/ photography by Red Apple Tree Photography and Chugach Peaks Photography
Their relationship began in 2016 when Sydney Strong’s cousin introduced her to Michelle Geannakakes. Michelle had taken a travel nursing assignment in Alaska and Sydney had moved back to South Carolina from California following her graduation from the Gemological Institute of America. The two had lived in different states before, but now their long-distance relationship also included a four-hour time difference. Sydney says she became a bit of a night owl and their relationship persevered.
In July of 2018 they arranged a trip to meet in Alaska, and Michelle had a suspicion there might be a marriage proposal in the works, especially when they took a helicopter ride to Colony Glacier and there just happened to be a very friendly photographer on board.
The glacier they landed on is very private as it can only be reached by air and there was an idyllic frozen glacial pool surrounded by an incredible panoramic view. Sydney quietly signaled to the photographer and asked Michelle to marry her.
She presented Michelle a ring she had designed and created herself: an oval cut diamond with their initials embedded on either side of the stone’s setting. Engraved on the inside of the band was the Alaskan mountain range as well as the north star. Michelle said yes and the couple took breathtaking engagement photos before heading back to Seven Glaciers Restaurant at the Alyeska Resort to celebrate.
In August, they prepared to run the Lulelemon Seawheeze Half Marathon together in Vancouver, Canada and their mothers joined them for the weekend. Secretly, Michelle had been working with Sydney’s mother, Greenville jewelry designer llyn strong, to create an equally perfect ring for a second proposal. On the Capilano Suspension Bridge, with their mothers watching, Michelle surprised Sydney with her perfect ring, a Brazilian Paraiba tourmaline the color of the glacier in Alaska, set in rose gold, but with a mountain range to represent Vancouver hidden in the undergallery.
The couple knew that they would want to throw a welcome party on Friday for their guests attending from far and near. Sydney asked family friend Dr. Glenn Head if it would be possible to hold the event at his home and the consummate host agreed.
Michelle and Sydney had their hearts set on pizza from Coastal Crust with lots of yellow label Veuve Clicquot bubbly; a nod to what they would often serve when entertaining in their own home.
Glenn elevated these plans with an ice wall to display all the champagne bottles, the couple’s dream band, The Free, and a custom-built cake swing to display a beautiful white cake from Bakery Off Augusta which, when cut by the couple, revealed a rainbow of cake layers. The party was topped off with a surprise visit by a pair of dressed unicorns, arranged by Sydney’s mother, Lynn.
The ceremony occurred outside with a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The couple had an inverted Y-shaped aisle, with Michelle and Sydney each accompanied by their parents until they met in the middle, where the two then continued side by side to the altar. In another display of great attention of detail, Sydney had this Y-shape replicated in the buttons down the back of her wedding gown.
For their entrance the guitar and cello duo Wirewood played “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” while EB Cole, the lead singer from their reception band The Retreat, sang the lyrics in a slow tempo. Sydney recalls, “I am very visual but for it to come to life like that, I was blown away.”
Artist Ric Standridge captured the special moment in a live painting of the ceremony that was then displayed during the reception. The couple crafted their own vows with each promising to “always carry snacks.”
Guests enjoyed a seated family-style supper prepared by Hotel Domestique’s Chef Haydn Shaak. The couple wanted to encourage dinner table conversation and they later learned many new friendships were formed that evening. The wedding cake was by Tessa Pinner, something the couple had booked even before selecting either a date or venue, and The Retreat kept everyone on the dance floor through the night.