There’s something inherently romantic about drive-in theaters.
Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of summer nights spent catching lightning bugs before the movie. It could also have something to do with the old-timey sensation of actually leaving the house to watch a film that comes alive through sounds from the car radio. Either way, drive-ins are always a local favorite in the Valley.
But who would’ve thought they’d be the perfect backdrop for a wedding?
Katie Cornax and Frank Villano didn’t…at least, not at first. Then COVID-19 turned their plans for an intimate Hudson Valley ceremony upside down.
“[For our] first attempt, we had decided we wanted small, we wanted it during the day because we wanted to make sure everyone could be there, but we wanted everyone to be comfortable,” Cornax, who lives with Villano in Hyde Park, explains. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the couple had booked a restaurant in Rhinebeck for a private ceremony with onsite catering for June 6. Then, just as they were about to meet with the owners to discuss the menu and put down their deposit, the Hudson Valley – and a bulk of its businesses – shut down operations.
As the fairytales teach us, however, love conquers all.
In fact, prior to planning their wedding, Cornax and Villano had something of a Hallmark romance. Both divorcees, the duo had their meet-cute at the Village at Merritt Park in Fishkill, where they each lived at the time. One day, as Cornax was sitting by the pool, she spotted Villano with his two sons. Villano offered her his sunscreen, thereby marking the unofficial start of a series of chance encounters at the complex. After more than a few run-ins while taking out the trash or going to the car, Villano gave Cornax his number and asked her to dinner.
And neither have looked back since.
The true storybook moment came during the proposal. Villano, a licensed private pilot, planned to take Cornax on what she thought was a leaf peeping ride in his Cessna 150 plane. It was the beginning of October, so the Hudson Valley skyline was at its finest with a rainbow of auburn hues. Even so, Cornax couldn’t help but feel a little jittery.
“I always get a little nervous about flying in such a small plane, but I was really excited to go,” she recalls. To help her get more comfortable with landing, VIllano told her he’d do a fake landing to familiarize her with the process. As he flew closer to the airport, though, he pointed out the window to where one of his friends stood with a sign asking her to marry Villano. After Villano passed her the ring box – quickly, since he had to get back to flying the plane – a very stunned Cornax said “yes.” The following month, the pair bought a house together. By December, they were moved into their new home sweet home in the Hudson Valley.
So, even though their first attempt at a wedding didn’t go as planned, the duo were 100-percent positive that they wanted to find a way to tie the knot. Knowing they needed to think outside the box, they confirmed a date for Saturday, June 27, 2020 at the Hyde Park Drive-In in Dutchess County. Governor Cuomo had just given the OK for drive-ins to open across New York State, and they knew it was just the opportunity they needed to plan an unforgettable day.
Cornax and Villano had a mere month and a half to pull everything together, but they were determined. One of Cornax’s friends helped her decorate the aisle and arbor with burlap, lace, and flowers. As for the invitations, the couple worked with Graphic Nature in Fishkill to shift gears and come up with a new design for their unconventional wedding.
And unconventional it most certainly was. The day was a rainy one, but even a thunderstorm didn’t stop the couple from reveling in their union. They filled the occasion with special touches from start to finish to incorporate family and fun. Villano’s older son, Braeden, played the guitar as Cornax walked down the aisle while his younger son, Aaron, walked with Cornax’s sister and maid of honor down the aisle with Duke, the couple’s dog. Cornax’s brother was even on hand to officiate the ceremony.
“He did an amazing job of personalizing it and making it feel so special,” she says.
For her journey down the aisle, Cornax donned the simple, elegant dress she had selected back in January from David’s Bridal. She paired it with sparkling high heels and a bouquet from Flowers by Reni in Fishkill, which also made a custom boutonniere for Duke.
After exchanging rings, the newlyweds celebrated with a champagne toast and photos at the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park. Instead of a traditional cake, Cornax had the bright idea to order a wedding cake piñata, which she filled with freeze-dried rose petals. She complemented it with real-deal Baked by Melissa cupcakes for each guest to take home.
Of course, cupcakes weren’t the only sweet treat onsite that day. Before, during, and after the ceremony, Hyde Park Drive-In opened its concession stand so guests could order anything they wanted.
“I would love to know how many milkshakes were consumed at our wedding,” Cornax jokes. “The staff at Hyde Park Drive-In was so amazing and did an excellent job. My Uncle Joe even said this could very well be the best wedding idea ever.”
To record their memories from the day, she and Villano recruited Brea Warren of Belle La Vie Images, a New York-based wedding photographer. According to Cornax, Warren ran with the unpredictable weather to capture moments the couple can reminisce upon for years to come.
“She was professional, creative, and absolutely lovely,” Cornax enthuses.
At the end of it all, she and Villano are happy they went ahead with their wedding. As the COVID-19 crisis made clear for them, there’s not a moment to waste when it comes to love.
“It wasn’t easy pulling it off in such a short amount of time, [but] everyone was happy to be at a location that they felt safe but could also interact with people,” she says. “Having people we love to witness our special day – despite the rain – is what made it special.”