University News

Wedding bells ring out on College Hill

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Destination weddings have become increasingly popular in recent years. Today, brides- and grooms-to-be often travel to exotic locales in the United States and abroad. The tropical islands of the Caribbean, the romantic cities of Europe and the pristine beaches of Hawaii are all frequent destinations for couples seeking a getaway for their big day.

But then again, so are the green lawns of College Hill.

Brown has been hosting destination weddings of sorts for decades. On average, at least 40 couples — often recent alums — return to College Hill for their special day each year, according to the Rev. Janet Cooper-Nelson, the University chaplain.

Though weddings have been held at Hillel, the Faculty Club and the Crystal Room, Manning Chapel, situated on both the Main and Quiet Greens, is the most popular choice for couples, Cooper-Nelson said.

“It’s a beloved space,” she said. “People love the space — we all do.”

With students gone, summer is the peak time for couples to return to Providence to exchange vows.

Though Cooper-Nelson said most couples who marry in Manning are alumni of the college, others are current graduate students or faculty members.

“This is the whole mixed generation of Brown,” she said. 

Mixed generations were practically the theme of the July 2005 nuptials of Jessie Blanco ’03 and Michael Busam ’03. Michael’s parents, Stanley James Busam ’75 and Margaret Hayes, had been married in Manning 30 years earlier.  

Blanco and Busam, who met during the fall of their junior year and got engaged at Campus Dance one year after their graduation, said they always loved the idea of getting married at Manning.

“We decided to do Manning because we both loved Brown,” Blanco said.

“We met at Brown, we got engaged at Brown and his parents got married at Brown,” she said. “And I loved the idea of Manning.” 

Abbey Barrett Bloom ’03 and Jonathan Bloom ’03 also had family ties to Brown, and likewise decided to get married at Manning.

“We live in New York,” Abbey said, “but we have so many friends from school, and Brown was the obvious choice.”

Abbey said their wedding, on May 30 of this year, was full of alumni who enjoyed returning to campus. Her father, grandparents and great-grandparents are graduates and many of the couple’s friends from Brown were in the bridal party.

Another alumna friend became an online minister for the occasion, and officiated the ceremony.

Abbey said she and Jonathan tried to incorporate small details of their college experience into the occasion. For instance, they wrote their names and the date of their wedding on the sidewalk in front of the Van Wickle Gates, and sent a photograph of the message to all of their guests as a “save the date” card. They also used their yearbook as a sign-in registry for guests on their big day.

Cooper-Nelson said the nondenominational space can also serve as a common ground for couples who have different religious backgrounds.

Manning did just that for Kristen Langdon Cohen ’89 and Lee Cohen ’89, who were married in the chapel in October 1999.

The couple lived one floor apart from each other during their junior year in Hegeman Hall. Though they remained “just friends” in the years following graduation, the two began dating in the late ’90s and decided to get married soon thereafter.

“We wanted to get married at Brown because it was a commonality,” Kristen said. “It was something from our history.”

In light of her Protestant background and Lee’s Jewish upbringing, Manning seemed like the perfect place to bring together their two families.

Kristen and Lee have continued to make Brown part of their family — Cooper-Nelson has baptized the couple’s four boys in Manning.

“Brown is a family,” Cooper-Nelson said. “We may not be a religious family, but there is a way that we really are tied together.” 

Cooper-Nelson said the openness and acceptance couples find in Manning matches the spirit of the University community — namely, though the state of Rhode Island does not recognize gay marriage, many gay couples have held ceremonies in Manning Chapel.

“It doesn’t matter to us if you’re straight or gay,” she said.

Cooper-Nelson’s open attitude encouraged Jasmine Waddell ’99 to have her wedding in Manning.  

Though her partner, Jodi, was not an alumna, Waddell could not have imagined getting married anywhere other than Brown. She and her partner were officially married on Nantucket in September 2007, where the marriage would be legally recognized, before having a “proper ceremony” in Manning. 

“September is a glorious time at Brown,” Waddell said, adding that the “Roots” sculptures were installed the weekend of the ceremony, and the two women were able to take photographs in front of the artwork. 

“It was just so fun,” she said. “And you certainly don’t get that at a traditional church or community center.”