By Kevin Matthews
“I was always that little girl who dreamed of her wedding day. I’d been planning it forever,” said Tianna (Pasko ’17) Sondgeroth. The dream came true with Nick Sondgeroth ’15 on Nov. 9 in Ventura.
But not quite as expected.
Exactly one year earlier, on Nov. 9, 2017, the couple got engaged on a trip to Seville, Spain, where Tianna had studied abroad as a junior. Wedding planning commenced upon return and lasted the full 12 months. In December, they had their venue, or so they thought, Los Robles Greens just off Highway 101 and Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. In January, she had her dress, the one she got married in.
Tianna elaborated her wedding plan in a dot journal, a paper tool for the hyper-organized. She posted on Pinterest, did DIY projects, and schemed out a precise, minute-by-minute schedule for the big day. Two nights before the event, she was in her garage in Newbury Park, absorbed with packing the wedding décor in boxes that were labeled by table number, when her mother texted from a hotel room located near the Borderline Bar and Grill. She had heard gunshots.
The plans did not unravel just yet. On the next night of Nov. 8, the eve of the wedding, Tianna and her bridesmaids went to an Airbnb in Woodland Hills. That removed them from thoughts of the mass shooting that happened next to the wedding venue, and from the wildfires and traffic that had disrupted that day’s rehearsal dinner, causing the caterers to cancel. Emails to more than 100 guests said the wedding would go forward in spite of tragic events. Tianna planned to get up at 7 a.m. for the makeup artist.
But the wildfires and evacuation orders spread overnight. Ousted from his hotel, the boyfriend of a bridesmaid was at the Airbnb in the early morning. Tianna’s mother woke her at 6 a.m. to let her know that things looked bad, and a phone call quickly confirmed that. In tears, the venue coordinator said that Los Robles Greens was evacuated and the event had to be canceled. Road closures, in any case, were preventing the bride’s party from returning.
At times during the year of planning a ceremony, Nick said, “We would get so caught up in the details that we had to make sure to take a step back and remind ourselves of the true purpose of that day.”
On the morning of Nov. 9, it was hard not to wonder if something in the plan was flawed. What is going on? Why is it so difficult for me to marry this person, the love of my life? Tianna thought. Now the details of what would not happen kept coming back to her, such as the menu that would not be served. Guests preparing to leave that morning from Arizona were advised to stay home. Tianna told herself, God is trying to make me take a chill pill. I always plan everything.
Nick telephoned Tianna with a sort of second proposal: to get married that day. They had his father as the officiant, ordained for the purpose. They had a marriage license. They had vows. He would take over the planning. She said yes.
There were more plot twists. “The lowest point was about mid-morning,” Nick said. “We were still trying to remain positive, targeting having the wedding in the Oxnard beach area. As I was driving down to Oxnard, I just saw the smoke. It seemed like at that point I had run out of options. I’d spent most of the morning trying to make that work.”
Finally, Nick and others came up with – in the words of best man Yannis Moore ’15 – a “Hail Mary” location in Ventura, the Poinsettia Pavilion, which was available between a luncheon and an evening performance. The pavilion had narrowly escaped the Thomas Fire one year earlier, and the management offered the afternoon window free of charge.
Moore recalls the moment when Tianna and Nick first saw each other there. “I had a good vantage point where I could see both of them,” he said. “And it was just tears right away, and you could see that these people just loved each other for who they are.”
The Songeroths tied the knot at about 3:30 or 4 p.m., roughly what Tianna had set out in her timeline.
Setting aside the last-minute obstacles that jeopardized those wedding plans, everything had gone exceptionally well, from the very beginning.
On the night she met Nick in 2015, Tianna hadn’t planned to leave the house. Nick also had been dragged out at night by friends. They were both Cal Lutheran students, but with no classes or activities in common. When both groups ended up in someone’s backyard, Tianna noticed Nick. She held out her hand to introduce herself, and they talked for two hours.
As an item, they made it through a summer and a semester apart, including Tianna’s time in Spain.
The wedding events were lovely and memorable in ways no one could arrange in advance. The delayed rehearsal dinner’s menu came from the store – prepared salads, sandwiches, fried chicken and bottles of wine – and everyone had a great time.
More than half of the invited guests made it to the Poinsettia Pavilion for a wedding with Tianna’s thumbprints all over it.
“I walked in to go down the aisle and just everything was set up,” she said. “Our florist made it happen. The groom made it happen. Our wedding coordinator made it happen. Our cake was delivered. Everything was there. The deejay showed up.”
The aunt of maid of honor Kaylie Sergott ’17 opened her Oxnard home for the bride to get ready, and would have hosted the wedding but for the smoke and uncertain winds.
“I felt like we had a small army behind us that was really working hard to make this happen for the two of us, between our parents and our friends and our extended family and right down to our vendors,” Nick said. “There were just a whole lot of people who also wanted to share a good moment that day.”