Riverhead couple wins free Brecknock Hall wedding

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Cathrine and Jonathan Schmanski during their brief time home in the spring.

Johnathan and Cathrine Schmanski of Riverhead are soldiers, and although they both serve in Afghanistan the hours they spend together are fleeting and few.

“We’ve seen each other three or four times in  two years,  just through taking leave and stuff like that,” Jonathan said in a March interview.

They married just over a year ago, but with the ceremony taking place in Arizona  many relatives couldn’t attend. They always planned for a traditional wedding with family and friends when time allowed.

Thanks to the Peconic Landing community life center in Greenport, they’ll have a complete traditional wedding in the fall at the historic Brecknock Hall mansion on the center’s grounds, with food, flowers, a wedding cake, a photographer — the whole deal — all for free.

On Friday the Schmanskis were selected as the winners of Peconic Landing’s first-ever free wedding for military personnel or veterans. The couple’s second wedding will take place on Veteran’s Day, 11/11/11.

“Peconic Landing is dedicated to being a good neighbor, and we make giving back to the East End community a priority,” said Bob Syron, the center’s CEO amd executive director. “This commitment inspired the evolution of Brecknock Hall into a vibrant cultural arts center, and Brecknock is now providing us with a very special way to say thank you to Veterans who have selflessly served our country.”

The idea for a Brecknock Hall wedding for a service veteran came out of a brainstorming session last year about possible uses for the restored mansion, according to spokeswoman Diane Radigan. A committee of Peconic Landing residents, all veterans, plus a staff member who retired after a long career with the Marines and Suffolk Times editor Tim Kelly unanimously selected the Schmanskis on Friday.

Although both were assigned to bases in Afghanistan in the past year, they’re three-and-a half hours apart by plane — he at Bagram Airfield in the northern part of the country and she at Kandahar in the mountainous southern part of the country. He’s a staff sergeant working as an unmanned aerial vehicle operator and she’s a system support specialist. They’ve had little time together since their May 2010 marriage.

They came home for 15 days during spring and were the guests of honor at a homecoming celebration at Diggers Restaurant in Riverhead. Jonathan surprised Cathrine by taking her to a Lady Gaga show in New York.

The couple met while both were stationed in Germany. Jonathan recalled they didn’t hit it off at first. His wife agrees.

“Yeah, we hated each other,” she said in a Riverhead News-Review story.

Obviously, that changed.

“But then one night we spent some time together and we realize we had a lot of things in common,” Jonathan said. “Once we started to get along, we’ve been pretty much attached at the hip ever since.”

Their reception will be catered by Matt Kar from the Jamesport Manor Inn. The flowers will be courtesy of Ivy League Florists in Southold, and Miche Bacher of Sacred Sweets in Greenport will provide the wedding cake. Greenport photographer Caroline Rochetta has volunteered to take wedding pictures.