Published in February 2018 by The Jordan IndependentDownload PDF
It was the weirdest Christmas party ever.
Jalise Lyons and Andrew McWilliams of Jordan arrived at his sister’s house exactly four minutes after the event’s announced start time, but it was already crammed full of friends and relatives.
Family members awkwardly barred the recently engaged couple from grabbing drinks or talking to anyone and forced them onto the couch, in front of an open laptop.
Then a stranger appeared on the screen — to say that they were going to be given a dream wedding.
Given. For free. At no cost. To thank them for their service as a Marine veteran and member of the Army Reserve.
Even though months have passed since then, Lyons and McWilliams still feel a bit dumbfounded when recalling that moment.
“It’s amazing. I’m so thankful that it’s happening. I just feel so blessed,” Lyons said.
Their love story began more than 1,200 miles away, in the parking lot of Pohanka Honda dealership in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Lyons was a receptionist, who had recently finished her training as a certified nursing assistant and was starting work at a nearby hospital.
McWilliams was a mechanic, fresh out of the Marine Corps after eight years and two deployments to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2012. He had enlisted as a 17-year-old and had barely taken a day of leave in his last six years of service.
“I came into the civilian world like a wrecking ball. I was not ready to get out of the military,” he said. “Everything was life and death to me. It’s all I knew.”
But then, he and Lyons bumped into each other and began talking. McWilliams simply referred to her as “Out of My League” when talking with friends. And then she asked him out on a date.
They’ve been together ever since.
Jalise “basically changed his life,” McWilliams’ sister, Ashley Adamek of Jordan said.
“She kind of lit a fire under him and it was like suddenly there was someone that he felt he could truly trust in and that loved him no matter what, which, I think, is the hope of everyone.”
When McWilliams got a job offer back home in Minnesota, Lyons moved with him.
It took the couple two days to make the trek, with stops in Ohio and Wisconsin. They lived in a hotel for a month while waiting for their rental house in downtown Jordan to open up.
Now, it’s home.
McWilliams works for Fleet Pride in Burnsville as a researcher — meaning he serves as a liaison for outside sales people and tracks down hard-to-find car parts.
Lyons, a CNA, works as an office manager at Abundant Life Chiropractic in Chanhassen, and also serves in the Army Reserve as a multimedia illustrator.
She enlisted in April 2017 and left for boot camp in South Carolina a couple of weeks later. After 10 weeks, she was sent to Maryland to learn graphic design and illustration.
Boot camp and training were hard. Not just because it was physically trying and the temperature often topped 100 degrees, with humidity, it was also the first time the couple was apart since they started dating.
But it also gave McWilliams a chance to begin planning his proposal.
McWilliams envisioned a romantic getaway to a cabin up north, an evening hike that would end at sunset, overlooking a beautiful vista, where he would propose. But it rained for two solid weeks.
Unexpectedly, a single day of perfect weather emerged in mid-October, and McWilliams jumped on the chance. He canceled his plans to drive Lyons out to Red Wing for an impromptu hike, hiding the ring box in the ankle of his sock.
But when the time came to actually ask the question, McWilliams found himself speechless.
“I couldn’t even use my words,” McWilliams said. “She just said yes. Then, tears.”
Wedding planning commenced. With a low-key budget in mind, they booked an event hall and tracked down a bakery while Lyons prepared her own save-the-dates.
“We figured, I’d put on a suit, she’d put on a dress and we’d go get married,” McWilliams said.
But then, McWilliam’s older sister, Ashley Adamek of Jordan, invited them over for a Christmas party.
The seemingly miraculous surprise evolved after Adamek — McWilliams’ older sister — began looking for free and discounted second-hand wedding décor online.
“They have both given so much. My brother has given so much of his life, his time, his health to his country,” Adamek said. “I firmly believe that we owe the most in this world to our military members. So I was just thinking, how can I make this happen for them? How can I make this a reality, without undue financial burden.”
One of her posts was seen by Ashley Charron, the Atlanta-based owner of Eventpod, a company that helps wedding vendors network and grow.
Charron had just launched a Minnesota branch to the business and figured she could help Adamek connect with vendors, but as she heard more about Lyons and McWilliam’s story, she decided to do more.
“Every time I talk about this story I get all choked up. It’s such a heart-pull for me,” Charron said. “It’s always been on my heart to give back [to veterans and their families]. They just do so much.”
She began finding vendors willing to donate their services. Within a couple weeks, Charron had vendors across the state willing to make Lyons and McWilliams dream wedding a reality — for free.
“I kept thinking, this must be a joke. This doesn’t happen to real people. You see this on a Lifetime movie, or Ellen Degeneres,” Adamek said.
Even though the wedding was slated for this May — five months is not a lot of time in the wedding planning world — everything began falling together as more and more vendors volunteered to help.
For Charron, the only difficulty — if it could be considered a difficulty — was simply working with a couple that was so humble, thankful and gracious, she said.
But, slowly, she was able to draw out a vision for the day: pale mauves and blush pinks, with splashes of wine red, the sweep of a violin, a wild bouquet for the bride and a dinner featuring one of McWilliams’ favorite foods, which also speaks to Lyons’ Southern roots: BBQ pulled pork.
Lyon’s gown was purchased with the help of a credit from The Wedding Shoppe in St. Paul, while Forget-Me-Not Heirlooms in Brooklyn Center is making her a custom veil. The bridesmaids’ champagne-colored dresses were donated by Weddington Way in Bloomington, the UPS Store in St. Louis Park is taking care of the invitations, and Stardust Bakery in St. Peter is making the cake.
Dolce Amor Music in Rochester will provide live music for the ceremony. Fly Away Creations in Eagan is contributing personalized hangers. Hart and Sole in Minneapolis is helping to plan and coordinate the event. Cottage Grove’s Cutting Garden in is donating its services, as well as all of the flowers and Blaine’s Dream Day Dressing Rooms is setting up a suite for Lyons and her bridesmaids to get ready in before the big day. A GoFundMe account was even set up to take care of any auxiliary expenses.
As if that wasn’t enough of a financial boon for the couple, the owners of the Historic John P. Furber Farm in Cottage Grove are not only opening it up for the couple’s celebration, but also helping with the catering.
“The owner is former Navy and I think our story speaks to them,” Lyons said.
She and McWilliams’ will be visiting the historic farm soon and were sent a proposed schedule for the day to look through beforehand. Just seeing it has made the dream seem more tangible.
Now, the only thing left to hope for is warm weather on May 5, McWilliams said.
“There are so many fine details that we never could have thought of,” Lyons said. “It’s just mind-blowing.”