Like many at the start of 2020, Madelon Kneece and Gaillard “Gilly” Dotterer were planning their wedding. The nuptials were set to occur in April at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Columbia with more than 400 family and friends witnessing their special day and enjoying a reception to follow at Forest Lake Club. The family worked closely with their wedding planner, Meagan Warren, to get all of these details in place.
Madelon and Gilly had been engaged for almost a year and a half. While still undergraduate students at the University of South Carolina, they were introduced at a party when Madelon’s roommate thought she should meet her cousin.
That first meeting was also memorable to Gilly. The spring of Madelon’s junior year in college, she received a text from a number she didn’t know. It was Gilly, asking her to attend a social function. She said yes and the two became fast friends. They officially began dating that fall, dating throughout graduate school — she in pharmacy school, he in law school. After graduating from law school, Gilly moved to Denmark, South Carolina, to clerk for a judge and was then offered a job in his hometown of Charleston. Madelon had moved to Greenville to begin a two-year pharmacy residency. Even though they had a long-distance relationship, both wanted to make it work. “We are both very goal-oriented and easygoing,” says Madelon. “We knew the steps we were taking were very good for our careers, but we also knew we wanted to be together.”
What she didn’t know was that Gilly was ready to make that promise of forever official. The Christmas season of 2018 was a busy one for Madelon, Gilly, and their families. They made plans to attend a party honoring his sister in Florence, followed by his family’s annual Christmas party at the Weston family’s farm the next day. Before heading to the farm, Madelon made a stop by her parents’ house. Nothing seemed amiss — her three brothers were helping in the yard, the refrigerator was stocked, and her mother was busy getting the house prepped for Christmas festivities and visitors. “When my mom knows people are coming over, she wants it to look like no one lives there,” says Madelon with a laugh. “Looking back on it, it wasn’t weird that the house was spotless and the refrigerator was stocked. What was weird, though, is that no one asked me to do anything! Usually one of my brothers is quick to point out if I am not helping.”
Gilly met Madelon to go to the party at the farm. While she was visiting with his relatives, Gilly repeatedly kept asking if she wanted to take Scout, her beloved dog, to look for quail. Eventually, Madelon said yes, and she, Gilly, and Scout drove out to a field at the farm. When they got out of the car, Gilly shared some heartfelt words with her, got down on one knee, and proposed with his great-grandmother’s beautiful, antique ring. The two were so elated, they forgot to say goodbye to everyone back at the farm and headed to Madelon’s to tell her family. Spoiler alert: they already knew, and the house was filled with family and close friends who had joined together to celebrate the happy news — the real reason for the stocked refrigerator, immaculate home, and generous brothers doing yardwork.
And so began the planning. The couple knew they had to be strategic with their timing. With Madelon being a resident and Gilly new to his law firm, it would be hard to take too much time off. They chose April 18, 2020, for their wedding date, not knowing that 2020 had many unwelcome surprises in store …
Working in health care — and at a health center — Madelon was very aware of the uncertainty COVID-19 was causing around the world. Her bachelorette party was the weekend of March 12, right when the country began to shut down. She and her friends traveled to Austin, Texas, and, focusing on enjoying their weekend, refrained from watching too much of the news. As they were getting ready to return to South Carolina, they realized how quickly things had changed and worried if they would be able to get home. “That’s when we realized that this was real!” says Madelon.
During this same time, Madelon’s grandfather was declining in health, unrelated to COVID-19. He passed away on March 24, adding to the growing stress the family was feeling.
Madelon and Gilly were keeping a close eye on the COVID situation. They didn’t want to push out the wedding date and weren’t sure if that was even going to be necessary. At this point, Madelon and Gilly had been engaged for nearly a year and a half.
“Working in health care and seeing how COVID was progressing, I didn’t want to wait,” says Madelon. “I felt like that day was the day we were supposed to get married. Gilly and I both felt that getting married was the most important part of all of this. Once we had that conversation, it changed our mindset. We knew we needed to cancel and make other plans, and our parents were very supportive.”
