How One Couple Made a Backyard Wedding Work During the COVID-19 Crisis

Photos by Mikaila Arcaro

The Hyde Park pair postponed their ceremony at Villa Borghese and tied the knot from the comfort of home.

For Shawn Maher and his wife, Margaret, the 24th is an auspicious day.

It’s the day they had their first kiss (February 24, 2012), the day they began dating (October 24, 2012), and the day Shawn proposed (February 24, 2019). It’s also the day they got married.

But it wasn’t supposed to be.

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When Shawn, a teacher with Dutchess BOCES, popped the question to Margaret, a marriage and family therapist in Kingston, in 2019, he looked forward to planning their wedding in the Hudson Valley. The couple first met back in 2011 at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, so they knew they wanted to keep their ceremony local. By the time Shawn proposed, via an activity book with invisible ink that revealed the words “Will you marry me?” hidden in it, the pair were excited to start the next chapter of their lives together.

As they locked down details about their impending matrimony in Dutchess County while simultaneously scouting out a home in the area, they quickly pinpointed two potential venues.

“We narrowed it down to Villa Borghese, a venue I was interested in ever since I was young, and Locust Grove, but, upon visiting both locations, we decided on Villa Borghese for financial [reasons] and convenience. The catering staff do much of the work for us,” Shawn explains.

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With the Wappingers Falls location confirmed for April 26, 2020 (the couple’s preferred date of April 24 was unavailable), the pair began counting down the days. Yet when the COVID-19 crisis tore through the Hudson Valley, they quickly realized their April wedding was not to be. Working quickly, they postponed their unity ceremony and handfasting at Villa Borghese to August 23. Even with the later date confirmed, they knew they still wanted to find a way to make their real-deal marriage work.

“Now without a venue, we decided to hold our wedding ceremony on April 24, 2020 in the backyard at our new home in Hyde Park,” Shawn reveals. “We contacted Maggie’s sister, Michelle Max, who is an ordained minister.”

Originally a member of the bridal party, Max stepped in to wed the couple while her husband, Benjamin, was on hand to serve as witness and cue the music as Margaret walked down the aisle. Last but not least, Margaret’s maid of honor Mikaila Arcaro served as second witness and photographer.

With social distancing in mind, the soon-to-be newlyweds added thoughtful touches to ensure everyone in attendance could help them celebrate safely. Shawn’s mother made masks with the words “bride” and “groom” on them, while Shawn and Margaret set bricks six feet apart in the backyard as markers for each person to stand.

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“I set up the backyard with three tray tables: one for the wedding certificate, one for the mead and flowers, and one for my laptop so we could record the ceremony and get our close family members to watch over Zoom,” Shawn adds.

Working with what they had, he and Margaret kept their April wedding simple, yet meaningful. With far fewer people in attendance than at their estimated 85-100-person ceremony in August, the couple made the most of the occasion by celebrating its significance as a turning point in their lives.

“Maggie looked beautiful and I teared up when I heard her custom written vows,” Shawn recalls. Working with what they had, they both wore simpler versions of their wedding attire, with Shawn in a button-up shirt and tie and Maggie in a white dress that arrived the afternoon of the wedding. Forgoing traditional flowers, Maggie opted for the “I Got You Babe” wooden bouquet from Forever Floral, which she can use again in August. After saying their “I dos,” the couple and their family carved into a sweet Betty Crocker cake Maggie prepped beforehand, with takeout from Cinnamon in Rhinebeck as their wedding day meal.

Although the turn of events was certainly unexpected, Shawn and Maggie are happy they went ahead with their marriage. Come August, they look forward to celebrating with friends and family at the Villa Borghese, where they’ll have a college friend officiate their handfasting ceremony, with a reception to follow.

“My advice for any couples that want to get married during quarantine is to just make it special for you,” Shawn says. “We didn’t get to have the elaborate wedding we planned (yet), but it was never about the wedding anyway. It’s the marriage that really counts.”


April Catering: Cinnamon
Bouquet: Forever Floral

August Venue and Catering: Villa Borghese
August Cake: La Deliziosa
Dress: David’s Bridal
Bridal Hair and Makeup: Giannetta Salon & Spa
DJ: DJ Bri Swatek
Jessica Warfield

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