By Keysha Drexel
When Keely Kennedy Hooks and her husband, Austin Hooks, celebrate their first wedding anniversary later this summer, the Hoover couple will be marking not only an important date in their lives but one that is part of a family tradition stretching back more than a century.
Keely got married on Aug. 18, making her the fourth generation of women in her family to tie the knot on that date.
And while it may seem like it took a lot of planning for Keely to make sure she shared her wedding date with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, the 26-year-old said in reality, things serendipitously fell into place when she and Austin started planning their wedding.
Keely and Austin dated for six and half years before they were engaged on Dec. 23, 2011.
“We knew we didn’t want to wait a long time to get married,” she said. “We had taken our time in getting engaged, but we knew we didn’t want to wait a whole year after that to get married.”
As Keely and Austin sat down with a calendar to plan their nuptials, Keely discovered that Aug. 18, 2012 fell on a Saturday.
“We felt like it was meant to be,” she said. “It’s an important date in my family’s history, and I was happy to be able to carry on the tradition.”
The family tradition started in 1909 when Keely’s great grandparents, Helen and Frank Begley, were married.
Helen was from England and Frank was from Ireland. They met in New Jersey when a wave of immigrants came to find work and the promise of a better life in America.
Frank worked for Clow Water Systems, a pipe company, and the couple lived in Ohio. The company opened a branch in Alabama, and the couple moved to the Birmingham area.
Helen and Frank Begley were married for more than 50 years, until his death.
The couple had twin daughters, Ann Marie and Mary Regina Begley.
The twin sisters grew up sharing everything, and when they both met the men of their dreams, they also ended up sharing a wedding date.
Ann Marie, Keely’s grandmother, married John Delworth Wood in a double ceremony where her sister, Mary, wed Braxton Frank Taylor. The ceremony was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham on Aug. 18, 1940.
The auspicious date was also their parents’ 31st wedding anniversary.
Mary and B.F. Taylor were married for more than 50 years, until his death. Ann Marie’s husband, who was known as Jack, died when he was 47, and she never remarried.
Ann Marie and Jack had one child, Jacqueline Ann Wood, whom they called Jackie. The family lived on Vestview Lane in Vestavia Hills, and Jackie attended John Carroll Catholic High School.
She was 17 years old when she met James Michael Kennedy. The two dated for a while but also dated other people before becoming exclusive.
After high school, Jackie earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama and then received a master’s degree in health information systems at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she later was an adjunct professor.
For her 21st birthday, Jackie received a special gift from her mother that always reminds her of what a special day Aug. 18 was in her family’s history.
“My mother had a ring made for me that was made out of my father’s wedding band and her engagement ring,” Jackie said.
When Jackie was 29, Michael asked her to marry him.
“We dated for 12 years before we were married. All of our friends who had gotten married earlier were getting a divorce. We took our time until we were sure we had found the right one,” she said.
When it came to setting their wedding date, Jackie said she knew choosing Aug. 18 would make her family happy.
“I knew that date would be a family pleaser, but I also knew it wasn’t a requirement,” she said. “It was pretty unlikely that the date would fall on a Saturday, but it did and I was able to carry on the wedding date tradition.”
Jackie and Michael were married on Aug. 18, 1979 at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Hoover. The 3 p.m. ceremony was performed by Rev. Monsignor Francis Wade.
Given in marriage by her mother, Jackie wore a candlelight gown featuring a high collar, sleeves and bodice of Chantilly lace. The skirt and chapel train featured a Chantilly lace hemline. Her waist-length veil was attached to an open Camelot headpiece covered with matching lace. Jackie carried a cascade bouquet of candlelight rosebuds.
She was attended by her cousins and friends from high school and college, and her cousin served as the ring bearer. The bridesmaids wore peach dresses and hats.
Michael’s father was the best man, and his cousin and close friends were groomsmen. The groomsmen wore white tuxedos with brown trim.
