Love in Alaska

By Amy Nicole Tangel

2020 has brought disappointment for many couples who were set to wed this year, and many weddings have been postponed until 2021, or placed on hold, leaving brides with their dream wedding’s every detail planned and wondering when that day will now come.

It was a moment-to-remember birthday proposal for Jennifer Sottile, when her Fiancé, Luke Bell asked her to marry him in a picture perfect camping trip under the Alaskan sky.  Jennifer said he took her to a place in Alaska where she always wanted to camp and on the night of the proposal the sunset was incredible the first night they were there, so Luke decided to propose a night earlier than planned on the eve of her birthday.  For Jennifer, she said it was a perfect, thoughtful and beautiful moment and she couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else outside of Alaska.

“Sunsets in Alaska are very late that time of year (July), very intense and long.  He waited for me to set-up my camera on the tripod to take a picture of us in front of the sunset-reflected-lake that we were camping on, and when the shutter went off he got down on one knee and I got a picture of him proposing,” she said.

For the 37-year-old Bride-to-Be, the minute she said yes to marriage she began planning her dream wedding.  The couple met 3 years ago, in Fairbanks, at the bar where Jennifer was working.  She was his bartender and after some time getting to know each other, Luke asked Jennifer to go kayaking with him.  Since then, they have spent the past few years growing together in love and living off the land; taking in every natural beauty Alaska has to offer.  Camping with their dog Endi, kayaking, hiking and fishing are foundations in their lives.  Having lived in Alaska for the last 9 years, Jennifer said when she and Luke became engaged, they both knew Alaska was where they wanted to continue to build their life together. 

In February of 2019, Jennifer said she found out by chance of a contest being held for the show, Say Yes to the Dress America, after she submitted an email to Kleinfeld Bridal Shop in NYC to see if she could make an appointment last minute to try on dresses during her upcoming trip to the East Coast with Luke to visit their families.  She received an email back from Kleinfeld’s saying unfortunately, they had no appointments available, but there was a new spin-off show called, Say Yes to the Dress America taking submissions for brides to appear on the show and get their dream dress at Kleinfeld’s.  She said she was a long-time fan of the show and always wanted to shop at Kleinfeld’s, so she gave it a shot.

Jennifer entered the contest with a video submission showing her and Luke’s story as a couple and their love for Alaska and in May of 2019, they found out they won a spot and in July they were on their way.  Jennifer and Luke were flown by the show to NYC for an all-expenses paid trip and put-up at a hotel in the city.  When the day of dress shopping came, Jennifer said the brides were set-free in Kleinfeld’s to shop open-heartedly with no price tags and pick out the dress of their dreams.  Jennifer chose a Stella York dress and after she shopped her mother googled an approximate value of, $3,000.

“It was so much fun to not have to worry about the price; To just look through dresses and pick the one I wanted,” she said.

Out of all of the brides cast for Say Yes to the Dress America, Jennifer said only 10 brides were chosen to be featured in episodes and received a more private shopping experience and surprise visit at home from fashion designer and television host, Randy Fenoli.  Jennifer said it was not until months later after filming that her and Luke found out they would be appearing only in the season finale, which aired, March 14, 2020.  Jennifer said even though their story wasn’t featured, she was still grateful for her dream dress and the experience.

They had a September 2020 wedding date planned and it was to be a destination wedding for family and friends to come celebrate.  Jennifer was born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., and Luke grew-up in Marianna, P.A., a small coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh.  This meant for their family and friends a not so quick trip around the block to attend her wedding, so when the Coronavirus hit, she and Luke had a painstaking decision to make.  With the RSVP date set for this past May 1st, they decided to wait until that day to make a decision.  Jennifer said when May hit, her and Luke realized the virus wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  They worried about people they loved being out of work, not being able to travel, and they didn’t want to add any additional stress to people who already had a diminished budget.

“It was a hard decision to make and there were many tears shed over it,” she said.

The option to still have the wedding this upcoming September was not one Jennifer and Luke wanted to take.  She said she didn’t want to settle for a quarantine wedding and a lot of brides from the show who she has spoken to have also postponed as well.  Jennifer said it wasn’t worth it for her to not have everyone she loved there on her most special day and she is holding onto hope that her wedding day, whenever the day comes, will still be everything she has dreamed of.

As of now, Jennifer and Luke have not made any plans to reschedule yet with so many uncertainties out there, and they have decided to wait to set a new date.  The idea of beginning to plan the wedding all over again is something Jennifer said she is not ready to deal with yet.  The venue cancellation was a difficult process for Jennifer as she personally worked hard to pay-in-full, before the wedding day and faced obstacles in receiving her money back, and now she said she is emotionally overwhelmed at this point.

In spite of the roadblocks that have been placed before her, Jennifer has been trying to stay hopeful and keeping in touch with fellow brides from the show through Facebook; offering a sense of support and comfort in their shared postponements.  Jennifer is working through her feelings of putting so much work into planning something like a wedding, with every last detail planned, and being left with unknowns.

“No one deserves this for their special day,” she said.

While the actual day Jennifer and Luke say, “I do” is yet to be determined, it has not stopped their love for one another and their love for living life in Alaska.  Just this past weekend, Jennifer, Luke and Endi spent their usual picturesque weekend camping, kayaking and smiling about all the beauty life has to offer.

See the video submission Jennifer created for her Say Yes to the Dress America entry sharing her and Luke’s love story here:

*Photos and video courtesy of Jennifer Sottile

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