McKeesport natives win dream wedding at Hotel Monaco
Matthew Brown, who served in Iraq with the Army National Guard, and fiancee Hannah Reese will get their dream wedding as winner of Hotel Monaco's Warrior Wedding Contest.
In his submission for the contest, Brown said even though he served his country, Reese is the real hero.
“She pulled me from my darkest places and helped me become the man and the father I am today,” wrote Brown, who spent a yearlong deployment with the Army National Guard with the 2nd Marine Division in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. “Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. I have to say, without Hannah, I most likely could have become a statistic. I was on a path of destruction. ... She helped me to see brighter days, urged me to seek help for the demons I was battling and set me on the right path.”
The two McKeesport natives have previously put their wedding plans on hold. They have two children, Alayna, 4, and Colton, 8 months, who has been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease affecting part of the nervous system.
“Having our son be part of our wedding is of the utmost importance to us,” Brown wrote. “We do not know how long we have with him, and all of our funds, time and energy currently go for caring for Colton. A dream wedding would mean the world to us.”
Brown and Reese won an all-expenses-paid wedding on Dec. 13 at Hotel Monaco, Downtown. The 100-person wedding will take place in the hotel's Sheffield Ballroom.
They found out they won Sept. 11 at the Warriors Rock Concert at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. They were chosen via a contest on the hotel's website, which was open to all veteran couples with a connection to Pittsburgh.
The campaign is the vision of event planner Bonnie Walker and Kim Racan of the Studio E Band and will be brought to life by Bonnie Walker Events, Studio E Entertainment, Revolution Events, The Harry Panos Fund for Veterans and the hotel.
“As a Kimpton hotel, we recognize that a simple smile or thank you is able to transform a person's day,” says Hotel Monaco general manager Rob Mallinger. “With our Warrior Wedding giveaway, we're turning that concept up full throttle. ... No one puts more of themselves on the line and in harm's way so selflessly, and we really wanted to do something to recognize that.”
The other finalists are Steven Waskin and Savanna Maker and Ryan Leonard and Kristen Changle.
Waskin of New Castle and Maker of Campbell, Ohio, say their love grew during Waskin's time serving in Egypt. When he returned in February, they decided they wanted to be married. They live in Fort Hood, Texas, where Waskin is based with the Army.
“It was the most magical moment,” says Waskin of his return to the United States in February. “When she hugged me, it felt like a lifetime. Savanna was the one through it all who stayed by my side and gave my life light when I could not see light myself. The one who stayed up all night long talking to me even when she had to be up early for work. The one I could never picture my life without. The one I want to marry.”
Leonard and Changle met in Pittsburgh on Veterans Day 2014. Leonard, a father of twin girls, Alice and McKenzie, is from Middletown, N.J. He enlisted in the Navy, and in 2012 was sent to Pittsburgh to work at the 911 Airlift Reserve Air-Wing. Changle, who was raised in Carnegie, joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 2009. They've been inseparable since the day they met.
“All of the obstacles in my life led me straight to the moment that I would meet the girl of my dreams,” Leonard says. “Every twist and turn life throws our way, we know we can get through it because we have each other. Kristen is a beautiful girl and soldier, inside and out.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.