By Alexis Blair
Hitched, a Baltimore Bride Blog
September 11, 2013
On the 12th anniversary of September 11, 2001, Americans throughout the country remember the day, each in their own way. It is a day that stirs emotions, whether reverence, pride or sadness. One golf club has chosen to celebrate today with an expression of love, giving one couple the dream wedding they never had.
The Love & Liberty Wedding Giveaway, created by Musket Ridge golf course in Frederick, gives a complimentary wedding to a deserving couple connected to the armed forces or first responders. This year, Hillary and Ben Courter were selected to exchange vows at the renowned golf club tonight in front of their family and friends.
On September 12, 2009, the high school sweethearts from Clear Lake, in Western Maryland, were engaged on the evening before Ben’s first deployment. A United States Marine, Ben was stationed at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California, far from his bride-to-be. Hillary and Ben shared a long-distance romance, and she eagerly began planning her dream wedding for May of 2011. The details were set, the dresses were ordered: her gown by Madeline Gardner and dresses for seven bridesmaids, two junior bridesmaids, two flower girls, and her mother, Michelle.
But on New Year’s Day in 2011, plans changed. “He called me in January and said his orders had changed,” recalls Hillary. Ben would be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming months, unsure of the exact date. Knowing that he could leave any day, Hillary and Ben canceled their May wedding, and instead pulled together a small, impromptu ceremony with the help of Hillary’s mother. The couple, who ran track together throughout high school, tied the knot on February 19th, 2011, just six weeks after Ben received his orders. The dresses had not arrived. Instead, Hillary quickly found a $99 dress on sale at David’s Bridal.
The couple, now residing in California, has been happily married for two and half years. However, Hillary’s gown, along with the other dresses, hang in her mother’s closet in Maryland, untouched and unworn. Her mother has kept all the garments in hopes that the couple may one day have the wedding they had so excitedly planned. It was that closet which prompted Michelle to nominate her daughter and son-in-law for the Musket Ridge wedding giveaway.
“The visual of those dresses is what really stood out amidst other great nominees. To hear that these two wanted a wedding, had planned a wedding, but in the end, postponed their celebration, truly left a lump in our throats,” says Damon Devito, managing director of Affinity Management which operates Musket Ridge.
Hillary and Ben will be the third couple to receive a wedding from Musket Ridge, which began the giveaway in 2011. The golf club coincidentally opened September 2001. As the tenth anniversary of the club approached, so did the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. “Being in the DC area, you always have a heightened appreciation for those who serve, and you also are more likely to know people who were affected by 9/11,” says Devito. “We were struggling with what we could do. The sacrifice that the military and first responders make is so great, how can we thank them? I don’t think they are looking for thanks, but they certainly appreciate it.”
The staff at Affinity Management and Musket Ridge decided to give back by throwing a wedding. “There have been moving stories each year of sacrifices people have made, but yet the attitude is so positive,” notes Devito. “It’s so easy to want to do something special for these couples.” As part of the giveaway, Musket Ridge donates the ceremony, catering, and venue for as many as 150 guests. Hillary and Ben will celebrate with 110 of their family and friends, many traveling from throughout the country to finally celebrate with the happy couple.
No matter the day of the week, the weddings are celebrated on 9/11 each year. “Most people are very conscious of it. They don’t want to have a party on 9/11, but still want to respect it,” notes Devito. “But when we interact with first responders and active personnel, they are much more insistent they don’t want to concede the day to terrorists. They say it with a certain pride, confidence, and honor that they defend the country, and part of defending the country is defending our right to this day.”
When Musket Ridge announced the first giveaway, many additional vendors came forward to generously donate their time and services, touched by the celebration of love and respect on such a day. Aaren King and the team at MADE Makeup Trinity Salon and Spa will provide hair and makeup for Hillary and her bridal party. Officiant Norman Ross is performing the ceremony, and Bruce Pike of Dynomite DJs is providing music for the reception. “There are no sponsors, but the staff loves doing it, and I know the couple appreciates it,” says Devito. “It’s a small token of appreciation, but I think we all feel very good doing this for them.”
The weddings are, naturally, different every year. The bride and groom have the ability to design their own wedding with the help of Musket Ridge staff, ensuring that it has the personal feel that they desire. “It’s really up to them,” says Devito. “We want them to feel like VIPs.”
Hillary and Ben could not be happier to finally celebrate their marriage they way they originally planned. The couple flew back to their hometown on Monday to make final preparations for the celebration. Hillary’s mother, Michelle, has gladly helped to plan most of the details in Maryland for her daughter and son-in-law, proud to see them get the wedding they deserve. “I’m most excited just to have the big wedding that every girl dreams about, just that big wedding feeling, you know?” says Hillary. “And to wear my dress!”