Planning for a happily ever after: A chic Alaska barn wedding

Chandeliers with candles and flowers brightened the barn's pavilion where guests retired after the outdoor ceremony. Revelers sipped Moscow Mules and Kentucky Mules, the copper mugs given as parting gifts along with custom-designed cigar matchbooks.

Welcome to the wedding of Dr. Shannon Gulley and Corey Swisher.

The event was held on a crisp fall day at the Gloryview Farm in Wasilla, a gorgeous rustic barn reminiscent of the early 20th century, with farm tables, antique trunks, wine barrels and old books. A touch of the modern—contemporary lights, marquee letters and white organza sheers draped from the ceilings—transformed the setting from inviting to elegant.

"Bringing the outdoors in is very Alaskan," said Rebecca Kopperud, owner and chief designer of La Boum Events.

As a wedding planner who is first on the scene and the last to leave, Kopperud worked with the couple for over a year to plan a memorable day. Their number one priority was to make it a stress-free occasion, where friends and family from out of state could have fun and relax.

"I had ideas but Rebecca took what I thought I wanted and then, as we went along and adjusted and changed, the end product was way better than I could have done on my own," Gulley said.

That included a "mash-tini" bar—martini glasses filled with mashed potatoes and toppings—tasty finger foods served in waves throughout the day, shucked oysters on demand, a dessert buffet, hot cocoa and s'mores around the fire pit and a bourbon and cigar bar that was a big hit with guests.


Knot-typing in the Last Frontier

The wedding industry is booming in Alaska, according to Kopperud. "Despite those cheeseball reality shows that may mischaracterize the state, people want to have an experience here," she said. She noted that some clients have had 200+ people on their guest lists where not one attendee was actually from the area. They come for the event and stay for the lifelong trip they always wanted. Gulley's dad, for one, was excited to catch a fish during one such excursion.

Consultations at La Boum often begin with a love story. For Gulley and Swisher, theirs began in Montana when they were introduced at a friend's party; he was in school for engineering, she was in the process of moving to Kentucky. They maintained a long-distance relationship for almost three years before moving back to Alaska and eventually settling in Palmer.

Swisher, a true Alaska guy according to his wife, is not into fanfare. Gulley balked at the stuffiness of a traditional wedding. The couple wanted something simple and rustic, but not "too country." And it couldn't be held in the summer because Swisher's friends are busy Fairbanks firefighters. Nor could the date interrupt hunting season. Fall was Gulley's favorite, with its colors and crisp mornings, and their October date worked out just right.

The bride's aunt performed the ceremony and the first dance was to "Fishin' in the Dark" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. "Not a typical love song but it suits us: funny, being under the stars, wasn't too serious. We are not super serious people," Gulley said.

As Swisher is of German descent and Gulley is Irish, they performed two rites to honor ancestry: together they sawed a log in front of guests, representing the "first trial as a married couple" and they completed a Gaelic knot to bond their families together.

There in spirit

"Weddings are key to a family unit. Well, weddings and funerals. But weddings are something they will talk about for the rest of their lives, good or bad," said Kopperud. "It's nostalgia, stories to pass down to children and grandchildren. It's celebrating something really substantial, a lifelong commitment to someone."

Sometimes, loved ones who have passed are not physically present but may be there in spirit.

The week before the wedding, for example, while cleaning out his fiancée's truck, Swisher came across a ring hidden in the seat cushions. The ring belonged to Gulley's sister, Erin, who had died in a car accident. "I can't really explain why it turned up all of a sudden," said the bride, noting the ring had been lost for years. "It was her way to tell me she was there."

The bride wore it on a necklace on her wedding day.

Although the morning started out somewhat cold and wet, Gulley had a sense of calmness, because her wedding planner had instilled tons of confidence that it would all be fine. As it turned out, the rain stopped as if on cue, in time for family portraits. And guests were full, happy and entertained by evening's end.

"I can't think of a thing I would have done differently," Gulley said. "It was better than anticipated, and really nice to have our families get to enjoy it. Alaska is such a beautiful, magical place, there's nowhere else like it."

Stephanie Prokop is a freelance journalist specializing in business and technology. Part-time traveler, full-time bookworm, she resides in Anchorage with her husband.

This article appeared in the February 2016 issue of 61°North, a publication of ADN's special content department. Contact 61°North editor Jamie Gonzales at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com.