BY GLENN PUIT
EAST JORDAN —
Eryn and Brenda Willson's wedding story is one to warm the heart.
The volunteer firefighters in Antrim and Charlevoix counties married on Christmas morning, in full fire gear, in a surprise ceremony at the East Jordan Fire Hall.
"I got married in a fire hall to a firefighter in my fire gear by a fireman," Brenda Willson said.
The couple met in college nearly six years ago and, initially, they clashed like fire and ice.
"We hated each other when we first met," Brenda Willson said. "I'm book-smart and he's hands-on smart and our teacher made us work together ... well, we ended up working the whole semester together, and I guess that's what they say: You are supposed to be with the complete opposite of you."
The romance flared. The couple moved to East Jordan and repeatedly talked about marriage, but Eryn assumed Brenda wanted a more traditional union. But Eryn was surprised when a co-worker told him Brenda talked of getting married in a fire hall.
The East Jordan fire chief added further fuel to the idea, prompting Eryn's decision to "go for it" a week before Christmas.
The wedding was planned for just after midnight on Christmas. Everyone involved wanted the wedding to be a complete surprise to Brenda. An elaborate ruse was put in place to get Brenda to the fire hall just before midnight on Christmas Eve without any inkling of what was happening.
"I told her I had to leave and go pick up a last-minute present," Eryn Willson said of his plan to escape the family home on Christmas Eve. "I told her the present wasn't in this area ... but I went (to the fire hall) to help set up and meet all the guests."
Brenda's friend Shelly McCalib showed up at the Willson home with a babysitter for the couple's five children. She told Brenda she was taking her to a late-night Christmas party.
"We get on the road, then she pulled over the vehicle and whips out a blindfold and says, 'I hope we can be friends after this. You have to do whatever I say,'" Brenda recalled.
Brenda went along with the blindfold game. Meanwhile, Eryn raced back home, got the couple's kids dressed for a wedding and returned to the fire hall with the children.
"We drive for what seems like forever," Brenda Willson said. "I'm taken out of the vehicle and there's other people there now and all of a sudden, I know the smell of the building — it's the fire hall, and I'm putting my feet in my fire boots."
The blindfold was removed and Brenda was greeted with the site of Eryn on his knees, ring in hand.
"He says, 'Will you marry me?', and he's also in fire gear," Brenda said. "The shock registers. At this point I thought my Christmas present was this huge proposal."
The surprises didn't stop there.
Brenda noticed the couple's families were present, as were her kids. She turned around again and saw firefighter-pastor Corey Wells, Bible in hand.
She and Eryn were married on the spot. Brenda Willson is still glowing over the beautiful, lifelong, surprise gift on Christmas morning.
"I had a fairy tale wedding — the kind you only read about ... in books or movies," she said.