When Jillian’s meticulously planned wedding to Josh was almost derailed by natural disaster, they withstood a crash course in priorities.
It’s one of a wedding planner’s biggest fears — an uninvited guest disrupting what’s supposed to be a couple’s special day.
But what if the rabble-rouser is Mother Nature?
“Our biggest surprise was Hurricane Harvey — the ultimate wedding crasher,” says Jillian Johnson Owens, looking back on the tropical storm that swept through her Houston neighborhood a week before her nuptials.
The Mansfield native married longtime beau Josh Owens in Fort Worth, but the devastating hurricane — and the flood that followed — still caused plenty of pre-altar jitters.
As forecasters painted a dire picture of the impending gale, Jillian’s mom, Elizabeth, pleaded with her daughter to leave Houston earlier than planned.
“She called and said a lot of work went into the wedding and to please get Josh and come home now,” the bride says remembering her mother’s insistence.
Jillian quickly packed bags but her soon-to-be husband stayed behind to safeguard the house they had just purchased and remodeled.
“He was concerned about leaving the house and being gone for three weeks with everything that was happening,” she explains. “So once the hurricane came through, and then the 800-year-flood, he got stuck in Houston and couldn’t get out.”
The Owenses’ home was spared damage, but many others were not as lucky.
“We had three genuine offers from family and friends to send in a helicopter for Josh,” says Jillian, who can now see some humor in the predicament. “At one point, I thought I’d be getting married over Skype.”
Eventually, the groom and one of his grooms-men mapped a route out of the flooded area and arrived in Mansfield a few days before the event. Jillian Johnson’s Sept. 2, 2017, wedding to longtime beau Josh Owens proceeded without a hitch.
Following Josh’s Feb. 19, 2016, proposal in a Houston restaurant and a surprise engagement party hosted by friends, Jillian, her mother, Elizabeth Johnson, and wedding coordinator, Lucia Bitnar, began working on the details for a classic, elegant and timeless wedding. They settled on a historic Fort Worth landmark-turned-reception venue to help create the authentic Old World charm of yesteryear.
“The bride wanted a lot of windows, and the T&P Station is a beautiful building often overlooked,” says Bitnar, owner of Foster Blue & Co. “It’s a gorgeous art deco building with many fine architectural details.”
Fifty years from now, the Grand Prairie-based wedding coordinator would like the couple to look at their wedding photos and still say, “It was so elegant.”
“We created something that was a little gilded, but not too gilded. Even the chairs selected had an art deco feel that went along with the building,” Bitnar explains. “It was classic. We wanted something timeless.”
The bride’s penchant for clean, well-designed fashion with simple lines is a lifelong passion and she wanted her wedding day to reflect that style.
“I wanted something I could be proud of for the rest of my life,” Jillian says thoughtfully. “For me, the day turned out exactly as I envisioned it.”
To ensure a more intimate gathering, the couple chose to exchange vows inside the striking Marty Leonard Chapel. Caesar Rentie, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Mansfield, officiated at the early evening ceremony. White lilies and cascading white orchids graced the altar but other decor was kept to a minimum.
“The Marty Leonard Chapel is stunning as it is. We just wanted the beauty of the architecture to shine through,” explains Bitnar, adding that white flowers and the bride’s smile were the only extras needed to brighten the space. “I loved the simpleness of it.”
Escorted down the chapel’s wide brick aisle, by her father, Johnny, the bride wore a sleeveless satin ballgown by Mori Lee. The A-line design had a beaded belt, long train with buttons and crystal-beaded sheer back. Shimmering rhinestones edged her waist-length veil.
She carried a hand-tied, all-white bouquet of garden roses, ranunculus, freesia and Star of Bethlehem arranged with her great-grandmother’s ring nestled inside. Jillian wore another grandmother’s ring to the rehearsal dinner. Rose cut diamond studs, altered with an earring jacket designed by the bride’s mother, completed the bride’s jewelry ensemble.
For her six bridesmaids, the University of Oklahoma graduate selected a glamorous silhouette reminiscent of the Roaring ‘20s. The floor-length, gold sequin gowns featured different necklines. They carried smaller white bouquets.
Young cousins of the bride, wearing princess-style white dresses with gold embroidery, generated sighs from the congregation as they carried a wedding garland into the sanctuary.
The groom, and other male members of the wedding party, sported a very classic, James Bond look with black — no vest — tuxedos.
After the ceremony, guests at the T&P Station enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail hour in an area separated from the ballroom by a pipe-and-drape system. Bitnar designed the space where guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
“One of the beautiful jewels at the T&P is the gorgeous black marble countertop that was used for ticket sales back in the day,” the wedding planner says, referring to the building former life as a passenger railway station. “I just thought that would make an amazing bar with rented bar stools.”
Cordoned off with curtains, the design feature allowed the newlyweds to privately view the dining room and black and white dance floor before their guests.
“Sometimes the bride and grooms don’t get to see how the reception room looks untouched,” Bitnar explains. “It’s something they’ve dreamed about so I want them to have that moment.”
Once the curtains were opened, guests had their own “wow” moment. Arrangements of all-white roses, hydrangeas, ranunculus, freesia and other white blooms served as centerpieces and popped against the black table linens. Justine’s Flowers crafted a three-dimensional effect using low, medium and tall vases. Touches of gold, accenting the glassware and plates, added shimmer to the place settings.
“I think it transported guests into another place and time they don’t see anymore,” the event planner suggests.
Seated inside the reception area, guests dined on a plated meal of prime rib, chicken, vegetables and potatoes gratin. Sliced wedding cake was served for dessert.
The soaring, seven-layer, almond-flavored cake, made by Crème de la Crème, was filled with blackberry curd and covered in white butter cream icing. Gold ribbons circled each layer with white and gold ruffles decorating the bottom layer. A gold silhouette of the couple’s name topped the cake.
“Atlas Shrugged,” a book by Ayn Rand, inspired the three-layer chocolate truffle groom’s cake. A salted caramel filling enhanced the chocolate flavor.
Friends and family were also treated to a glamorous Champagne tower, made with retro rounded glasses, and filled with bottles of the bubbly by the couple.
“Pouring that much Champagne over a tower of glasses was nerve-wracking,” admits the bride, who decided to add the Great Gatsby-era party idea after seeing it posted on Pinterest.
Before leaving for a honeymoon in Mexico’s Riveria Maya, the newlyweds enjoyed a final dance alone in the ballroom as family and friends gathered outside. The new Mr. and Mrs. Owens emerged from the reception and walked down a pathway illuminated with helium-filled LED balloons. A balloon launch sent the glow-in-the-dark inflat-ables into the Fort Worth skyline.
“The balloons lit up the night sky. It was a fun touch but we didn’t get to see much of it,” Jillian says. “It’s one of the drawbacks of being the bride. You sometimes don’t get to take in some of the special moments.”
While other brides might fret about an unexpected rain shower or music mix-up at their wedding, the 27-year-old, blue-eyed blonde says the natural disaster, affecting so many Texans, put things in perspective.
“Some bride’s worry about everything being perfect. For me, ‘perfect’ meant having my groom there,” she reasons. “The rest of it was icing on the cake.”
Joan Kurkowski-Gillen is a freelance writer and frequent wedding-story contributor who lives in Saginaw.