Pine Islanders Pitch in For Soldier’s Wedding


Operation Open Arms Organizes 94th Wedding

From the PineIsland-Eagle.com

Operation Open Arms is granting another couple’s wish in April by taking care of a soldier’s wedding, which is the organization’s 94th wedding since 2005.

“Operation Open Arms is a network of individuals and businesses who extend every possible act of tangible kindness to our troops who risk their lives for our freedoms,” Operation Open Arms Founder Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch said.

He said in a recent USA Today poll, real estate values, the economy and how much 401Ks might be worth seem to preoccupy the psyche of most Americans.

“The relative concern for the well-being of our troops even stands behind the great political divide which keeps our country from being greater than it already is,” Bunch said. “However, there are still many Pine Islanders who chose to make a real difference.”

Some of those businesses and individuals include the Tarpon Lodge, Bert’s Bar, Sandy Hook, Jay at Bubba’s Roadhouse, Gerald Butters, Lisa Benton, Elaine McLaughlin, Maxine and Steve Woodard and Capt Chris Stanford.

The wedding for Matthew Welch, from Ashville, N.Y., and Haley Kibble, from Findley Lake, N.Y., will be held April 4 on the island.

By planning a wedding at no cost to the couple, Bunch said it provides them with the opportunity for a down payment on a house or to put money away to start a family.

Each Operation Open Arms wedding is worth a minimum of $15,000,

Bunch said. Operation Open Arms must pay for many things such as cake, limo, tents and the venue.

“But any time everyone chips in, the results are always magical,” he said. “Our troops have never contributed a dime. The first OOA wedding was all about my refusal to accompany a Marine to the Lee Courthouse and be his witness. In two days a full service wedding was provided.”

Jenifer Welch’s nephew Matthew, who turned 18 in October, is currently in training due to his planned deployment to Afghanistan on June 6. Matthew is a 12B Combat Engineer in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Welch said she has lived on the island for 10 years and Matthew’s grandparents, Bud and Dawn Welch of Bokeelia, have lived on the island for 16 years.

She said she has become friends with her nephew’s fiance on Facebook and has come to know her pretty well through their online communication. Once the engagement was announced, Welch said her nephew said they wanted to have a courthouse wedding.

Since Welch is a notary she asked them to get married in Florida.

“It turned into something way more than I expected, which is wonderful,” she said of Operation Open Arms helping with the wedding. “I thought it was going to be something that we would take them over (to Cayo Costa) on our personal boat with her parents, his parents and grandparents and do the vows and then go to dinner.”

A number of people came forward through Operation Open Arms to help with the wedding, along with the Women of the Moose providing the decorations and flower arrangements.

“It is kind of neat how it is all coming together,” Welch said.

The wedding started off with six people to witness the ceremony, which has grown close to 30 people now.

Welch said she used to work for Make A Wish Foundation, so she wanted to focus on the couple’s wedding day instead of Matthew leaving in about a month to Afghanistan. She said it is all about thinking positive about the wedding and not the outcome of him leaving for a year.

“They are very excited,” Welch said about the wedding plans. “We only communicate through Facebook. I send them bits and pieces of what people are doing. They are shocked at how much everyone is doing.”

She said they have made a lot of friends through the planning of the wedding.

“Everybody is offering to do something,” Welch said.

The couple is flying into town on April 1 for the wedding.

Since Haley’s dream is to have a beach wedding, the couple will most likely get married at the tip of Bokeelia on the beach, if they cannot make it to Cayo Costa due to the tides.

Annie Wenz will provide the entertainment for the wedding, Bubba’s is catering the food and Tarpon Lodge is providing a two-night stay for their honeymoon. The Matlacha Hookers also donated a large tent for the festivities.

“A special thanks is hereby extended to the new Madam of the Matlacha Hookers, DJR, for providing a critical level of support for this wonderful wedding. Thank you all for making such an enormous difference in the life of a U.S. soldier from Bokeelia who is being deployed to Afghanistan,” Bunch said. “You are all heroes in my eyes.”

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