Driftless Weddings: The tapestry of family woven into a very special day

By Kate Klimesh,

Ashley and Ethan Smith had no idea when they first met exactly how special their wedding day would be, weaving in threads from so many family members, traditions of importance, and making their day the perfect tribute not only to those celebrating with them that day, but those who had helped shape their lives that had passed away before the date was set.

Ashley and Ethan Smith had no idea when they first met exactly how special their wedding day would be, weaving in threads from so many family members, traditions of importance, and making their day the perfect tribute not only to those celebrating with them that day, but those who had helped shape their lives that had passed away before the date was set.

Ashley and Ethan were introduced by a mutual friend at a festive night out in 2014, and they hit it off. Ashley was even more interested when Ethan messaged her on Facebook a week later asking her for a date, to get to know her better.

For their first date, Ethan arranged to meet her over his lunch break at BBG’s, a diner that has since closed in Mabel. He was working in town for Total Tree Care, and Ashley lived in Mabel at the time. They started dating, and each brought the other to meet their parents. I guess you could say things were getting pretty serious.

In 2015, they welcomed their son Easton George William into their lives, and were looking for a home of their own in Bluffton, near his parents. Ashley was going to nursing school, graduating in 2019, and as she put it, “Life got busy.”

They finally found their dream home in 2020. Ashley calls it their farm, while Ethan calls it their acreage. In both cases, they all call it home, and couldn’t be happier. Just one week after moving onto the new homestead, they welcomed their daughter RayAnn Belva Kay to the world.

Living in the country suited them both, and with a family, farmstead/acreage and more, they began to talk more about tying the knot. Ashley recalls, “There wasn’t a holiday that went by that my mom didn’t hint about when we were getting married. One Christmas she even bought me a fake ring as a joke!” Ethan added jokingly, “My brother and his wife dated for seven years before getting married, and I knew I had to beat him.” (For the record, he did as they were dating eight years before their wedding!)

“Of course we talked about getting married, but he always told me it would be when I didn’t expect it, and it wouldn’t be on a holiday. It was Christmas Day of 2020, and I had just started my job at Winneshiek Medical Center hospital. I had worked overnight on Christmas Eve and we were opening presents with the kids. Ethan said, “There’s one more present,” and Easton brought it to me to open. “That’s when I turned around and Ethan was on one knee, proposing to me. I opened the ring, and I cried. Ethan definitely surprised me!”

While this sounds like a spur of the moment arrangement, Ethan went through about a week’s worth of planning to make sure the surprise wasn’t spoiled, including waiting until the last minute (when Ashley pulled into the driveway from her overnight shift) to get Ashley’s dad, David’s, blessing on the proposal to ensure her parents, who are known to not be very good secret keepers, wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag. “And I kept the ring I got from Hammel Jewelers in the center console of my truck so she wouldn’t find it anywhere in the house,” Ethan added with a mischievous smile. “He knew I don’t like to drive his truck so hiding it there would definitely ensure I wouldn’t find it!, ” Ashley added.

Ashley said, “I immediately Facetimed my mom to let her know, and she was so upset that she didn’t know ahead of time and that dad was the first to know. Dad had told mom the phone call he received shortly beforehand, from Ethan, was from a telemarketer. Which mom knew was off because it was a holiday! We got a kick out of that.”

It was the holidays of 2020, so while the pandemic kept them from celebrating the engagement together, they did tell Ethan’s great-grandma Belva, who wanted nothing more at 99 for them to get engaged. Belva too would hint often of a wedding! “We told her we got engaged and she was so happy. She didn’t make it to the wedding though, she passed away nine days after her 100th birthday in 2021,” Ashley said sadly.

“We started picking dates for a 2022 ceremony, and Ethan’s a big Bow-hunter. I had originally picked October 1, which is the opening day of bow season. I had that day in mind in hopes he would remember our anniversary!” Ashley said jokingly. “The dates we originally wanted weren’t available, but they did have October 15 open. Then we found out that it was Ethan’s Great-grandparents’ wedding anniversary. That made it the perfect date for us.”

Bringing in more threads of family, they planned the ceremony in the pasture at “Smithville”, which was Ethan’s grandparents’ ground. Ethan’s cousin, Casey Smith, has a private campground there which is by the Upper Iowa River. They set up small square bales covered with blankets for seating, and used an archway made by cousin Jake Smith out of cedar tree trunks and boughs. The private ceremony, officiated by Ethan’s cousin Casey with custom vows perfect for the wedding couple, was just big enough for family and close friends. Which is just how they wanted it.

After the ceremony, they used Ethan’s great-grandpa George’s 460 Farmall tractor, pulled by his dad, George, to the wedding party the six miles up to the reception in a hayride. “That tractor was restored by my family the year Easton was born,” Ethan reported. “Grandpa George bought that new, and there’s a lot of Smiths that learned to drive a tractor on it.”

They kept things close to home for their special day, and held the reception at St. Bridget’s Hall in Bluffton. Ashley noted jokingly, “Ethan’s dad doesn’t get out of the valley much, and the space was exactly what we needed. We used it for both the rehearsal dinner and the reception the next day.”

