Durham frontline workers win free dream wedding from Orange County farm

ABC11 Together highlights the strength of the human spirit, good deeds, community needs, and how our viewers can help
ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Cates Farm, a wedding venue in rural Orange County, teamed up with vendors to offer a free wedding to two frontline workers from the Triangle.

In October, during a tour of the farm, bride-to-be Jennifer McClay told owner John Cates about her plans to resurrect her wedding, which was originally scheduled for May.

"John says, 'Hey, what do you do for a living?'", said McClay, "And I said, 'I work in the emergency room and Steve's a paramedic.' He's like, 'No way. Okay, so we're doing a contest.'"

In January 2020, McClay found her dress at a Raleigh shop for her May wedding.

"They said, "Listen, there's something occurring in China. We don't know what's happening. But the dress is going to be shipped from there and it's going to be late. And there's no way possible that we're going to get it for May,'" McClay said.

Little did McClay or her fiancé Steve Gustafson know that the "something occurring in China" would have a huge impact on their lives.

By late April, their wedding venue was shuttered. They couldn't even get in touch with some of the vendors and ended up losing thousands in deposits.

Gustafson recalled feeling helpless. "There was nothing I could do about it," he said. "There's no sense in getting angry over something I can't do. I can't control it. I just was worried about her because she was upset and depressed."

RELATED: Wedding planner fights for racial equity in North Carolina's 'divided' industry

By then, Gustafson was working crazy shifts on the front line with other firefighters and paramedics.

McClay and her colleagues at Duke Hospital were right there on the front lines too.

One of those colleagues, Hannah Bentley, was with McClay on the October tour of Cates Farm.

After Bentley heard John Cates mention the contest--a free wedding for frontline workers--she went into full-bulldog mode.

"Hannah on the way home was like, 'We've got this. I'm starting this tonight, Jennifer. You have to know that this is for you. This going to be your one good thing out of 2020,'" McClay said.

Bentley's letter wowed all the vendors, and Gustafson and McClay's interview with Cates and his wife sealed the deal when Cates' wife ended up in tears.

"To hear Steve, honestly, talk about how much he loves her and how much she puts herself on the line every day," Jennifer Cates said. "And to hear her talk about how hard Steve works, then it was, 'Okay, that's easy!'"

So on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a caterer, an adult beverage truck, flowers, golf carts, rental tables and chairs, a make-up artist, a photographer, a D.J., and a live band, will all show up at Cates Farm.

And McClay and Gustafson will have a dream wedding better than the one they had originally planned--at no cost to the Durham couple.

RELATED: COVID-19 nurse marries in emotional hospital ceremony

Gustafson is grateful to say the least.

"Everybody's taken a hard hit this last year, the last couple months, six months. For them to come out and do that is, it's beyond words," he said.

McClay had a similar reaction.

"For them to step up and give their talent and time and product for free is wonderful because they're rehabilitating just like we are," she said before adding, "So I'm humbled."
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.