National nonprofit helps Las Vegas couple dealing with Alzheimer’s renew vows

You can wish upon a star, or toss a coin into a wishing well. But there’s another option for those in special circumstances who want to get married.

National nonprofit Wish Upon a Wedding allows people with life-altering situations to have the wedding of their dreams or to renew their vows.

On June 15, Summerlin-area residents Don and Jane Holkestad renewed their vows through the organization, which provided everything from the limo, preacher and flowers to the catered reception. Don has Alzheimer’s disease and is being treated at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, 888 W. Bonneville Ave., where the wedding took place.

Both do volunteer work for the center, something they began five years ago, a year before Don was diagnosed.

The bride was escorted up a petal-lined carpet to where the Rev. Linda Venniro stood.

Venniro told the 30 guests how the couple met on a double date, a blind date, in 1950. Jane was 18 and stood 5 feet, 10 inches tall.

Before the two young men approached the door, Don, who was over 6 feet tall, told his buddy that he would escort whichever girl was taller. The door opened, and they saw Jane’s girlfriend. She was 4 feet, 10 inches tall.

“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who Don would be paired with,” Venniro quipped. The comment contained an extra undercurrent of humor to it.

Don would later be a rocket scientist on one of the teams that worked on the space shuttle program.

The couple exchanged vows. When it came time for Jane to repeat the words of the preacher, Don muttered them along with her as though unsure if they were his lines or not. The couple exchanged rings and walked back down the aisle to applause.

After the ceremony, a faux wall was pushed back to reveal the reception setup, complete with linen-draped tables, serve-yourself hot entrees and a disc jockey playing classy love songs.

Jane said when the head of the volunteers at Lou Ruvo approached her with the offer of a free wedding to renew their vows for their 64th anniversary, she was amazed.

“We went, ‘Wow, you’re kidding. How great is that?’ ” she said.

Arlene Barba, on the board of Wish Upon a Wedding, recalled getting involved with the organization after seeing a video about a 19-year-old woman who needed a double lung transplant. The woman’s childhood sweetheart came to the hospital to see her every day. He had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. He proposed. She accepted.

“I was so inspired that someone at such a young age, 19, proposed to a loved one even though they knew that they would probably be a widower in a very short time,” Barba said. “And you knew with all the medical bills they were facing, they would not be able to have a real wedding. And everyone deserves to; they deserve (a wedding). If that’s your dying wish, what do you do? It inspired me to realize everyone should have that opportunity.”

Barba said the cost of this day’s wedding would have come with a price tag near $50,000. The list of vendors who donated services included the venue, the Keep Memory Alive Event Center, Jeniffer LaRocca Photography, M Place Productions, Paper and Home, cakelava, By Dzign, Brianna Michelle Beauty, Brilliant Bridal, Tuxedo Junction, Earth Limos & Buses, Cut & Taste, Faithfully Yours Weddings & Events, and Good Vibrations Mobile DJ’s.

After the wedding, Jane picked up their story where Venniro had left off.

On the double date, Jane was taken by Don’s blonde good looks and dark eyes. At dinner, he was quiet and blushed easily. Jane described herself as outgoing and thought their personalities complemented one another.

Then they went dancing, and she was struck with certainty.

“When he took me in his arms, I knew I was going to marry him,” she said. “I just knew.”

He took her out for a Coke the next day and then disappeared for three months as he continued his studies in chemical engineering. But three months later, he reappeared with yellow roses with an engagement ring attached to them.

They were married two years later and went on to have four children. One of them, Daniel, was autistic, and getting him help back in those days was vexing at best. Psychologists even told Jane his condition was her fault for not being a good mother. Eventually, they got Daniel help. One of the medicines he was put on was Ritalin , a central nervous system stimulant. Another facility said it was counterintuitive and stopped the medication. The result: Daniel had a reaction — a seizure — and died. He was 19.

Jane and Don underwent counseling along with grieving parents but relied more on each other to get through it.

“When we gave our vows, it was for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” she said. “We were dedicated to keeping it together no matter what. So, we turned to each other.”

Daniel’s death was not their only trial. Another child, a daughter, had to be institutionalized but, as before, the couple’s commitment to one another never wavered. Again, she credited their ability to keep the lines of communication open.

Then came the day, about four years ago, when Don was confused and couldn’t read a map.

A former rocket scientist who was befuddled by a simple map? Something was wrong.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now, Jane said, she lives in fear of the day she’ll lose him as he slowly deteriorates.

“Every day, you never know what you’re going to get,” she said about how cognizant he’ll be. “That’s why they call it the long goodbye.”

As for Don, he said he’d marry Jane all over again.

“I can’t imagine,” he said as he gazed at her, “being married to anyone else.”


To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email or call 702-387-2949.

Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Roy Choi on cooking for Park MGM employees
As he prepares to open his new restaurant Best Friend later this month at Park MGM, celebrity chef Roy Choi took the time to cook for the resort’s employees Tuesday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Great Santa Run
People participated in the 14th annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run which raises cubs for Opportunity Village.
World Holidays Exhibit At The Natural History Museum
Migratory Bird Day teaches adults and kids to celebrate birds
Different organizations offered activities for kids and adults to learn about birds and celebrate their migration journey at Sunset Park. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon
"Jackson: The Red Rock Canyon Burro" is a children's book about Red Rock Canyon (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Interfaith Amigos speak in Las Vegas
Celebrity photographer dedicates dance book to Las Vegas shooting victims
Behind the scenes with local celebrity photographer Jerry Metellus as he talks about his Dance For Vegas coffee book dedicated to the 58 victims of the October 1 shooting. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Dreamsickle Kids Foundation founder Gina Glass talks awareness
Gina Glass, 35, founded Dreamsickle Kids Foundation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease in Nevada. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like