Wedding planning isn't just for the young-it's also for the young-at-heart.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
His point, of course, is that age isn't a barrier to anything, including-apparently-marriage, according to research done by Marilyn Coleman and Lawrence Ganong of the University of Missouri. Coleman and Ganong found that across the country, about half a million people age 65 and older remarry each year.
So, once they take the leap and decide to say "I do," then what? They face the same questions younger couples do in planning their weddings. How big is the budget? Who will make the guest list? What will we serve? What shall the bride wear? But they also face questions younger couples don't: What is appropriate at our age? There is an easy answer to that, according to wedding consultant Bobbie Izeman.
"There are no rules," she says. "Everyone does what they want."
Jude Mollenhauer and Rich Duesterhaus, who are now 74 and 75, reconnected at their 50th high-school reunion.
The pair, who began their love affair with a simple request for a dance at the class reunion, married four years later in September 2011.
Mollenhauer and Duesterhaus were not looking for romance. After graduating from Notre Dame High School in Quincy, Illinois, both married other people. Duesterhaus was happily married for 46 years before his wife passed away in 2007, a little more than a year before their class reunion. Mollenhauer was married for 20 years and had been divorced for 28 years. Both attended the event to reconnect with old friends.
"Neither one of us was looking for the other," Duesterhaus says. "We just were both there and things just evolved."
As a matter of fact, while the two knew each other in high school, they never dated and didn't run in the same circles, Mollenhauer says. He was the "high-school king," notes Mollenhauer, who serves as the harpist in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. "He knew everyone." Mollenhauer, meanwhile, had a close clique of friends and was wrapped up in her world of music.
When Duesterhaus turned to her at the reunion and asked her to dance, though, Mollenhauer said, "Oh, I'd love to," she recalls. "He was really 'Mr. Popularity.' Everyone knew him." Just once dance, she thought, and that would be lovely. But one dance turned into two, then three, then another. At one point, they looked around and realized "we were the only ones out their dancing," Mollenhauer says. "Everyone was watching us."
At the end of the evening, Mollenhauer was happy, but wasn't sure anything more would happen. After all, she had a busy career with the symphony, and he was still living and working full time in northern Virginia. But within a few days, the two began emailing and then began a long-distance relationship.
"It kind of evolved over the next couple of years," Duesterhaus says. After meeting one another's children and getting their support, the couple decided to make it permanent.
Their September wedding day was perfect for the pair: Duesterhaus' son, a Catholic priest, was the celebrant at the ceremony, which took place in Virginia and was followed by a dinner for about 50 family members. At their age, they agreed, they had gathered so many professional friends and colleagues that inviting them all would be impossible.
"We also didn't want to impose on anyone," says Duesterhaus, who adds the couple returned to their 55th high-school reunion in late 2014 as a married couple. To this day, they maintain their two homes, staying in Virginia during the week when he works and traveling back to Columbus on the weekends when she performs.
For Izeman, owner of Bobbie Izeman Consulting, their wedding-planning choices made perfect sense.
"It's like two families are marrying, not just a bride and groom," she says.
Whether large or small, senior weddings are very special, says Jenny James, catering sales manager for Cameron Mitchell Premier Events. James worked a wedding in June 2014 where the bride, in her 50s, and the groom, in his mid-70s, planned an event for about 75 guests at their home. While a guest list of 75 might be considered small by some standards, the event was an elegant affair planned on the couple's Delaware County property. A third marriage for both, the couple wanted to keep the celebration intimate while catering to their guests, James says.
As guests pulled into the property, valets parked their cars and used golf carts to transport guests so no one had to walk far.
"They started with the cocktail reception out around the pond," James says. Then, guests were ushered back to dinner tables in a courtyard area, where local vocalist Dwight Lenox-who also performed at the wedding ceremony-sang throughout the evening.
"As soon as they said, 'I do,' the salad service began," James says. "They had a dual entree dinner, a beautiful cake and lots of cookies their friends made. They gave their guests one premade box of cookies as they got into their golf cart to go back to their cars."
Like James, Izeman has seen both lavish and simple second marriages, as well as some very interesting ones. She recalls one couple who met online after both of their spouses passed away. The groom lived in Ohio; the bride lived in Oregon.
"By the time they actually met face-to-face," she says, "they were already planning the wedding." Eighteen years later, the couple is still together.
When it comes down to it, Izeman adds, planning a wedding in your golden years isn't that much different than planning one in your 20s or 30s.
"They need to decide what type of wedding they want to have," she says. "Then after they decide that, they have to decide how they want to spend their money."
In many cases, it doesn't take long for older couples to plan such events. The Ohio-Oregon couple went straight to see Izeman from the airport. In other cases, the bride and groom realize how precious time is.
"We're too old to play games," Mollenhauer says.