Bridge collapse survivor getting a free wedding
By DEBRA O’CONNOR | Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL, Minn.—Who will help Mercedes Gorden? Fortunately, a lot of people will.
Gorden, who was injured in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, has endured a year of surgeries and therapy to help repair her injured legs. When she walks down the aisle Saturday with her fiance, Jake Rudh, she’ll enjoy a lavish wedding that’s almost entirely free—thanks to the generous help of more than a dozen wedding vendors from around the Twin Cities.
Two former wedding planners have marshaled a force of vendors to throw Gorden and Rudh a pro bono wedding worth about $60,000. The donated goods include the ceremony site, decorations, the reception, invitations, flowers, wedding clothes, the cake, the photographer and a limousine, along with the ‘extreme wow’ suite at the swank W Hotel in Minneapolis.
In addition, the couple are perfecting their rumba with free dance lessons from an instructor who saw on the news that Gorden loves to dance. Gorden’s dermatologist is performing free laser treatments to reduce scarring caused by the eight surgeries on her legs, which were crushed in the bridge collapse.
The whole wedding will be a gift from others, aside from the music (Rudh, a professional deejay, is hiring musicians) and the wedding dress. (Gorden had bought one before the bridge collapse. The couple have been engaged since 2005.)
Gorden, 32, and Rudh, 34, first met Bruce Vassar and Matthew Trettel, owners of the Twin City Bridal Association, two years ago after a charity event. They didn’t meet again until last November, when Gorden, using a wheelchair, was reintroduced to Vassar at another charity event.
“I shared my story … what had happened with the bridge and that we were still planning to get married,” she said.
A week later, she got a vague e-mail from Vassar saying he and Trettel would like to help with the wedding.
When the four of them met, Gorden said, “He said, ‘Your wedding will be taken care of.’ ”
Said Vassar: “We’ve been fortunate. We’ve been very successful. It just seemed like it was the right thing to do.”
When talking about the extravagant wedding gifts they will receive from perfect strangers, the couple uses phrases like “hugely thrilled,” “pulled out all the stops” and “exceeding our expectations.”
Last week, the couple visited the Times Bar and Cafe in northeast Minneapolis to taste the food that will be served at the reception downstairs at Jitters Cafe and Martini Bar. Gorden, who only recently returned to work part time, was exhausted. She propped up her legs on a chair.
Owner Dan Lessard brought out plate after plate of starters. Gorden nibbled away, and by the time Lessard brought out the buffet items—chicken provencal and walleye with all the fixings—she was relaxed and laughing.
For the reception, Lessard is closing the bar and buying food and drink for 120 guests.
“It’s nothing fancy, but it’s fun,” Lessard said. The cost? “I have no clue. In my brain, I didn’t put a pencil to it.”
And then there’s the cake. Gorden assured Jessica Bartl of Jessica’s Cakes in West St. Paul that a sheet cake would be fine. Bartl disagreed. She is donating a $1,200, five-tier cake.
“They’re a lovely couple,” Bartl said. “I don’t have the ability to write big, huge checks to charity. So I donate where I can, when I can. I have had times in my life when people have helped me. When you can do it, why not?”
Saturday’s joyous occasion also will acknowledge the sadness of the bridge collapse.
Guests attending the sunset ceremony at the Walker Art Center will assemble a floral wreath with 13 votive candles representing the 13 people on the bridge who died. On the way to the reception, the couple will go to the riverside, set the wreath in the water and let the current carry it down the Mississippi River.
Because Rudh has been Gorden’s support for the past 15 months—sleeping in her hospital room, putting work on hold to care for her, being a constant source of encouragement—he will walk Gorden down the aisle. A crew from the Discovery Channel will film the event for an episode of one of its bridal programs to run during the holiday season.
The couple said they are filled with gratitude toward the wedding-related businesses—and beyond. Over the past 15 months, they said, their loved ones, neighbors and colleagues have been a constant source of aid. They’ve brought over lasagna, built a wheelchair ramp and run countless errands.
They all are willing to help Mercedes Gorden.