Kesteloot wedding: Love conquers all

AUSTIN KESTELOOT (left) and his wife Elizabeth encountered a series of challenges at they prepared for their wedding and yet consider the occasion to have been perfect.

The Beatles had it right if the wedding of Madison High School ag teacher, Austin Kesteloot, is any indication -- all you need is love, love is all you need.

He and his bride Elizabeth, known to friends as Ellie, encountered a pandemic, surgery and a storm in the days, weeks and hours leading up to their wedding at Camp Lakodia on June 6. Yet, when they look back on the solemn occasion, they consider themselves blessed.

"It was perfect," Austin reported.

"We are definitely happy we were able to celebrate with close family," Elizabeth concurred, describing the wedding and reception as intimate.

For many, the events leading up to their wedding would have constituted a nightmare. Engaged since January 2019, they had planned to marry at St. John Lutheran Church in Madison with a reception at Camp Lakodia. Their guest list included around 250 people.

"Then COVID happened," Elizabeth said. "It never, ever crossed my mind we would have to change the plans until about a month before the wedding."

When Camp Lakodia, following guidelines provided by the state Department of Health and the CDC, limited the number of people who could attend an event to 10, the Kesteloots found themselves forced to do exactly that, though. Rather than reschedule, they decided to have a private ceremony in Marshall, Minn., with immediate family only.

"For us, it was more about being married than about a party with a group of people." Elizabeth said.

They planned to marry in Minnesota because both are from Marshall, though they didn't meet until after Austin had graduated. He and Elizabeth had friends in common and they met at a bonfire.

However, shortly before the wedding, plans changed again. Camp Lakodia indicated 65 people could attend a wedding ceremony and reception.

"We ended up planning the wedding in about three weeks," Elizabeth said. "Everyone was good about understanding the situation."

They were supported in their last-minute planning by friends. The florist was Elizabeth's best friend from high school.

"She works for a florist up in Fargo," Elizabeth said. "She was able to wholesale the flowers at the last minute."

The florist was also able to incorporate peonies, some of which came from Elizabeth's grandmother, into the arrangements with garden roses, baby's breath and lots of greenery.

The caterer was a family friend who had grown up with Elizabeth's dad and uncle. The cake came from the Farm House Bakery in Balaton, Minn., which is owned by another family friend.

"Austin's mom actually made all the sheet cakes herself with the help of another friend," Elizabeth said.

The videographer, SOUP Media of Sioux Falls, was one of Austin's friends from college.

Elizabeth's hair stylist, Alli Flood of Roots Hair Studio, was able to work her in even though she had canceled when their original plans had changed.

Attire for the event wasn't an issue, either, because planning for the wedding had occurred prior to the pandemic. The six bridesmaids had ordered and picked up their dresses before the initial cancellation. The groomsmen, too, had paid for their tuxes.

"We felt bad that they had spent the money and weren't able to participate on the day of the wedding, and had talked about having a reception at a later date when they could wear the dresses," Elizabeth said.

As plans came together for a scaled-down event, the unexpected once again reared its head.

Five days before the wedding, Austin called Elizabeth and told her he wasn't feeling well. Initially, he wasn't going to see a doctor, but he ended up going to the emergency room later in the day.

"They said he needed to have his appendix out," Elizabeth recalled.

He had emergency surgery at 6 p.m. and was released by 10 p.m. the same night with orders to take it easy. Austin and Elizabeth learned from the surgeon that Austin had the largest appendix stone the doctor had ever seen. The surgeon was surprised Austin's appendix hadn't burst.

Finally, after the mad scramble to put together the wedding and reception in a matter of weeks, and Austin's emergency surgery, their wedding day dawned. While it was breezy, the sunshine and moderate temperature made it ideal for an outdoor wedding -- right up to the time the ceremony was to start.

"Right before the ceremony started, it started to sprinkle," Elizabeth said.

They delayed the start time twice and then decided to move the wedding indoors. Their guests, most of whom were family members, picked up the chairs, carried them inside, and helped to rearrange the dining hall to accommodate the improvised seating area.

"We were hiding in the closet so the guests couldn't see us," Elizabeth said.

Finally, more than an hour after the scheduled start time, the pastor who would marry them -- who had been Elizabeth's neighbor when she was growing up and who also knew Austin -- joined them. As the storm raged outside, they took a final moment to collect themselves for the ceremony.

"The pastor came into the closet and we all prayed together," Elizabeth said.

Although the number of guests on site was limited, the Kesteloots were able to share their wedding with a wider audience by creating a Facebook event to which they invited about 500 people. Among those watching from home were their great-grandparents.

"We had someone who was at the wedding record the whole thing with their phone," Elizabeth said. The speeches at the reception and their first dance were also recorded.

The final glitch in their plans also resulted from the COVID pandemic. They were not able to go to Mexico as planned for their honeymoon. Instead they went to the Black Hills, stayed in a cabin and spent time horseback riding and hiking -- which was Austin's version of taking it easy following surgery.

"I've never been one to take it easy," he admitted, adding that he did follow instructions not to lift 20 pounds or more.

As they enter married life together, having overcome one challenge after another, they have learned that together they can face any obstacle that life may throw at them. One way they do this is by focusing on the positive, which is evident in the way they speak about their wedding.

"It was nice to have it feel like a true wedding instead of having a private ceremony," Elizabeth said. "We were able to get everything that we wanted."