By Denise Lana,
To look at Sarah and Steve Murray’s life together, it resembles the stuff of fairy tales. Beautiful couple, three children, wonderful jobs, dogs and a dream home perched above breathtaking landscape. But behind the curtain, the road to their picturesque union is paved with hiccups, stumbles and more than a few weathered storms.
Sarah (Updegraff), principal for Kee High School and East Allamakee Middle School, traces her roots back to West Union. She graduated from North Fayette High School and went onto attend Luther College and subsequently Drake University before taking a job in 2010 as principal at New Hampton High School. It was during her first week on the job there that Sarah met New Hampton native Steve Murray, a juvenile corrections officer with Chickasaw County.
“He came in to introduce himself, and what I remember most was that his shirt collar was too big, and he was so cute!” recalls Sarah.
Sarah, who was married previously, had no intention of remarrying, so she dismissed the cute juvenile officer. Steve, however, had different feelings. Steve was recently divorced after a 10-year marriage and was focused on his two young children and his job. Like Sarah, he had no intention of marrying again, but his attraction to Sarah won out.
“I was interested right away!” laughs Steve. He waited several weeks patiently to reach out to Sarah before sending her a message, inviting her to join him at an upcoming high school football game. Sarah jokingly recalls the invite, saying, “As principal, I have to attend the football games anyway!” The football game invite didn’t work out, but Steve was tenacious.
They made a date the following week for dinner, and despite both remaining steadfast about remaining single, Sarah and Steve’s relationship grew closer.
“We were insistent on keeping it low key, with Steve’s fresh divorce and our very public job positions,” Sarah explained. “In a small town, being a single school principal, I knew everyone was watching me and us.”
Steve agreed, explaining his cautious approach, “We wanted to make sure it was going to be something more before introducing my kids to Sarah.”
When Sarah and Steve were sure their relationship was going to be a lasting union, Sarah met Steve’s two children, Cade and Jenna. For a long time afterwards, the couple steeled themselves to remain strong while working
through stumbling blocks. Compounding the situation was Steve’s mother, Joanne Miller, being diagnosed with ALS and becoming wheelchair bound due to her rapidly declining health.
“Sarah and I had been dating several years, and with my mom getting sick, we knew we were limited on time,” explained Steve. “We knew we wanted to get married, so we decided to get married sooner than later.”
Because his mom was no longer mobile or able to leave her house, Steve and Sarah decided to have an informal wedding ceremony in Joanne’s living room with stepdad Dave and a small group of immediate family in attendance. It was a surprise wedding without an engagement, but Sarah was good with that. Having been married before, Sarah had already experienced a big church wedding, and was content with wearing a simple nice dress. She jokingly explained, “As a school principal, I attend a gazillion proms, so I already had some nice dresses to choose from!”
Steve wore a sports jacket and tie, and an ordained family friend officiated the seven-minute-long ceremony. Despite the rush of the event and the absence of Steve’s children at the ceremony, Sarah and Steve were married Jan. 1, 2012, in the middle of a snowstorm.
Sarah recalled, “It was New Year’s Day, which was Joanne’s 56th birthday. All Joanne wanted was to see Steve happy, and we wanted to give that to her while she could still communicate. She passed away two months later. It was bittersweet.”
Over the next few years, Steve and Sarah carved out a new life together. Less than a year after getting married, Sarah gave birth to their son, Westen. Additionally, Steve attained custody of Cade and Jenna. With the addition of Westen, the two bigger kids started coming together and the family grew steadily closer. Then, according to Sarah, Cade and Jenna gained an even deeper perspective and respect of Sarah after they became high school students at the school where Sarah was principal.
In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah accepted a job as principal in Lansing, Iowa. Steve transferred his employment to Allamakee County, and they purchased their dream home, a renovated and updated historic house in Lansing that overlooks the Blackhawk Bridge and Mississippi River.
The couple celebrated their 10-year anniversary in 2022 and decided to renew their vows.
“Our work lives just fell into place to be in Lansing and to find our forever home,” Sarah expressed. “We wanted to share a special day with all our kids, especially Jenna and Cade, since they weren’t at our original ceremony. We wanted them to feel like they were the most important part of the day. We let them choose suits and dresses they wanted, and we also worked with them on most of the details.”
With a large back yard, photogenic balustrades and large detached garage, the house and property perfectly fit the bill for the couple’s vow renewal ceremony and celebration afterwards.
“We planned our renewal to be overlooking the river, complete with a short ceremony combined with music we loved,” Sarah declared. “We wanted to get a chance to celebrate with all of our people– we couldn’t think of a better way to share our new home and life than a party!”
When June 4, 2022 arrived, it drizzled all day, thwarting any outdoor plans. The couple remained flexible and moved everyone to the porch. Sarah and Steve faced the river as they shared individually written vows in front of more than 50 friends and family. “That was the best part, at least for me!” Expressed Sarah. “Being able to say the things that make our marriage and our family so special.”
“We also had the Velveteen Rabbit read with a different slant on it with the help of our pastor,” Sarah added. “We had her speak about how real love hurts – our fur gets loved off, we get shabby and love just gets stronger.”
Sarah donned a flowing white non-traditional dressed she found on a girl’s weekend trip. Her “something old” and “something blue” included her grandfather’s ring and a milky blue star sapphire ring that belonged to her 105-year-old grandmother, who passed away several years prior.
“My grandmother had four matching cufflinks made for my grandfather in honor of his four granddaughters, with a complimentary ring made for herself,” Sarah explained.
Her grandfather’s ring was a wide band ring with a triangle stone that he wore 30 years ago before passing away. Sarah had it sized to fit herself so she could wear it in honor of her grandmother.
Acoustic guitar for the ceremony was provided by Steve’s cousin Chase Pryor, who performed and sang “Joy of My Life” and “I Get to Love You.” The guests sipped champagne during the ceremony and toasted the couple at the end. After the vows were exchanged, more than 200 gathered in the garage and enjoyed pork loin sandwiches and finger foods from Milty’s as Pryor’s band, “The Berenobis Connection,” played a variety of music, including the Sarah and Steve’s favorite song, “Tennessee Whiskey.” Sarah recollected how much fun it was for her to have an opportunity to get up in front of everyone and sing with the band during the celebration. “I am sure noise ordinances were broken that night!” joked Steve.
The party wrapped up at 10 p.m., with libations flowing freely as everyone relaxed and reflected. The couple declared that they didn’t need to go on a honeymoon, because they live in their paradise!
“I loved having all our people there — we finally got to share our special day with all of those who didn’t get to attend the first time around!” exclaimed Sarah. “Who knows? Maybe we will have to do this again and have another party in another 10 years!”
For couples looking to renew their vows, Sarah advised, “Go with the flow – this isn’t a wedding! Do what you want and if things go awry, let it happen!”