How Michigan couples are getting married – or not – during the coronavirus pandemic –

As if planning a wedding isnt stressful enough already, lets add a pandemic.

A thought along those lines may have run through the heads of thousands of Michigan brides as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit the state in early March, and spurred the closure of non-essential businesses and the halting of gatherings as the 2020 wedding season was about to begin.

"Its stressful, its sad, but things will get better, said bride-to-be Sara Figueroa, who in April postponed her May 2020 wedding to April 2021. Ultimately, what matters is that youre married.

Four Michigan brides spoke to MLive about how they retooled their wedding plans as the pandemic set in. One opted for a small ceremony on her original May date. One postponed until fall. Two rescheduled their nuptials for 2021.

Thousands of couples are married in Michigan annually, but the numbers declined this spring amid the pandemic.

In Kent County alone, the number of marriage license applications between March 15-May 15 declined by 34% this year, compared to 2019, according to the Kent County Clerks Office. The number of recorded marriages during the same timeframe declined by 73%. However, that stat could change as more couples turn in their marriage licenses, officials noted. In the Upper Peninsula, Marquette County marriages declined by 33% during the same period, according to that countys clerks office.

Weddings are planned months and years in advance, so whenever theres a disruption to such an important event, its stressful for all involved, said Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons. Marriage licenses have been, by far, the service for which our office has received the most frantic calls and emails.

The statewide stay-home order aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus went into effect on March 24 and extended through June 1. Among the temporary closures were government offices, including county clerks offices that are responsible for issuing marriage licenses. With offices closed, many counties stopped issuing them for a couple weeks. It was mid-April when a mail-in process became available in some counties; other counties began offering appointments.

The by-mail process allowed couples like Mackenzie and Matt Mergener, of Lake Orion, to tie the knot in a backyard ceremony on May 24.

We're just happy to start our life together because who knows when the chaos is going to end, Mackenzie Mergener said.

The stay-home order temporarily closed non-essential businesses, including wedding venues, party rental shops, dress and tuxedo retailers, tailors and seamstresses, florists, DJ services, salons, and photographers and videographers, among other wedding vendors. The order also said not to gather with people outside ones household.

While June has brought an easing of coronavirus-related restrictions, gatherings of the size and scope of many weddings still arent allowed. In southern Michigan, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and outdoors is limited to 100. In the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, up to 50 people can gather inside and up to 250 outside, starting June 10.

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The new orders are encouraging for brides planning late-summer and fall weddings, although they are still facing uncertainty.

We just kept pushing out a month at a time, said bride-to-be Jayme Peterson, whose wedding is scheduled for Sept. 24. Finally, in the middle of May, we decided to really push it out to September and hopefully it will be able to happen.

Postponing until 2021 is considered less risky by many brides-to-be, including Nichole Baldwin. Her June 2020 wedding is rescheduled for June 2021.

"It did feel like there was a big weight lifted off after we did postpone things, she said.

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Baldwin, Figueroa, Mergener and Peterson each approached their wedding planning differently when coronavirus began to spread through Michigan. Here are their stories.

Newlyweds Matt and Mackenzie Mergener steal a moment under Mackenzie's veil on their wedding day, May 24, 2020, in Oakland County, Michigan. The ceremony included the bride, groom and their immediate families. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that kept them from having their dream wedding that day.Courtesy of Kelly Smith | Treasured Images Photography

Newlyweds Mackenzie Mergener, 26, and Matt Mergener, 25, took a lighthearted approach to their pared-down celebration.

With six guests, they drank Corona beer, wore bride and groom face masks for photos, and even ordered a koozie that says, Im not a regular bride, Im a quarantined bride.

If you cant beat em, join em make it a laughable moment, instead of a sad moment, Mackenzie Mergener said.

But being married without having celebrated fully feels a bit eerie, she said. In addition to their big wedding, they missed out on having a bridal shower, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and a honeymoon.

They were wed on May 24, which was their original date but almost everything else about the ceremony was adjusted. While they still wanted to get married on that date, the couple realized their dream wedding would not be possible that day when the statewide stay-home order was extended through May 15.

We held out as long as we could, and then started trying to figure out what to do, she said.

Her parents volunteered their backyard as the venue. The cake and flowers were ordered six days before the ceremony, and her wedding dress not the one she had planned to get married in, which is stuck with the seamstress arrived four days before.

Present for the wedding were the bride and grooms immediate families two parents and a brother each and photographer Kelly Smith of Treasured Images Photography, who maintained social distancing. Mackenzie Mergeners brother, Thomas Soma, 23, served as the officiant after becoming ordained specifically for the occasion.

The day of, it definitely felt like a celebration, she said. It was beautiful.

The couple met while attending Michigan State University in 2016. Matt Mergener proposed during July 2018. He works in sales for Align Technology while she is an elementary special education teacher at Avendale Community Schools.

The couple hopes to have a vow renewal ceremony and a reception later this year possibly in December.

We werent able to see those people who have been working toward this wedding just as hard as we have, she said. It just feels like this thing happened in our lives and nobody really knows, and we dont even know what it is. Were very happy though. Were happy that our forever gets to start right now rather than continuing to postpone.

