Natalie Rosenkranz and Austin Derks
Natalie Rosenkranz and Austin Derks plan to be married in Wisconsin Dells in August after putting their wedding on hold last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s actually happening, and it feels really good,” Derks said. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Many wedding venue operators say calendars are booked full this year as the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

As cases of COVID-19 increased last summer, then surged again in November to all but wipe out 2020 wedding plans for countless couples, Heidi Keys wondered whether weddings would happen at all this year. 

Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic prompted many couples to pause their marriage plans, Keys hosted only about a dozen events at The Barn at Mirror Lake wedding and event venue in Mondovi she owns with her husband Ron.  

“I was worried for a bit there might not be any weddings or events this year, period,” Keys said during a recent weekday morning outside her business’ distinctive red barn on Mondovi’s north side. “When there was that big spike in cases last fall and winter, you didn’t know what to expect.”

Thankfully, new cases of the virus are down significantly as a growing number of people have been vaccinated against it. Keys said her wedding schedule for this year is jam-packed as couples whose weddings were delayed by the pandemic last year are looking to tie the knot. This year, the site is scheduled to host about 35 events. 

“We’re as busy as we can be this year, something going on all the time,” she said. “All of these couples had to put their plans on hold last year. Now they’re more than ready to get married.”

Other wedding site owners across Wisconsin report having busy calendars as well. Pent-up demand after a year in which many couples delayed weddings because of the pandemic, combined with the fact that many venues are scheduled out more than a year in advance, has led to a jam-packed wedding lineup for most. 

Owners report that some couples whose weddings were delayed are having difficulty finding sites to be married. Keys is among wedding operators who said they have had to turn away people seeking to be married this year because the schedule is already full. 

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To accommodate the scheduling overflow, couples who normally reserve wedding sites for Friday nights and weekends are now holding rehearsal dinners and weddings on the same day. In other cases, they’re getting married on days other than Saturdays to squeeze in their wedding. 

While she married many couples last year despite the pandemic, the Rev. Ronnie Roll, an interfaith minister who lives near New Auburn and operates the couples coaching business Hearts Unlimited, said this year’s wedding schedule is especially busy. As evidence, over Memorial Day weekend Roll officiated three separate weddings and rehearsals. 

“With the [COVID-19] vaccines and case numbers down, we’re seeing more people feel comfortable coming out to weddings again,” Roll said. 

Many couples told UpNorthNews they are eager to get married this year after long waits. For some couples, engagements of two years or more were stretched a year or more further after the pandemic put off their plans. 

After delaying their wedding for a year, Tom Koehler and Karen Drydyk eagerly anticipate their July 10 marriage in Eau Claire. They delayed their original wedding date of July 11, 2020, because of fears of COVID-19 exposure. 

At first the couple figured the virus might run its course before their wedding, allowing the event to occur. But as cases became increasingly prevalent, they realized they would have to delay their marriage day. 

“Initially we were optimistic things would be fine by July,” Koehler said. “But by the beginning of May we started to see the writing on the wall, and we decided to put on the brakes.”

Instead of spending last year’s intended wedding day getting married, the couple held a humorous ceremony in their backyard intended to take the sting out of delaying an occasion they had hoped to share with family and friends. After a year unlike any other because of the pandemic, their wedding day next month will have extra significance, they said. 

Last year the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of weddings and other events at The Barn At Mirror Lake, but this year that number is up significantly, said Heidi Keys, who owns the venue on Mondovi’s north side with her husband Ron. “All of these couples had to put their plans on hold last year. Now they’re more than ready to get married,” she said. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

“It really is something very joyful to look forward to at the end of this very difficult year,” Drydyk said. 

After seven years as a couple and a two-year engagement, Natalie Rosenkranz and Austin Derks hoped to be married last August. However, fears about the coronavirus prompted them to cancel their big day and delay it until this year. 

When the couple, who live in Eau Claire, are wed in Wisconsin Dells on Aug. 7, the moment will mean even more because of the challenges of the past year, they said. 

“I feel like it’s a long time coming, like it’s surreal,” Derks said. “It’s actually happening, and it feels really good.” 

Extra Planning Required

In addition to delaying couples’ big day, the pandemic has impacted weddings in other ways, couples planning to be wed said. Whether or not people are willing to be vaccinated against the virus is prompting concerns on the part of some about their wedding becoming a virus superspreader event.

Wedding venue owners and couples said they’re taking extra precautions, such as inviting fewer guests and providing extra spacing and hand sanitizer to try to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19. Some are requesting that people who have not been vaccinated wear facemasks in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   

In some cases, couples said, disputes regarding vaccinations have led to uncomfortable squabbles. Some wedding guests have refused to attend if not everyone is vaccinated, couples report, while in other cases those who haven’t been vaccinated chafe at being told they must wear masks at weddings. 

Some couples declined to be interviewed for this story because they are attempting to keep their big day secret from family members they know haven’t been vaccinated. 

“We just don’t want to cause any more fights,” one bride-to-be told UpNorthNews. 

Koehler and Drydyk said they’re limiting their wedding in Eau Claire to about 120 guests in an effort to allow for spacing to reduce the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak. They will ask people who have not been vaccinated to wear masks and will have hand sanitizer on hand. 

“This isn’t something we ever envisioned dealing with,” Koehler said of worrying about preventing the spread of the contagious, potentially deadly virus at their wedding. “But this is the world right now.”

Rosenkranz and Derks worry about the possible spread of the virus at their wedding and are taking precautions, such as an outdoor site and extra spacing, to prevent transmission, they said. They realize some people may feel uncomfortable attending a wedding even with those protective measures as COVID-19 remains active, but they hope most people they invited will show up as virus cases remain low. 

“We still have our concerns,” Rosenkranz said. “We don’t want our wedding to be an event where the virus spreads. So we’re doing what we can to prevent that from happening and hoping for the best.”