In October, the weather is always changing, and the light snow that fell the day before their wedding had them concerned. “We kicked the guys out of the house the night before the wedding, because we didn’t want him seeing me before the wedding day, and Ethan, his brother and some friends were camping at the Church Hall, but it was so cold, and Ethan didn’t have heat in the camper. Definitely a night to remember for him!”

Ashley had secured the Hesper/Mabel Historical Society barn for the ladies in the wedding party to get ready in, and a backup for the ceremony should they need. With no heat, they had a chilly preparation themselves, bringing in space heaters and lots of blankets to do their makeup, hair and get dressed.

Ethan and Ashley celebrate Steam Engine Days like it’s a holiday, which the barn is a big symbol of the “holiday”. The barn is also special to part of Ashley’s family, pulling in more family ties.

Despite the cold start, they were enjoying 60-degree weather and beautiful fall foliage for a picture-perfect day with no wind during the ceremony at all. Ashley’s dad, David, walked her down the aisle with her son Easton (who got stage fright as ring-bearer and joined the procession) and Ashley’s father, who passed away when she was 17, his photo was right up front, so he was there with them as well. “Since I can remember, I have dreamed of having both my fathers walk me down the aisle. It felt like I had them both there, with my son by my side!” stated Ashley.

On the hayride to the reception, an eagle flew right above the wagon carrying the new Mr. and Mrs. Smith to their wedding celebration. Ashley recalled, “My dad was Native American, and he would always say that eagles are a good luck symbol – they were a special sign to him. Ethan’s Grandpa who had passed away loved eagles too. He had a friend who would place carcasses (from trapping) in his yard so he could watch the eagles once he wasn’t able to get around very well. To have that eagle fly over us was very meaningful to us. It’s like those people were there with us too.”

While the ceremony was small, many people participated, with eight bridesmaids and groomsmen, four ushers and two personal attendants. And, of course Easton as Ring-bearer and RayAnn as flower girl.

This wedding was truly a family affair. Ethan gave some advice to other couples planning a wedding, “don’t stress about it, it all works out in the end. Family and friends are there to help out, don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Ashley explained, “we planned our wedding to what our ‘perfect’ was, and that was surrounded by family and friends. Every detail was special to us in some way, and was thought of with family in mind. When I think of how perfect it was for us, I get teary-eyed.”

While this wedding may have been in the works for a while, in the end, it brought together all the family and friends in a unique celebration of love – for those they remembered, and those they yet hold dear.

Ashley and Ethan’s tapestry of family is as rich and full as the life they’ve built together.

Special touches made the day:

  • Keeping with the Country Boho theme Ashley was dreaming of, she found the perfect pair of turquoise cowgirl boots at Broker Leather.
  • Her dress and mother’s dresses came from a road trip to Effingham, Ill., with most of the bridesmaids and moms to a shop she found on TikTok, Wild Rose Bridal. The bridesmaids’ dresses were purchased on Baltic Born with each style personally picked out by each bridesmaid to ensure they were comfortable.
  • The Groom, fathers’ and groomsmen’s formal garb all came from Leuthold’s clothing.
  • Both sides’ parents surprised Ashley with earrings, necklace and a tennis bracelet from Mark’s Jewelry, in St. Lucas, for the special day.
  • Ethan had special hats made for the men of the bridal party, embroidered with the newlywed’s Brand representing both their initials, from O’Henry’s. That brand originated from one of the saddles he made when he was child at his neighbors growing up, Tim Christopher.
  • They set up an outdoor space for folks to gather in, outside the St. Bridget’s reception hall with picnic tables from Tyler Tweten, port-a-pottys from Ness Pumping Service, tables and chairs from Decorah Rentals. Because in a family of farmers, it’s hard to stay inside.
  • Ashley’s flowers were handled entirely by Mabel Flowers – owned by her Grandma LeAnn! “I just gave her my colors and trusted her with her expertise,” Ashley stated.
  • Ashley had to have a donut wall at the reception. A donut wall is a pegboard filled with donuts hanging on sticks (from Dough and Joe’s). This was in addition to the caramel cheesecake for the couple that Ethan’s sister created.
  • She found all the decorations she had envisioned for her country Boho theme at BD productions in Waukon.
  • The Ladies’ hair was styled by Tiffany Rixon, from Studio Five Eleven, Chelsea Provost and Ali Albertson, with Makeup by Savannah Busch. The mothers hair and grandmother’s hair was styled by Sandy Bechtel, Mirror Images, which is Ashley’s aunt.
  • Rachel Riley photography captured the day in pictures for the pair. Ashley reported, “She captured every picture I wanted and needed, and even the ones I didn’t know we did. Including catching first looks on Ethan and RayAnn’s face when they saw each other as RayAnn is a daddy’s girl!” Capturing the family’s pride in their farm was evident in the photos from the day as well.

More photos in the February 14 Driftless Journal.