When Eleanor Kibler and Rob Nielsen married on Sept. 21, 2013, their wedding more than united the couple: it brought two entire families together. “From the moment Bud and I met Rob’s parents, we felt like friends,” says Beth, Eleanor’s mother. Kate Nielsen agrees. “We’ve felt blessed ever since we met Beth and Bud. What a wonderful family for Rob to have joined.” The families have become so close that after the wedding reception they converged at the Kiblers’ home until the wee hours. “We just didn’t want the night to end,” says Beth.
Although Eleanor and Rob shared many of the same friends during college at Sewanee and had met casually during their freshman year, it was actually Eleanor’s twin brother, Thomas, who first got the couple together. “Thomas got to know Rob at the beginning of our junior year and then re-introduced us,” says Eleanor. “We were inseparable after that.”
It was at a dinner at Garibaldi’s in the fall of 2011 that Rob first brought up marriage, but he was sly about it. “We were celebrating our third anniversary together and he said, ‘One day I’m going to marry you,’” recalls Eleanor. “After I got over the shock, I asked him about a billion questions about how and when it might happen but he just smiled and said, ‘You’ll never know.’”
He was right. Fourteen months later, Rob announced to Eleanor that he was going on an overnight hunting trip with a friend. In reality, he was headed to Columbia to ask the Kiblers for permission to marry their daughter. Thrilled, they asked Rob when he planned to propose. When Rob replied that he was going to wait until he had a ring, Beth and Bud suggested another option. “Eleanor can always tell when we’re hiding something, and I knew she’d figure something out if Rob didn’t propose sooner,” explains Beth. “Bud’s solution was to give Rob a gigantic diamond ring ornament that we’ve hung on our Christmas tree for years. It turned out to be a great idea.”
On the way back to Birmingham, Rob decided he would propose that very night at a family dinner his parents were hosting. After he’d called his parents to let them know, the Nielsens immediately called the Kiblers. “They told us to get in the car and get ourselves to Birmingham because Rob was going to propose that night,” says Beth. “Eleanor was home alone, so she called me several times, but I just couldn’t talk with her. I knew I’d give something away.”
When Rob returned to Birmingham, his first stop was Eleanor’s apartment, where she was getting ready for the dinner. “The next thing I knew, my dog Groucho came running with my parents’ giant engagement ring Christmas ornament attached to his collar,” says Eleanor. “I was so confused, but when I turned around to ask Rob about it, he was in the room and asked me to marry him. I was totally surprised.” The surprise continued when the couple arrived at the Nielsen’s home for dinner. “Bud and I were hiding in the next room, and all we could hear was Eleanor complaining that she’d just gotten engaged and that no one in her family would call her back,” says Beth. “That’s when we walked in.”
When the couple decided to marry 10 months after the proposal, Beth, who did all of the planning herself, had her work cut out for her. Her first job was booking Trinity Cathedral followed by working on the guest list which she and Bud decided to split equally between the two families. “Our decision meant we couldn’t invite everyone from Columbia that we would have liked to, but it was more important to us to include the friends and family who would be part of Eleanor and Rob’s new life in Birmingham,” explains Beth. Next, after booking Trinity Cathedral for the ceremony and Forest Lake Club for the reception, Beth called Sean Potter at Southern Valet to provide transportation between the hotel and various wedding events. “I knew our out-of-town guests would be able to enjoy themselves more if they didn’t have to worry about driving in an unfamiliar city,” she explains.
With those details nailed down, Beth next turned to the invitations, but that turned out to be easier than she’d thought since Eleanor wanted to use the exact same invitation, including the font, that her parents had used. So that Eleanor and Rob could taste potential wedding cakes, Beth held tastings every time the couple visited Columbia. “Those are some of my best memories,” says Eleanor. “We’d drink champagne and taste cake together. It was really fun.”
Some brides can’t wait to visit bridal salons and try on different dress styles, but not Eleanor, who had always admired the photographs of her mother and grandmother in the dress they’d both worn in their weddings. “One weekend when Eleanor was visiting we pulled it out of the box,” recalls Beth. “It was all wrinkled, and I told Eleanor that there was no pressure to wear it, but she told me that she really wanted to. I was thrilled!”
Unfortunately, the gown didn’t quite fit Eleanor. Not knowing what to do, Beth mentioned the dilemma to Kate Nielsen during one of their many pre-wedding phone conversations. It turned out that Kate’s family knew a seamstress in Birmingham, Charlesie Hand, who specialized in tailoring vintage wedding gowns to fit their new owners. She was so talented that she had redone a gown in Kate’s family 11 times. A few weeks later, Kate took Beth and Eleanor to meet with the seamstress and find out whether the dress could be altered. “She was a saint,” says Beth. “Over the next few months she actually took the gown completely apart and remade it piece by piece to fit Eleanor. Eleanor, Kate and I would meet there every few months for fittings — it was such a special time.” The finished gown, perfectly cut satin with a stunning neckline and flowing skirt, was a perfect fit. The seamstress also made Eleanor’s elegant cathedral-train veil completely by hand, matching the vintage lace perfectly. “I was so happy to be able to wear it, especially since my grandmother’s wedding was on the same day 45 years ago,” says Eleanor. “That made it even more special.”
To make room for the food tables, large dance floor and bar at the wedding reception, the Kiblers realized they’d be short on space to put tables and chairs for friends and family who preferred to sit. Instead of cramming everything into the main dining room, they decided to set up the tables in the nearby Lakeview Room. The problem was the Lakeview Room’s location at the end of a dark hallway lined with doors. Beth wanted to cover them, but needed to use something that was lightweight and could be put up and removed quickly. Working with designer Ruthie Lacey, Beth decided that a decorative shower curtain would be perfect. Ruthie agreed, but didn’t tell Beth about the surprise she had planned: large canvas panels stretched over wooden frames, painted with simple landscapes and hung along the hall. Ruthie took the idea to Edward Wimberly, a talented local artist who is a friend of both women. Edward liked the concept, but took it one step further and painted scenes from the Kibler’s home onto the panels. “On one side of the hallway you looked into a room, on the other, you looked out ‘windows’ into Beth and Bud’s courtyard. They were stunning,” says Ruthie. Beth was delighted…and completely overwhelmed by the surprise. Today, one of the panels hangs in the living room of Eleanor and Rob’s Birmingham home.
On the eve of her wedding to Robert Jemison, Jr. in 1901, Rob’s great-great grandmother, Virginia Walker, received a beautifully engraved silver loving cup from her brothers. As she and her fiancé shared sips from the cup, she had no idea that she had started a tradition that would become the foundation of one of the family’s most cherished rituals: the night before their wedding, the engaged couple will receive the cup from the most recently-married family members. On Sept. 20, 2013, five generations and more than 100 years later, Eleanor was officially welcomed into the family when Rob’s cousin Charlotte Getz and Alex, her husband, called her and Rob to the front of the room to present them with the heirloom. With the rehearsal dinner guests watching, Eleanor and Rob drank from the cup, thereby joining the two loving families.