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Samuel Winn, 26, and Jayme Peterson, 25, both of Byron Center, pose for engagement photos. Winn proposed on March 8, 2020. The couple hoped to marry quickly to ensure Peterson's terminally ill father could be part of the wedding. Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, their wedding is now scheduled for Sept. 24, 2020.Marie Peterson

Samuel Winn, 26, proposed to 25-year-old Jayme Peterson on the ice at a Detroit Red Wings hockey game on March 8. Two days later, the first coronavirus cases in Michigan were announced.

They wanted to get married as soon as possible because Petersons father, Jim Peterson, is terminally ill with cancer.

My dad is my everything thats my best friend, Peterson said. Winn is also close with Petersons family, including her father.

As the pandemic settled in, Winn and Peterson began postponing their wedding by one month at a time. Then, Petersons dads health improved after a bone marrow transplant, and that enabled the couple to set the date for Sept. 24.

A major consideration in the wedding planning is that Winns family lives in Detroit where the novel virus hit Michigan hardest. The couple didnt want to risk causing additional spread by bringing a large group from Detroit to the Grand Rapids area.

The bride-to-be has planned her entire wedding during the pandemic unable to go to stores or meet with vendors in person. She has called about 45 DJ services and has yet to book one. A caterer was also difficult to find, but they did eventually get one. The venue, Townsend Park near Rockford, and a photographer are also booked. Decorations have been made with supplies ordered online. A family friend will officiate.

One store Peterson did go to was Bridal Elegance, where she found her wedding dress shortly before stores were ordered to close. But shes hasnt been able to make any progress on the grooms and groomsmens tuxes.

Peterson and Winn have been together about seven years. They met as freshman attending Baker College of Muskegon. Peterson is a caseworker for Samaritas Families First program. Winn works in customer service at Praxis Packaging.

At first, I was thinking Whats the rush? Peterson said. But I want my dad to be part of it. I would be devastated if he wasnt there.

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Nichole Baldwin and fiance Kevin Creason pose for engagement photos in Traverse City.Courtesy of Nikki K Photography

The Baldwin-Creason wedding was always going to be a sparkly affair; now that bride-to-be Nichole Baldwin has an extra year to plan, its going to be extra gaudy, she quipped.

And everyone is just going to have to deal with it, said 31-year-old Baldwin who, after playing bridesmaid 17 times, has no plans of giving up any part of the bridal experience.

35-year-old Kevin Creason proposed to Baldwin on her 30th birthday, using the occasion to disguise his reason for gathering her friends and family for a barhop around Traverse City. He proposed at the end of the evening at Clinch Park, where they had their first date.

Creason, a manager at 2 Lads Winery, and Baldwin, a nursing assistant at Munson Medical Center, have been together for about five years. The Traverse City couple planned to tie the knot on June 13. They pulled the plug on that plan in April. Their new date is June 26, 2021, at Castle Farms.

I did almost a year and a half of planning, so it was devastating having to put it off, Baldwin said. Theres no reason to try to force a wedding and only have 10 people or risk people getting sick. Id rather wait and have everyone there and enjoying themselves.

She was happy to get a June date at her original venue since 2021 calendars are filling up quickly as would-be 2020 brides postpone, and newly-engaged couples work to plan their weddings, too.

By the time they postponed, the couple had paid for the wedding in full - $25,000-$35,000, Baldwin said. Luckily, all the vendors were able to reschedule at no extra charge. Still, there are some costs associated with postponing, like reordering anything with the wedding date on it. They also ordered change-the-date" cards and new invitations.

Her bridal shower was supposed to be in March and the bachelorette party was scheduled for April. Those will both be rescheduled, too.

Ive waited this long. Im not in any rush to get married, Baldwin said. Were going to be together for a lifetime. Ive spent all this time making the tiniest decisions. I want to make sure that I get to have my big day. Now, I just have time to make it extra sparkly.

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Sara Figueroa, 23, and Dennis South, 36, both of Portage pose for engagement an photo. They had planned their wedding for May 16, 2020, but were forced to postpone due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. They are now planning a ceremony on April 24, 2021, but may legally marry before then.Larissa Catherine Photography

When coronavirus was detected in Michigan, Sara Figueroa assumed she would have to postpone her wedding to her fianc, Dennis South.

The Portage couple has been together for about four years. After meeting online and spending two years in a long-distance relationship, South proposed in April 2018 in front of family at their home. They planned to marry on May 16, 2020.

Figeroa, 23, works as an assembler at Stryker Medical while South, 36, is a store manager at Okun Brothers.

With about 50 guests, the couple planned to host their reception at a lodge at Bertha Brock Park in Ionia. But after the stay-home order went into effect, Figueroa knew it wasnt going to happen.

"Everyone was telling me to wait until it got closer, Figueroa said. In the best interest of everyone involved, I would just rather postpone for next year.

Knowing that a lot of couples would have to reschedule, she didnt want to lollygag and risk losing vendors. Fortunately, all her vendors were able to accommodate the new date: April 24, 2021.

I would rather have the wedding that I wanted, Figueroa said.

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How Michigan couples are getting married - or not - during the coronavirus pandemic -

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