Active U.S. Army couple Susana Andrade and Justin Abbey are the winners of Peconic Landing’s second free Brecknock Hall wedding and will tie the knot at the historic Brecknock Hall building in Greenport on Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11.
Mr. Abbey is a Southold native and E4 specialist working to become a Black Hawk pilot. His bride-to-be is a California native and E5 Sergeant with an FAA certificate for air traffic control.
The two enlisted in the army in 2009 and met during specialty training in Alabama, but did not start dating until they were later stationed together in South Korea.
Engaged on July 20, the two will begin their tours of duty in Afghanistan early next summer.
Peconic Landing, which owns Brecknock Hall, a restored 19th century manor house, started its free wedding giveaway for military couples last year.
“We’re committed to being good neighbors,” said Robert Syron, Peconic Landing’s president and CEO. “This initiative was inspired by the fact that many of our residents are veterans.”
After the outpouring of local support for Brecknock Hall’s wedding giveaway to two local soldiers last year, Peconic Landing, the event’s organizer, has decided to do it again.
Active duty Army soldiers Cathrine and John Schmanski of Riverhead, who had been stationed in Afghanistan, were married last Veterans Day at Brecknock Hall, a restored 19th-century manor house in Greenport, in a ceremony donated by the Peconic Landing lifecare community, which owns the building, with support from two dozen local merchants.
Now stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, the couple are expecting their first child. They fell in love while stationed at a military base in Germany in 2009 and were officially married by a justice of the peace in Arizona in 2010. But they didn’t have a wedding ceremony until the Brecknock Hall event.
This week, the search began for the 2012 Brecknock Veterans Day wedding couple.
“It’s powerful to see individuals and businesses join together to honor those who serve our country in such a meaningful way,” said Peconic Landing president and CEO Robert Syron. He added that last year’s wedding was a testament to a community that unites for a good cause.
“We’re embarking on this year’s journey to Nov. 11 with an incredible sense of gratitude,” he said. “Giving back is a priority at Peconic Landing and this effort is particularly meaningful since many of our residents are veterans.”
This year’s winners will receive catering, entertainment, flowers, photography and numerous other wedding day donations from 20 local sponsors.
Couples must submit their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, Aug. 5. They’re asked to include details about their ties to the East End, Suffolk County, Long Island or New York State and whether one or both serves or served in the military.
Peconic Landing would also like to know whether they’re on active duty or have recently returned from a combat zone, the number of tours of duty they’ve completed and any special circumstances or honors they’ve received.
Guests at Johnathan and Cathrine Schmanski’s wedding sat on white chairs on the front lawn of Greenport’s Brecknock Hall Friday on a cool Veterans Day. Hearty winds whipped through the ladies’ hair and dresses as they wrapped scarves around their necks. The men buttoned their coats and blew warm air into their hands.
But when a white limousine pulled up to the entrance of the historic mansion, everyone’s attention turned to Ms. Schmanski, who stepped out in a white gown with a vertical strap of sparkly beads trailing down her back.
The bride, bare armed, didn’t seem fazed by the afternoon’s chill. She and her husband, both members of the U.S. Army, have served deployments in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The Schmanskis, both 25, were selected by Peconic Landing to receive a free wedding celebration at historic Brecknock Hall, with all the fixings — from the food, wine and flowers to the photographer, DJ and limousine — donated by local businesses. Brecknock Hall officials estimate that about $50,000 in goods and services was donated.
“It’s overwhelming that all these people made this possible,” said Mr. Schmanski’s mother, Elizabeth, as catering staff served trays of butternut squash chowder in miniature bread bowls, prepared and donated by The Loft Restaurant in Greenport.
“It’s the respect, honor and patriotism in their hearts that has made this possible, and it just blows me away,” she continued, holding back tears. “Generosity doesn’t really explain what it is. No words are adequate.”
The couple held hands while greeting guests at the mansion and stood close as cameras flashed all around them, Mr. Schmanski making a funny face after every few clicks.
Ms. Schmanski said the night was “magical.”
“We’re really overwhelmed that people came together,” she said after the reception. “It really showed patriotism is alive in America. Everyone put their best foot forward to make sure our day was special.”
Robert Syron, president and CEO of Peconic Landing, said he felt emotional while watching the ceremony with his wife.
“I was quite touched by it,” he said. “I saw two people who were fighting for our country and defending our nation be given a gift from the North Fork of Long Island. I felt very proud of Peconic Landing and the greater community where I live.”
Teresa Benitez, whose son, John, has been close friends with Mr. Schmanski since they were elementary school students in Riverhead, said she could tell the bride and groom were perfect for each other.
“I know John — I know his personality,” Ms. Benitez said. “She’s the one.”
Mr. Schmanski, an unmanned aerial vehicle operator, and Ms. Schmanski, a system support specialist, were both in combat training in Georgia this past week. They had to miss their wedding rehearsal and head directly to their rehearsal dinner Thursday night. They’re scheduled to fly back to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., where they’re stationed, early Sunday morning.
Mike Paccione of MVP DJ and Entertainment donated his services for the Schmanski wedding.
He wanted to contribute to show his appreciation for members of the military, he said, adding that one of his childhood friends was killed while serving in Iraq.
“If there’s anything you can possibly volunteer your time to, why not let this be it?” he said.
Elizabeth Schmanski said her son and his wife represent the entire military, and donating to their wedding celebration is a way for civilians to say thank you to the troops fighting in wars and stationed around the world.
“John and Cat are special people,” she said. “They strive for excellence in the military and they can be proud of themselves for who they are and what they do.”