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Warren

October 3, 2007

Wedding bells ring on Wilkerson playground

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — Little did Victoria Essenmacher and Steven Straub know, when they met each other as second-graders at Wilkerson Elementary, that they’d be exchanging wedding vows on the school playground decades later.

Straub and Esssenmacher, both 1985 Cousino High School graduates, tied the knot Sept. 22 in an outdoor ceremony near the swings on Wilkerson’s kindergarten playground, a spot that had become sacred to them over the years.

They began their friendship as youngsters, maintaining their closeness throughout their time at Carter Middle School, Cousino, and separate universities.

Regardless of their age or how much time had passed, they always seemed to return to the Wilkerson swings, said Essenmacher.

“The majority of our friendship would be taking walks and talking,” she recalled. “We would always end up at the playground and sit on the swings and philosophize about life. When we were in college … we would still take walks and meet there and share life stories.”

There was never a romantic inclination, said Straub. In fact, they often double dated with their significant others.

“I’ve met and known every boyfriend she’s had in her life; she’s met and known every girlfriend I’ve had in my life,” he said.

Seven or eight years ago, on what was meant to be a platonic trip to Florida, Essenmacher and Straub suddenly realized that their feelings had turned romantic.

“It seemed like we kept comparing all of our relationships to our relationship and our friendship and how solid it was,” said Essenmacher.

After becoming engaged, Straub and Essenmacher — now residents of Mount Clemens — decided to eschew the traditional church wedding and opted instead to take the plunge at the location that was most meaningful to them: Wilkerson’s swings.

When the idea of the playground came up, “we both immediately thought it was an awesome idea,” said Straub. “The whole idea was that this was going to be a non-traditional, fun event.”

Wilkerson Principal Keith Karpinski said he was impressed by the couple’s creativity when Straub called to ask permission to use the playground.

“I just thought it was great,” he said. “In today’s society, you don’t get very much out of the box like that. It’s one of those great stories.”

But what began as simply a unique backdrop for the ceremony quickly snowballed into a major production involving WCS students and staff members.

Jodi Samp, coordinator of community services and school relations for WCS, assumed the role of wedding planner on her own time, securing assistance from throughout the district to provide all of the details a wedding would usually have.

“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “Everybody just pulled right together and got it moving. It was pretty seamless, actually.”

The Cousino High School jazz band, under the direction of Jeffrey Cutter, performed musical selections, while Wilkerson art teacher Karyn Kechechian solicited the help of her first- through fifth-grade students to make heart chains for adorning the playground.

Gilka Paxton’s floral design class at the Career Prep Center created the event’s flower arrangements, and Michelle Nunez’s CPC graphic design students designed and printed the ceremony programs.

Mark Prentiss’ culinary arts students, also from the CPC, planned and prepared hors d’oeuvres, including fruit kabobs, grilled vegetable kabobs, bruschetta, cheese skewers and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Prentiss said the kids, who served up the hand-passed appetizers, were eager to be part of the event.

“They took it to the next level and just really went wild with it in a sense,” he said. “My students, they were so excited about doing it. They just had a great time.”

Samp said the collaboration between the various departments and schools gave students a chance to apply the skills they’ve learned in class while making the day memorable for Essenmacher and Straub.

“I wanted to take this, which would have just been a building rental, and make it an educational experience for the kids,” she said. “It’s certainly the first time the district’s been involved in anything like this. It was a great opportunity for the kids to showcase some of their talents.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.