One Family, Three Weddings: How the Chase Family Got Through Three Nuptials and a Pandemic
Planning a safe wedding during a pandemic is an accomplishment. But planning three of them? That’s a feat.
This story first appeared in the fall/winter 2021 issue of Columbus Weddings, which published in June 2021.
“Two hours before, we were like, ‘We can’t board this flight.’ They were making New York sound like it had a fungus growing wild. … So we canceled our plans,” Leslie Chase recalls. “We thought, OK, we’ll board a plane next week, everything will be fine.”
For the Chase family, that canceled flight in March 2020 marked the first in a series of wedding-related pivots. Over the last year, couples across the world have changed their dates, revamped guest lists and added hand sanitizer to goodie bags. But few can share the experience of watching the pandemic’s domino effect touch three sisters’ weddings in a 12-month span.
So while experts began urging people to pick up stress-relieving hobbies last spring—puzzles, bird-watching, breadmaking—Chase family matriarch Leslie instead helped orchestrate and anchor weddings for her three daughters, Aliza, Ellie and Julie. That’s an unusually stressful situation in a normal year, but never underestimate the resoluteness of a determined mother, even in a pandemic.
“Being able to manage a pandemic and weddings and working,”—Leslie is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at Hopewell Health Center in Athens—“she deserves a round of applause for that,” says the family’s wedding planner, Courtney Heibel of Rooted Together. At this point, Heibel says she teases Leslie that she has the experience and skill to switch professions entirely and work with her as a wedding planner.
While the Chase sisters’ weddings will always be about each couple, it’s hard to understate the roles Leslie and Heibel played in ensuring each daughter could wax poetic about her day without focusing on the pandemic. Each daughter and her partner instead thrills in the memories of their experience, rather than bemoaning what could have been.
The Initial Shake Ups
The flight that Leslie had to cancel would have transported Aliza’s engagement ring to her now-husband, Akiva Schick. And in the first of a series of thoughtful pivots, Akiva instead proposed to Aliza with a ring made of grass in a New York City park. While much of the country reflected on the anniversary of the official U.S. start of the pandemic in March, Aliza and Akiva have a happier memory.
But soon after their engagement—and after Leslie and others realized their plans wouldn’t be pushed back by a mere week or two—a tougher decision was made in the Chase family. It was decided that Ellie’s wedding to Justin Hod, planned for May 2020, would be rescheduled to Aug. 16 at Cherry Valley Hotel.
“That was probably the hardest part; the day passed that we were supposed to get married, and we weren’t married,” Ellie says.
And when it came time for Julie to celebrate her own milestone in June, Leslie was prepared to overcome any obstacle. Determined to see her third daughter’s engagement after having to miss Akiva’s proposal to Aliza and postpone Ellie’s wedding, Leslie and husband Dan traveled to Houston. Not only did the parents make it to the engagement, but they also managed to keep it a secret from Julie.
“After [the proposal], I heard my dad call my name and I got so confused, because I didn’t know,” Julie says. “They weren’t supposed to be in Texas.”
Leslie and Heibel talk about planning the three sisters’ weddings as though a pandemic were any other snafu to overcome at a wedding, like anticipating inclement weather or guests with dietary restrictions. In fact, some of the non-COVID bumps in the road became rather comical in comparison to the health precautions they knew they needed to take. In some ways, the gaffes that did occur pushed the unsettling reality of the pandemic even further to the background.
For example, rather than sending Ellie’s ketubah—a Jewish marriage contract—the printer instead delivered a poster for a hip-hop artist. And six weeks before Aliza’s wedding on Oct. 25, the family switched venues to Bryn Du Mansion in Granville after the owner of their original location pleaded guilty for tax evasion. (Read more about that in our Central Ohio Wedding News story.)
“We actually didn’t see our wedding venue until the Friday before the wedding,” Aliza says, a lilt in her voice where others would display stress. “My parents had to pick it out. It ended up being beautiful and absolutely perfect.”
By early 2021, Ellie, Aliza and their spouses were speaking adoringly about their weddings—and Julie and fiancé Yari Garner with excited anticipation about their nuptials on May 30 at Hilton Columbus Downtown—and largely only mention the pandemic in terms of how intimately aware they were of how their friends and family chose to celebrate them.
Each couple had to cut hundreds from their original guest lists, and even some of those who were included in the final headcounts had to decline or take extra precautions because of their attendance. Both couples who wed in 2020 live out of state, and some of their guests had to miss the event or quarantine afterward because Ohio landed on other states’ high-risk travel lists.
But those who did attend could be certain that a great many precautions were made to keep them safe. Both weddings featured signs that clearly stated safety measures, and guests only sat at tables with people in their quarantine bubbles. Everyone had to wear a mask, unless they were eating or drinking, and markings on the floor helped to indicate appropriate distancing. Food was plated and covered before serving, and dessert was packed up in to-go containers.
This wasn’t to say the weddings were all rules and no fun. “We have some Jewish dancing we do where you get around in the circle, the woman and the man, and you hold hands and dance,” Leslie says. “We weren’t sure how we were going to do that, so we went to Lowe’s and we bought a rope that was 100 feet, and we tied a knot every 11 feet so that people can hold a knot and be socially distanced from one another and dance and still have some of the traditions.”
Nothing was left to chance, not with Leslie and Heibel at the helm, and each wedding received unique treatment for the couple and the situation at hand. The families contend the engagements and weddings were just as special as if they’d happened in any other year—perhaps even more so, bringing joy to in-person and virtual attendees in an otherwise challenging year.
“I wasn’t really focused on what could have been,” Ellie says. “How can we make this still feel special? And that’s how we were all thinking, which is why it worked so well. How can we make this not feel different. We want it to still feel like a special day.”