DOWAGIAC — When Amy Simonson walks down the aisle Saturday to marry the love of her life, the crowd looking on won’t be the recognizable faces of loved ones.
“The switch from 50 to 12 was the hardest,” Simonson said. “If my uncle that I haven’t seen in six years isn’t there, that’s fine, but my grandma isn’t coming, and part of my bridesmaids. My best friends won’t be there.”
Over the last three weeks, Simonson of Niles and her finance, Dan Stuglik of Berrien Springs, have planned four different versions of their wedding day.
At one time they planned for about 150 guests. But as orders and recommendations from the CDC and Michigan’s governor were handed down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, that number dwindled quickly.
The only thing that didn’t change was that the ceremony would take place in the Old Rugged Cross Church in Pokagon, of which Stuglik sits on the board of directors.
“I was seeing creative ways to fill churches, like pastors that were preaching to pictures of their parishioners, and so I wanted to do something so she wouldn’t walk down the aisle to an empty church,” Stuglik said.
That’s where Menasha Packaging Co. in Coloma comes in.
Stuglik, a Coloma Township police officer, stopped by the factory one day to see about buying cardboard to make cardboard cutouts to fill the pews.
“When I explained why, it was neat to see their response,” he said. “They got a little emotional about what we were doing. They immediately got excited about going above and beyond what we expected.”
Ted Harris, customer service and design manager at Menasha, and Luke Arendash, director of sales and operations, said they just wanted to help out.
“It’s been a long time since I got married, but cutting corrugated cardboard the weekend before my wedding wasn’t high on my list,” Arendash said.
The packaging factory has the ability, on demand, to fashion any design it wants in small batch runs.
“(Stuglik) was just looking for a general person shape, but I was able to make it a little bit more realistic audience for them,” Harris said.
The more than 100 cutouts, that Menasha donated to the couple, run the gamut. There are tall ones, short ones, young and old ones, and cutouts with long hair, short hair or ponytails.
“It’s funny to think about a factory producing our wedding guests,” Stuglik said. “This is such a kind thing for them to do.”
Arendash said Menasha is always looking for ways to support the local community.
“Especially our law enforcement,” he said. “We were all in. We’re definitely in an unprecedented time, a trying time, and being able to provided just a little bit of joy to anybody feels good.”
Stuglik, who serves at the Coloma Community Schools resource officer, and Simonson, a seventh-grade English teacher at Berrien Springs Middle School, have had not only their wedding ceremony change over the last three weeks, but their honeymoon to Newport, R.I., was canceled and they had to move the reception to October.
“We’re both planners, so we pretty well had every detail worked out and set up before all of this happened,” Stuglik said.
“There were whiteboards and spreadsheets, all of that,” Simonson added.
They acknowledge that going from having all the centerpieces laid out on the dining room table to only sharing the day with their parents, their pastor, two groomsman and two bridesmaids has been a painful process.
“But I think we both have peace now, because it’s stripped down to what it should be, which is us and God, getting married,” Stuglik said.
“As people of faith, we have enough right now.”
The couple met while working together at Crystal Springs Camp near Dowagiac. They were friends for about five years before becoming more.
Simonson is in the process of moving to Berrien Springs to live with Stuglik. She said the stay-at-home order has given her more time to pack.
The couple will now honeymoon in Union Pier. They found an Airbnb home to rent because they still wanted to do a honeymoon right away.
“We have the rest of our lives to travel to other places,” Stuglik said.
They plan to visit Rhode Island in the future, as they still have flight credit.
Stuglik said he’ll forever be thankful to Menasha that they helped him do something special for his financee, so that her wedding can be that much more special.
“That was a painful part, that her wedding was being stripped away from her, but Menasha helped bring a little back,” he said.