A happy ending

Cory Watkins and Andrea Walkonen wed on New Year’s Eve at Elm City Church. But first, they had to get through their rehearsal dinner.

In a wedding couple’s literal hour of need, a Keene restaurant stepped up to the challenge and provided a last-minute venue for their rehearsal dinner.

When Cory Watkins and Andrea Walkonen were planning their proverbial perfect day for New Year’s Eve, they couldn’t have forecast the snow and ice storm that shuttered some restaurants the night before, including the one slated to host their rehearsal dinner. But Albie Powers — the couple’s friend, officiant and pastor at Elm City Church — assured them he’d find a solution.

“I was walking down Main Street, and I saw this side room in Luca’s [Mediterranean Cafe] was open, and this was after 6,” Powers said.

So he approached the owner, Luca Paris, and explained the couple’s predicament: 30-plus guests for a rehearsal dinner at 7 p.m. Powers said Paris didn’t hesitate.

“If you think about what my job is,” the restaurateur said, “it’s only about making people happy.”

Paris rallied his staff and called in an employee who had just gone home. In less than an hour, the room was arranged with extra tables and chairs to accommodate the guests, and Paris had printed custom menus with the couple’s names.

“The little things that don’t take a lot of time are what I hope make memories that last forever,” he said.

Powers said nothing about that evening felt like it was thrown together at the last minute: “Everyone was thrilled, and it definitely saved the day when it came to the rehearsal.”

The Watkinses agreed the dinner turned out far better than they could have imagined. By pure coincidence, Paris included on the menu balsamic salmon, the couple’s favorite dish. Paris called it evidence the evening was destined to be as it was.

Andrea and Cory met online eight months ago and said they “knew within four days” that they would get hitched. Cory lived in Oklahoma, though, so their long-distance relationship involved plenty of travel between the two states. He moved to Keene to live with Andrea in late October, and they married New Year’s Eve at Elm City Church.

They’re grateful to the community in Keene, with places like Luca’s and friends like Powers, who they credit for handling the rehearsal-dinner scramble with ease.

“When [Powers] said he had it taken care of, the both of us had no doubt,” Andrea said.

Paris lauded the pastor, too, for going above and beyond to find a solution for the couple. Likening them to a sports team, he also thanked his staff for stepping up to make the evening special without questioning or balking at the difficulty of the task.

“It goes to show you what this town feels like,” Paris said. “It was like one of those perfect holiday stories.”

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at shubbard@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @SierraHubbardKS.