another big cost was completely accounted for by Martina Liana Bridal, which donated a wedding dress completely free of charge.
There to document the occasion, of course, was Bequette, who was joined by L.A.-based videographer Cassandra Isbell. DJ Ian Samuel from St. John offered to entertain the couple and even hair and makeup services were donated by St. Thomas-based Sugar and Spice Salon.
Asheville-based vendors also rallied around the exciting event, with businesses like Dogwood Designs Bakery, Engaged Wedding Studio, Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn, Blossoms at Biltmore Park, Sydney at Anada Hair and Joy Unscripted all offering up a hand in ensuring that the couple had the most memorable day ever.
“The whole day was so special,” Saia says. “To have all these people—our vendors and our friends and family—all show up for us was so, so special.”
There is, however, so much work to be done back in the islands. “There are a lot of people that lost everything and cannot return home. Much of the U.S. Virgin Islands’s critical infrastructure is not back up yet,” she concludes. “Our story is just a small glimpse of what everyone on the island has gone through and is still going through. We feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to have this experience and so thankful but we still want to be mindful of the ongoing recovery.”
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