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Love comes first: the wedding dress display promotes community in SJC

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SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA It was natural for Jim and Carole Ward to share photos from their wedding day for the “Century of Weddings” celebration prepared by Reata Glen. New residents of the Rancho Mission Viejo retirement community, the couple added a photo of their happiest day to the exhibit. More than 100 residents have participated in the collection that spans decades of fashion to form an archival collection worthy of the Smithsonian Institution.

The relatively new retirement community of Reata Glen, based in Rancho Mission Viejo, is a 60-acre facility in southern Orange County. He has been forced to do things differently this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Activities, dining and even meeting with neighbors have been set aside in favor of the health and safety of all who live in Reata Glen. Nonetheless, Activity Coordinator Jayne Austin was determined to make February special for residents.

A natural romantic by nature, as the name would dictate, Austin decided February must be a month to celebrate love. After all, many residents were being vaccinated against the coronavirus. By the end of the month, the community expects more than 96 percent of its residents and staff to be fully immunized.

It is a relief for all who live here and for their families.

Austin was thrilled with the loan of wedding dresses from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. The photos showed the evolution of wedding dress styles through the ages.

Former Smithsonian Magazine editor and resident Ron Walker shared his wife and wife Louanne’s respect for the collection. “We think the wedding dress exhibit is extremely well done and are sure it meets or even exceeds Smithsonian standards,” Ron Walker wrote.

Fred and Sharon Tarnay, August 14, 1965 (Courtesy of the Tarnay family)

A photo on loan from the Tarnay family shows Sharon Tarnay in a wedding dress designed by Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. Head won eight Oscars, including one for costume design in “The Sting,” and she has been nominated more than 30 times.

“Edith Head has only designed three custom wedding dresses throughout her career for private friends,” Austin said. “Sharon Tarnay wore one. The feminine, elegant and graceful woman fits perfectly into the dress.”

Austin’s attention to these stories is reflected in the exhibit, which includes a toast from a father of the bride, as well as wedding wreaths and portraits. But it is the fashions that dress the show.

Father’s Toast, from Bob and Liz Costello’s wedding, July 6, 1985.

Austin was surprised at the small size of the dresses, many of which would not suit modern bodies.

Where dresses couldn’t be shared, photos were.

Austin received a plethora of photos to display throughout the room. Over 100 photos spanning a century have shown the styling evolution of cakes, veils, wedding dresses, and tuxedos.

Jim and Carole Ward shared their own love affair with Patch.

Jim Ward is a retired Riverside Court of Appeal Judge. He and Carole moved to Reata Glen in September, leaving their home and citrus grove for greener pastures. They agreed that wedding dresses and photos were an amazing way to get to know their peers in their new home.

Jim and Carole Ward, August 4, 1956.

Carole Ward’s 1950s dress accentuated her waist, with a beautiful skirt and dropped shoulders. Jim Ward looked stylish in a three-piece suit. Their wedding photo showed them staring, beaming.

Their love is evident in Jim’s voice as he tells Patch about the day. “We got married in 1956,” he says. “My wife got her wedding dress from Bullocks Wilshire. After the ceremony, we packed and put it away.”

Their daughter wore the wedding dress in 1984 and then put it away again. When a stepdaughter wanted to try on the dress some 20 years later, it was too yellow. Although Carole couldn’t share her wedding dress at the time, they did share a few memories instead.

The couple met in Paris and later went out to Vienna. They were both students, but his future wife thought Jim looked like “an American trying to look French in a trench coat and goatee,” he recalls, laughing.

She once asked him to help her phone famous columnist Art Buchwald, whose phone number a friend had shared. “You can’t do that,” recalls Jim.

They tried anyway, but Buchwald didn’t respond. Jim later wrote Buchwald a letter about that day: “Buchwald answered him, saying he wished he had been there to answer the call.”

The die was cast. Without money, the two fell in love and went “Dutch treat” on every date. When they returned to the United States, Carole said, “Yes”, bought the dress, and they live happily ever after.

It was a tough decision to move to Reata Glen amid the pandemic, but things look brighter, they said. They are both fully vaccinated against the coronavirus now, thanks to the clinic provided by their facility.

The couple still go for walks and find out about their new home. “We go get some food, we sit on the beach and watch the waves come in,” he said. They ride the Reata Glen bike path to the beach, “and we hike and explore a lot. We also found some wonderful restaurants in San Juan Capistrano.”

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