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Wedding Guide: Couples seek to customize their wedding, making it personal and uniquely their own

This story was published in the Grand Forks Herald's 2020 Wedding Guide.

Wedding guide photo, Amber.jpg
Amber Olsen, who provides services as "Officiant Amber," performs the wedding ceremony of Rachel Nerison and Lucas Potter. (Submitted photo)

When she meets with engaged couples who want to plan a wedding at the Alerus Center, Shelby Looker wants to know: “How are we going to make this day about you guys?”

“I think it’s really important to have couples show their personalities or their hobbies,” whether that's part of the ceremony, at the reception, or with the food choices they make, said Looker, conference sales and marketing manager for the Alerus.

Most couples these days are looking to incorporate customized touches that will make their wedding day uniquely their own. For example, it’s not uncommon for couples to have their pet pose with them in their wedding photos or walk them down the aisle, Looker said.

One couple she worked with recently planned for their dog to serve as “flower girl” at their wedding.

The bride and groom’s personal preferences are showing up in the colors used in floral and other decorations at weddings, she said. “We see a lot of green weddings in Grand Forks here,” she said. That's probably a nod to UND.


Couples have a lot of options in culinary choices that express their own personalities, whether it’s serving their signature cocktail or favorite meal at the reception and dinner, Looker said. It’s all about “making food selections that are meaningful to the couple.”

One engaged couple who were not really into wedding cakes opted for a cookies-and-ice-cream station that was a big hit with guests, Looker said. “Every guest just loved it.”

Some couples give their guests their favorite candy bar or another treat, she said. “There’s so much that shows customization with food, and we’re willing to do that for anybody.”

For her own wedding, she gave her groom, Darrin Looker, a “hockey jersey cake” to symbolize his role as commentator for UND hockey, she said. “So that was something special for him.”

“The options are endless, and you don’t have to stick in a box anymore” when it comes to food or other choices that make the experience reflect the couple’s unique qualities, she said.

“In the end, it’s about the couple … so you might as well celebrate the stuff you like and celebrate the way you like to do things.”

Wedding script

Couples seeking a personal touch for their wedding ceremony have turned to Amber Olsen of Grand Forks, a nondenominational, ordained minister whose business persona is “Officiant Amber.”

Specializing in casual, fun, lighthearted ceremonies, Olsen provides a modern-day, captivating ceremony that tells the couples’ own story, she said.


Olsen meets with couples to build an understanding of how they want the ceremony to feel, and uses an in-depth questionnaire to get to know them and learn about their relationship. Then she crafts an “elaborate” script, which covers everything that’s said and done during the ceremony and reflects their love story.

Some couples want the tone of their wedding ceremony to be “casual and laid back,” she said. “Some want something more formal and traditional.”

She may offer suggestions for readings or poems. For example, “it can be fun, like ‘Love is like owning a dog,’ if they’re dog people,” she said.

Olsen has also officiated at “cosplay” weddings, where the couple and guests dress up as special characters and have a theme. “Those are fun too," she said.

Or, for those who want a more religious ceremony, she may suggest scripture readings.

She’s officiated at all kinds of ceremonies, from the most simple elopement ceremonies to the most expensive. Her objective is to make the ceremony “meaningful, entertaining, casual and loving,” she said. “Between those four things, we try to make it unforgettable” for the couple and guests alike.

When she began to think about forging a career in this field -- which started at her brother’s wedding -- she thought about the ceremony as “the start of their new life together,” she said. She wondered how one could take the ceremony as the “beginning of their family together, and turn it into something that’s more about them.”

These days, people put a lot more time and effort into researching their wedding ceremony, Olsen said. “They really want to make it their own and incorporate things that are uniquely their own,” such as special words they say to each other, or “little quotes that are meaningful” to them.


In her interactions with engaged couples, Olsen compiled material for a book, “Navigating Your Wedding Ceremony,” which is available at Ferguson Books and More at the Grand Cities Mall and through Amazon. It provides hints and tips on topics ranging from how to determine the type of wedding you want, to choosing vendors for the wedding day events, to obtaining a marriage license.

Campus venue

At UND, the Gorecki Alumni Center and the Hopper Danley Chapel have served as backdrops for hundreds of weddings, said Trista Sager, event coordinator.

At the Gorecki Alumni Center, couples can create digital signage that appears on two televisions, positioned outside the main room, to welcome guests. The TVs are used to display a picture of the couple and a continuous slideshow they have created as a visual history of their lives to date. Almost every couple who marries there have welcomed guests in this manner, Sager said.

At the entrance of the Gorecki Alumni Center, couples can set up a photo booth and assign someone to take Polaroid photos of each couple or family attending the wedding, Sager said. These photos are compiled in a book that replaces the traditional guestbook.

This idea appeals to couples, because “how many times are you really going to go back and read through the names on a signed guestbook -- like, maybe the one time after the wedding, and then not for another 20 years,” she said.

Couples may also personalize their wedding with signage at an open bar during the social hour, inviting attendees to sample the groom’s favorite beer or the bride’s favorite drink, as a discounted cocktail.

Zane Hemsing and his bride, Ellen (Potter), pose for a non-traditional photo on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy of Amber Olsen)

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