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Wedding moves to Potsdam after chapel fire

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POTSDAM — Katherine A. Skiff wanted a fall wedding.

She wanted to be married in the same place as her parents, the same place as her aunt and uncle, the same place she and her brother were baptized. She wanted to be married on the campus where her grandfather served as chaplain for more than a decade, a school that so many of her family members call their alma mater. She wanted to be married today in St. Lawrence University’s Gunnison Memorial Chapel, Canton.

But it was not to be.

A fire early Sunday destroyed the chapel’s steeple less than a week before the wedding. The interior of the chapel suffered water damage as firefighters quenched the blaze.

When they heard the news, Ms. Skiff and her fiance, Matthew K. Francis, hoped there was still some way to make their dream wedding happen.

“At first, I still thought we were going to be able to make it work,” she said.

As the extent of the damage to the chapel became clear, the couple learned it would be impossible.

Although SLU officials still are assessing the damage to the chapel, Mr. Francis and Ms. Skiff will have their fall wedding; the community came together to find them a new place to wed.

The Winthrop couple will be married today, not beneath a ruined steeple in Canton, but at Potsdam’s First Presbyterian Church, another house of worship with family ties for Ms. Skiff. Her grandfather, the Rev. Varre A. Cummins, was pastor there from 1957 until he took the chaplain position at SLU from 1964 to 1987.

“I’m feeling very blessed. I feel like the community, Canton and Potsdam, have just wrapped their arms around us,” Ms. Skiff said.

Plenty of hectic planning and minor disasters precede even a perfect wedding, but having the couple’s dream location literally collapse took things to a whole new level.

The disaster sparked a week of rapid-fire planning for the couple and the community members who helped make sure the wedding would go on.

“There’s been a lot of last-minute trying to contact people,” Mr. Francis said.

Family members were called, plans were altered and scores of programs had to be reprinted to reflect the change in location.

“We’re taking it pretty well,” Ms. Skiff said. “I only got teary one time.”

Some plans remain unchanged: the couple still will be married by the Rev. Kathleen Buckley, St. Lawrence University’s chaplain.

As for Mr. Francis, he said he will just be happy when the hectic week is over and the couple is happily wed and on their way to the Dominican Republic.

“We’re getting through it. I’m glad the honeymoon is right after,” he said.

They haven’t given up their dream of a service at St. Lawrence University; the Rev. Ms. Buckley gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Mr. and Mrs. Francis will renew their vows on their first anniversary under the repaired steeple at Gunnison Memorial Chapel.

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