Belleville bride and groom take their wedding to Grandma

News-DemocratSeptember 15, 2013 

Dale Wilke proposed to Tiffany Daves a year and a half ago, but never talked about a wedding.

"Now, he's gung-ho," said Tiffany, 24, of Belleville.

What changed?

"He didn't want to do it if his grandma couldn't be there," said the bride, days before their Sept. 8 marriage. "We have a little daughter. We were going to go to the courthouse. He said, 'I can't do it if Grandma can't be there.'"

Grandma Barb Riechoff, who has multiple sclerosis and other health issues, lives at Four Fountains Convalescent Center in Belleville.

Tiffany and Dale brought the wedding to her.

They planned to marry in the home's outdoor courtyard, but a steady Sunday morning rain forced them inside the solarium, a high-ceilinged room off the main entrance.

A red carpet was in place as Dale, a 2008 Belleville West graduate, got ready in the family's RV parked in front. The bride dressed around the corner and down the hall.

Family members tried to keep up with Dale and Tiffany's 2-year-old daughter, Emma, as she twirled around in a white flower girl dress and sparkly red shoes. Great-Aunt Ruth Anne Oplt charmed Emma with jelly beans, picking out the light colors in hopes her dress would stay white.

Despite the rain, Grandma Barb was all smiles.

"I love the idea," she said. "What's really good about it is Dale thought about this all by himself."

"No, Tiffy helped," said her husband Bill, standing alongside her wheelchair. "Barb's been out of the hospital a month now. Right now, she's doing rehab and is liking it. They get her up on the edge of the bed."

The wedding boosted her spirits.

"Before that, she didn't get up much at all," said Bill, who lives "right up the street." "Now, she's up two hours a day in her wheelchair. They're getting her back to health."

Grandma Barb learned she had multiple sclerosis when she was in her 20s. She's now 77.

"When they first diagnosed her, we went to some of meetings," said Bill. "We quit going. She was the healthiest one there. They tell you, you never know what's going to hit next."

Barb's MS symptoms appeared every 10 or 11 years. She'd have problems with equilibrium. Her vision would blur and she'd feel exhausted, then she'd bounce back.

Barb's daughters consider their mom's presence a blessing.

"We're so glad she's healthy enough to be here for this," said Tina Williams. "She gotten last rites twice."

"The nursing home here is great with Mom," said Debbie Wilke. "They treat her like a queen. Our family hauls in Crock-pots and we have Christmas here and Thanksgiving. We bring extra stuff for the staff."

Front desk nurses took turns buzzing in wedding guests. It was the first wedding there for floor nurse Kathy Husemann, a 5-year veteran.

Nurse Melody Marthalter has seen nursing home weddings before, but it's usually older folks.

"We've even had residents who met here come back and get married, which is pretty nice," she said.

Tiffany planned the small wedding.

"We invited maybe 15," she said. "I wouldn't want to bombard them."

"I just worked to pay for it," said Dale, an asphalt worker. "She pretty much did everything in a short amount of time. She even made her own cake."

The layered wedding cake looked like a tree stump with their initials in it.

"When we first started dating, he carved our initials in a tree," said Tiffany, a 2007 Collinsville High graduate. "Everyone warned me he's a crazy person, that he had a wild personality. He's a guy's guy. He likes fishing, hunting and cars, but he's like the boy version of me. We like the same stuff. He's really family-oriented. He has a really small family and they always include each other."

The groom's cake was a mud tire atop a sheet cake because Dale likes to go mudding. Grandpa Bill and Grandma Barb got their own cake.

"It was a personal cake with our initials," said Tiffany. "I knew they couldn't come to the reception."

Dale's first memory of Grandma?

"Music boxes. She's got a collection of them," he said. "We used to sit in her bedroom and turn them all on at once. It was just me and her. They were breakable."

"You were very careful," said Grandma Barb.

Tiffany, a stay-at-home mom, met Dale through friends 3 1/2 years ago.

"I liked that she was me in girl form," said Dale, waiting at the front of the room where retired judge and family friend Lloyd Cueto conducted the ceremony.

"I feel like I am forgetting something," said Dale, who was more nervous about rain dampening their Citizens Park reception than saying, "I do."

"Do you have the wedding license?" asked the judge. "Are you going to do something with the sand?"

Dale explained that he and Tiffany would pour sands into a container and mix them as a sign of their unity.

"When are you going to do that?" said the judge.

"I don't know," said Dale. "This is my first wedding."

"After your exchange rings, do that," said Judge Cueto, "and then come back and I will pronounce you man and wife."

The short ceremony was followed by family photos.

"I think it was a heart-warming deed ...," said Danny Ramsey, the bride's stepdad. "I am proud of them for it. This is something they can tell their kids down the road years from now."

As bride and groom headed into the nursing home hallways to greet residents, the bride's mom glanced outside.

"I think it stopped raining," she said.

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