Impromptu wedding at Willmar hospital ensures mother shares in celebration

WILLMAR -- Thirteen months shy of her August 2011 wedding date, Kierre Nelson had an impressive handle on her wedding preparation: venue was booked, bridesmaids' dresses were ordered, and centerpieces had been pre-assembled with the help of Nelso...

WILLMAR -- Thirteen months shy of her August 2011 wedding date, Kierre Nelson had an impressive handle on her wedding preparation: venue was booked, bridesmaids' dresses were ordered, and centerpieces had been pre-assembled with the help of Nelson's mother, Patricia.

A phone call to Nelson in Madison, Wis., from her father back home in Willmar brought all wedding plans to a temporary halt Friday: Patricia's health was deteriorating rapidly. Patricia has been undergoing treatment for uterine cancer since May 2008.

Nelson and her fiancé Jonathan Hedberg made the quick decision to head home to Willmar, but not without packing Kierre's wedding dress, their wedding bands and Hedberg's nicest suit into the car. The couple knew they needed to be prepared to hold an impromptu ceremony in the event that Patricia's condition did not improve.

Seeing Patricia's condition when they arrived Saturday at Rice Memorial Hospital confirmed for the couple that they had made the right choice.

"Our plans to have a small ceremony didn't solidify until we saw just how sick she was," Kierre Nelson said.


She asked her mother if she wanted the couple to have a wedding, and Patricia Nelson agreed.

Originally, the Nelson family hoped a small ceremony could be held at John and Patricia Nelson's home, but Patricia's condition would not allow for her to go home: The ceremony would need to take place at the hospital.

Kierre Nelson and her family on Sunday presented to chief nursing officer Wendy Ulferts the idea of holding a small ceremony at the hospital.

Twenty-four hours later, hospital staff ranging from security guards to catering services had pooled together resources to transform Rice Memorial Hospital's Garden Court into a ceremony and reception site.

According to Nelson, the hospital staff's message to the family was clear: Let us handle the details from here; you have enough going on.

Staff went to work cleaning the space, rearranging furniture, setting out chairs for the ceremony's 30 guests and creating an altar space near the room's waterfall.

Catering services provided table linens, silverware and cake plates while staff nutritionists firmed up details to serve coffee and ice water.

Administration even went as far as to bend the hospital's no alcohol policy to allow for a champagne toast to be served following the ceremony.


"We pulled out all the stops for ambiance," said Joyce Elkjer, director of human resources at the hospital and family friend of the Nelsons.

"Everyone on staff was thinking of ways they could help," Elkjer said. "We wanted to make this happen."

With hospital staff handling logistics, Nelson and her family were able to focus on calling friends and family to invite them to the ceremony. Despite the short notice, three of Nelson's four bridesmaids were able to be in attendance, including Nelson's maid of honor, who flew in from Dallas, Texas.

Other local businesses helped Nelson meet her tight deadline. Schwegman's Cleaners of Willmar had Nelson's dress steamed within a matter of hours while Crown Floral pulled together a bridal bouquet of pink and white roses with flowers they had on hand in the shop.

By 7 p.m. Monday, 30 guests watched as Nelson walked down the aisle. She was escorted by her father, John, who was pushing Patricia in a wheelchair, while Nelson held her hand. The event was officiated by Mary Hovland, pastor of Vinje Lutheran Church. Norma Watson, a close family friend, serenaded guests on her harpsichord with two of Patricia's favorite songs: "Que Sera Sera" and "Edelweiss." Nelson's maid of honor read excerpts from one of Patricia's favorite books.

With the exception of hospital staff who viewed the ceremony from the balcony above, the ceremony was uninterrupted by others in the hospital thanks to hospital security who rerouted traffic around the typically busy Garden Court.

Following the ceremony, guests enjoyed a champagne toast, angel food cake -- Nelson's favorite -- brought in by Nelson's grandmother, and cheese and crackers brought in by extended family. The entire event from start to finish lasted nearly three hours.

"For those three hours we were able to forget," said John Nelson. "We were truly in the presence of God."


In some ways, the hospital setting was appropriate for Kierre Nelson, who graduated in May from the University of Minnesota Medical School and just started her first year of residency in psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin.

Nelson and Hedberg still plan to go ahead with their August 2011 wedding in Minneapolis. Nelson said her mother wants everything to go on exactly as planned.

"This wedding doesn't need to be topped," Nelson said. "The next party will be a continuation of this one."

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