MAHOPAC, N.Y. - They say love will always find a way. If you ask Andrew Bunyea, a Mahopac Class of ’09 grad, and his new bride, Lili Blumenberg, they wouldn’t disagree.
The couple got married earlier this month, although, at times, it seemed like fate (and the coronavirus pandemic) was going out of its way to make sure that didn’t happen.
The wedding was originally planned for May 24 at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn., with all the traditional bells and whistles and a reception filled with friends and family. But the pandemic quickly put an end to those plans. The wedding was rescheduled for Sept. 12.
When it became clear that the pandemic was not going away anytime soon, the couple decided to reschedule for September 2021.
“We were visiting my great grandma in Mahopac and told her we were rescheduling it until next year,” said Bunyea, who now resides in New York City. “She said kind of bluntly, no, do it now; do it in August now. You can do it by the lake.”
The family owns a small stretch of property on Lake Mahopac, and the couple realized great grandma might be right. It could be the perfect setting for a wedding ceremony.
“We thought it was a great idea and that maybe she was right,” Bunyea said. “We decided to put that together because you never know what is going to happen.”
Indeed. You never know what is going to happen.
The couple went to City Hall in Manhattan to get a wedding license only to discover there was a four-month waiting period.
“The City Hall clerks’ offices aren’t open to the public because of the pandemic,” Bunyea said. “They have something called Project Cupid where you sign up for an appointment and meet with the clerk on Zoom and you show your IDs and fill out all the paperwork. But there was a four-month wait for that.”
So, Bunyea decided to turn to his hometown. He called the Carmel Town Hall in Mahopac and they told him that they, too, had a backlog of wedding license appointments but said they would find a way to squeeze them in. A date was set for the appointment—Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Bunyea and Blumenberg came up to Mahopac the night before the appointment. But Tropical Storm Isaias came the next day, knocking out power all over town, including at the Town Hall. But thanks to Assistant Town Clerk Alice Daly, the license was obtained.
“We wake up and later find out the Town Hall was going to be closed,” Bunyea said. “But Alice said, ‘I’m going to get you that license. I am not going to miss this appointment.’”
The wedding was now all set to go for Sunday, Aug. 16, on the shores of Lake Mahopac. But the couple and their guests awoke that morning only to discover it was raining—hard. The lakefront property was now a muddy quagmire.
But Bunyea and Blumenberg remained undaunted and with the family’s help, they began to brainstorm possible alternative wedding sites— no easy feat when you need to hold a wedding in a couple of hours.
“We weren’t fazed by it,” Bunyea said. ‘We thought, ‘OK, another problem.’ We deal with problems all the time.”
The couple thought about going around knocking on the doors of Lake Mahopac waterfront homes but quickly dismissed that idea. So, they hopped in the car and began to search. Because of COVID, the venue had to be outdoors but with a roof big enough to hold everyone—16 altogether—and protect them from the elements. They checked out the gazebo in Chamber Park, but it wasn’t big enough.
“We drove down Route 6, and we passed by Maple Grove Nursery,” Bunyea recalled. “We had been there the night before to buy some plants to give to our parents. Lili looks out and says, why don’t we do it there? It fits all requirements—roof, open space. We have a great grandmother and grandfather in their 90s and Lili’s brother is a doctor and been around the virus, so we needed a place outdoors where we could have the ceremony and social distance.
“We went inside and asked, can we have our wedding here in about two hours and without hesitation they said yes,” he continued. “They immediately were understanding. They understood how hard it was. It was free of charge, and they gave us a plant as a gift.”
Marcella Fante, Maple Grove’s manager, said her brother Cleto was the one who approved the wedding.
“They had come in the day before and bought some flowers, and they were a cute couple,” Marcella Fante said. “The groom’s mother and grandmother have been customers here. They spoke to my brother who is getting married in September, and he said, please come and do whatever you need. He looked at them and thought, that could be me. It went off with no problems. They were all so grateful and respectful.”
The newlyweds also had high praise for Crossroads Deli, which catered the event with a meal that featured shrimp cocktail, salad and choice of entrée (including a vegetarian meal), all packaged in individual-portion containers, delivered in a hot box so there was no reheating necessary. That avoided a buffet to assist in adhering to social distancing guidelines. The luncheon was held at the Bunyea home on Crane Road.
James Russell, owner of Crossroads Deli, said the affair was only the fourth or fifth wedding Crossroads has catered since it opened, and the second one during the pandemic. The first one came on the heels of the blackout in which the deli lost thousands of dollars’ worth of food.
“I do whatever the client wants me to do,” Russell said. “It’s a social-distance function where we portion it out, so no one has to go to a buffet line and use the same spoons. Everything is individually packaged. It was kind of easier than doing trays of food for 25 people. I’ve been cooking for more than 30 years, so I’ve kind of seen it all.”
The couple and their guests had rave reviews for the food.
“He did three different entrées and different side dishes,” Bunyea said. “The food was amazing. But that was the theme of this wedding. Nothing is what we first thought. At every turn it was something different. It was something that we didn’t expect but turned out better than what we originally planned.”
That included Blumenberg’s hair, which was placed in the talented hands of Stephanie Tomlinson at Salon Uccelli on the morning of the ceremony, just days after she was asked to do so.
“Steph came in on her day off to do that for Lili,” Bunyea said. “And she did a last-minute change that Lili asked for, and she just rolled with it and made it happened.”
So, in a way this is not just a story about a couple overcoming overwhelming obstacles to get married (someone ready to write the rom-com screenplay?), but it’s also the tale of local businesses stepping up to help make it happen.
“The determination of all these people to make this happen was amazing,” Bunyea said. “The wedding would not have been as amazing without the kindness, generosity and assistance of the small businesses in Mahopac. It was so magical. It was sad that it was under these circumstances, but sometimes you get the sparkle out of something like this.”
The couple is now set to begin their new life together in New York City. Plans are in the works for a possible reception with a much larger crowd next year. No honeymoon is planned yet, but Bunyea said a trip to Europe could be possible.
Bunyea works as a software engineer for Google, and Blumenberg, who recently earned her PhD from New York University, is a scientist who just landed a job at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown.
“She works from our apartment,” Bunyea said. “She’s never even been in their building or met her bosses in person.”
But that’s just life and love in a pandemic.