Penn State weddings growing in popularity among settled alumni

For the CDTMay 24, 2014 

“I do”: These two simple words represent a complex love story.

The short phrase solidifies commitment between a bride and groom, unites two families, closes one chapter and opens a new one. For many couples who get married in State College, the first chapter of their story begins — and ends — at Penn State.

“This is where they met,” said Dena Gazza, wedding coordinator for the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center. “That’s always their story.”

Of the approximate 50 weddings held at Pasquerilla in the past year, all but two had a tie to the school, she said.

At the Arboretum at Penn State, 75 percent of the couples who are married there are alumni of the university, according to Kathleen Reeder, the venue’s event and marketing coordinator. But in the past few years, Penn State graduates have taken a hiatus from Happy Valley before tying the knot.

Gazza, who has been working for the spiritual center since 2007, said she has noticed a decrease in nupitals of those who recently graduated.

“When I first started — in the first three years — everybody was young. They were 21, 22, 23,” she said. “And now it’s the opposite spectrum.”

Reeder said most couples she works with meet at Penn State and return to marry in their late 20s. Gazza and Reeder’s observations follow the national trend.

According to a 2013 report, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” in 1970, more than 60 percent of women age 20 to 24 and 90 percent of women age 25 to 29 were married. In 2010, those numbers had declined to 20 percent and 50 percent. The same study found that the percentage of single, college-educated women age 25 to 29 rose from 46 percent in 1970 to 55 percent in 2010.

“I think it has to do with the economy and people wanting to get established,” Gazza said. “It’s so hard for students to get jobs, first of all, so I think it has taken them longer to find a job, probably one that’s paying enough.”

Joy Killian, catering manager for the Nittany Lion Inn, The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel and other university venues, said that when she began her job in 2005, things were a bit different.

“I had a Monday wedding, where the graduation was on the weekend, and since the family was all here and they knew they were going to get married, they got married that Monday,” she said.

Mike Scott, a sophomore engineering student who is in the Army ROTC program, is an exception to the statistics. Although his love story is not a Penn State one, he and his fiancée, Rachelle, are defying the norm by marrying in Grant, Mich., on May 31.

“We tried thinking of reasons not to, and the only thing we could think of is financial stability,” Scott said.

According to Scott, the ROTC program guarantees him employment after graduation. His fiancée, who is from Michigan, plans to move to State College and find work in the medical field while he finishes school.

“The Lord has very much directed us in the decision,” said Scott, who added that his Christian faith aided in the decision. “It’s an intense transition.”

Those who hold receptions at The Penn Stater and the Nittany Lion Inn tend to follow the trend of establishing themselves financially before marriage.

“Most of my clients are highly educated and obviously finish their educational careers,” said Killian, who added that most couples she works with are in their late 20s or early 30s.

“What I find is that they tend to be really sure,” she said. “I’m surprised by how long they’ve been together. Five, six, seven, eight years.”

No matter the trends or statistics, though, on-campus locations continue to be popular for alumni returning to say their vows.

“They’re really die-hard, Penn State, loyal, loyal fans,” Gazza said.

Ashley Averbach, a 2011 Penn State graduate, returned to Penn State on May 17 to marry her fiancé, Mike Tymoc, in the Eisenhower Chapel. Although he is a Michigan State graduate, the two met at a dinner composed of Penn Staters and became engaged on the Old Main lawn.

To honor Averbach’s alma mater, the bridal party wore navy dresses. At the Nittany Lion Inn reception, the couple served Peachy Paterno ice cream from the Creamery.

While Gazza said that not all weddings at the spiritual center sport Penn State themes, she recalled a festive blue-and-white wedding featuring the Blue Band and the Nittany Lion. The couple wore football jerseys, and the bride wore a veil embroidered with lion paws.

Gazza also acknowledged a competing venue.

“We’ve lost some weddings now because a lot of students want to have outside weddings,” she said. “You can’t blame them.”

The arboretum hosted 29 outdoor weddings during the 2013 summer season, according to Reeder.

“It’s a win-win all the way around,” she said. “It’s great for the arboretum because the revenue from the rentals goes into the gardens, and it’s great for the alumni who bring their families here for the wedding because they get to see and discover this new and wonderful place.”

In 2012, approximately 5,600 people visited the arboretum for weddings, she said. Demand for a wedding at the arboretum is so high that Reeder said she suggests couples book two years in advance to get the summer day they want. She also offers rentals for couples who do not have their ceremony in the arboretum but would like to use the space for photographs.

“We found out the first year and a half that the gardens were too popular,” Reeder said. “You couldn’t turn left or right without a whole wedding party and photographers and tripods.”

According to Reeder, many choose the arboretum because it has the best of both worlds: Penn State and the outdoors. She admitted that when the arboretum opened in 2009, she never conceived of it as a wedding venue.

“People tend to celebrate the gardens and not so much Penn State,” she said. “In other words, I thought there would be more blue-and-white weddings. I’ve only had a couple.”

For receptions, popular venues include the Nittany Lion Inn and The Penn Stater, which are booked most weekends from February through December, according to Killian, the catering manager.

Other, unique options include Beaver Stadium and Pegula Ice Arena. At Beaver Stadium, couples can pay to have the lights and scoreboard turned on, although no one is allowed on the field, Killian said. Receptions are held in either the Mount Nittany Club or the President’s Lounge in the stadium.

The ice arena has not yet had any wedding receptions because of its unusual configuration, Killian said. Although receptions would be held on the club level, the space requires that couples rent the entire rink for the day.

Killian said she likes to keep in contact with her brides and grooms by making them a Penn State baby blanket when they have their first child.

“The good thing about my job is that it’s a little contagious, because happy people make other happy people,” Killian said. “I find it very charming and endearing.”

Raychel Shipley is a Penn State journalism student.

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