“We quickly alerted all of our guests and told them the wedding, as it was currently planned, was not going to happen,” says Bridget Kneece, Madelon’s mother. The couple still wanted to get married in the church and have a smaller group go to Madelon’s parents’ home after the ceremony, but they quickly learned that, too, was not going to be possible. Later, they planned for immediate family, then reduced that to parents only. Madelon and Gilly knew they couldn’t have a wedding without their siblings. At that point, they decided to move the wedding to the lake.
The Kneeces have a beautiful self-proclaimed “lake shack” on Lake Murray, and Madelon and Gilly decided to hold their ceremony there with immediate family in attendance. After that, everything fell into place … even if it was a little precarious leading up to the date.
“Up until three days before the wedding, we still weren’t sure if our minister would be able to perform the ceremony,” says Bridget. “We had already been through many renditions: marriage in the church with a small gathering, marriage in the church with 10 people, and now, no church and possibly no minister! Madelon’s uncle was on standby to perform the service as a notary. Fortunately for all, the Rev. Nicholas Beasley from Saint John’s was able to perform the ceremony.”
The gazebo on the water became the backdrop for the ceremony. A crisp, white carpet led to an archway of greenery adorned with twinkling lights. The dark and windy morning had turned beautiful, creating a setting that looked to be made for Madelon and Gilly’s day. “We didn’t realize until we saw the pictures that the shadows from the pillars of the gazebo had made a cross exactly where Madelon and Gilly were standing. We knew God had a hand in it all!” says Bridget.
The lake was also peppered with pontoon boats filled with friends and family who had joined to watch the ceremony. Lake neighbors sat on their docks, enabling them to stay socially distanced while also witnessing the ceremony in person. For the many who were unable to attend, Madelon created an extremely well-attended Facebook Live event. Facebook guests posted their well wishes and sent photos from their watch parties. “Our neighbors set up a big screen projector and gathered with lawn chairs to watch the livestream — just like an old-fashioned drive-in,” says Bridget with a laugh. This same group of friends had also delivered a gorgeous wreath and garland by Cricket Newman, which was hung on the lake house deck.
Jason Wright from the Blue Orchid drove out to the lake and styled the women’s hair on the driveway with an extension cord and folding table. If nothing, COVID has made people very resourceful. So much so that the family used a handy pair of scissors to cut the hems of the two attending bridesmaids’ dresses. (All of the tailors were shut down due to COVID.) Fortunately, Madelon was still able to get her elegant, custom-made dress from White on Daniel Island.
While the ceremony was small, it certainly wasn’t lacking. And no tradition went overlooked. The cake was cut by a ceremonial sword that had been awarded to an ancestor by Napoleon Bonaparte and has been in the family for generations. Forest Lake Club provided sumptuous food for the reception, complete with tenderloin, ham biscuits, and rosemary chicken on endive. Julianne Sojourner gathered any flowers she could locate for bouquets, boutonnieres, and arrangements. A lovely string quartet played in the background as the family celebrated the special day. Since the rehearsal dinner wasn’t able to happen, the family took the opportunity to toast the couple after they said their vows. Gilly’s sister, Rett, had created a video montage of the couple from childhood to present day. The bride’s cousin, Marion Williams, also put together a video with toasts from all the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Meagan Warren was there working her magic and making sure everything ran smoothly.
“It was such an emotional evening,” says Madelon. “If we had been able to hold the originally planned ceremony, it would have been special, but having such a small ceremony allowed us to spend so much time with our parents and our grandparents. It was such an intimate setting, and I wouldn’t change a thing.” The grandparents felt the same way. “Gilly’s grandfather said, ‘If this is your Plan B, it certainly beats any Plan A,’” says Bridget.
After the wedding, the couple was wished well with streamers, jumped into a limo, and headed down to Gilly’s family’s beach house in Pawley’s Island for the week where Gilly’s mother had stocked the home. The previously planned trip to Saint Lucia was canceled, but the island wasn’t missed. All the couple had hoped for was now reality and one that won’t soon be forgotten — a wedding that a pandemic tried to spoil, but in the end, like it always does, love wins.