The couple’s reception was at Hilton Inn. After a honeymoon trip to the Sapphire Valley in North Carolina, Jackie and Michael settled in Vestavia Hills.
A week after she got married, Jackie started a new job at St. Vincent’s hospital. It’s the same hospital where, later, Jackie’s children would be born and where she still works today.
“That was something I was warned never to do–to get married, move and get a new job all at the same time, but that’s how it worked out and somehow, we pulled it off,” Jackie said.
The couple lived in Vestavia for a few years and then moved to Camelot Circle in Hoover. The address and Jackie’s married name made for several memorable reactions from others over the years, Jackie said, because President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie’s short time in the White House has been characterized in popular culture as “Camelot.”
“You wouldn’t believe the looks I got when I would tell someone that my name was Jackie Kennedy and I lived on Camelot Circle,” she said. “It was a fun coincidence.”
The couple had two children, Woody and Keely, both of whom went to John Carroll Catholic High School.
Keely and Austin met when both were students at Spain Park High School in Hoover. But the relationship wasn’t romantic–at first.
“We were just friends in high school and never dated then,” Keely said.
Keely was at the University of Alabama studying nursing and Austin was studying civil engineering when the couple decided to take their relationship to the next level.
“It wasn’t until we were both in college at Alabama that we started dating,” she said.
While at UA, Keely was a member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, the SGA and Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society. She graduated from UA with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2009 and started working at St. Vincent’s–the same place her mother works and the hospital where she was born.
After six and half years of dating, Austin popped the question, Keely said yes and the couple learned St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church was available for an Aug. 18 ceremony.
Keely’s engagement ring also holds a special family significance, she said.
“My dad’s mother died in 2009, and she left me her engagement ring,” Keely said. “Austin used the diamond from her ring in a setting he designed for me, and so it is very special to me for so many reasons.”
Keely said there was a time when she would have never considered getting married on the same date as her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
“I guess it was kind of a rebellious thing, but I remember saying in school that when I grew up, I would never get married on Aug. 18,” she said.
But as she grew up, Keely said, she began to understand the significance and importance of family traditions and family connections.
“I guess it has been a really lucky wedding date for everyone in my family, but for me it was more about carrying on that family connection,” she said.
Austin was immediately on board with the idea, Keely said, so the wedding planning began in earnest.
But the planning part was a little more than Keely said she had anticipated.
“I guess when you’re a little girl you dream about your wedding dress most of all, and that’s the way I was,” Keely said. “I somehow thought that once I had chosen my wedding dress, the planning was over, but thank goodness for my mom or we might not have had anything planned for the wedding but what I was wearing.”
Jackie went into high gear planning her daughter’s wedding at the same church where she had said her vows in 1979.
Keely and Austin asked Father Bob Sullivan to perform the ceremony, giving the wedding yet another family connection.
“He was the priest at our parish that both of our children grew up with, and he knows our family very well,” Jackie said. “It was fitting to have him marry Keely and Austin.”
And while Keely and Austin had arranged where they would get married and by whom, their plans hit a brief snag when they couldn’t find the right venue for the reception.
“Austin is a huge golfer and hunter and loves the outdoors so I wanted to have a reception at a golf club, but everywhere I called was already booked,” she said.
Fortunately, a friend who is a member at Old Overton Golf Club in Vestavia Hills offered to sponsor the couple so they could hold their wedding reception there.
While the wedding ceremony and reception locations were being booked, Keely set about choosing what she would wear on the biggest day of her life.
She chose her dress within two weeks of setting the wedding date.
“I knew I wanted something simple and classic,” she said.
Keely chose a Watter’s dress with handmade Irish lace on the bodice and a silk A-line shirt. The dress featured ruching at the waistband and a cathedral-length train.
Keely’s veil was made by her mother and offered another special family tradition to add to the ceremony.
“Mom took the lace off her wedding dress and used it on my veil,” she said. “It was a very special part of my dress to me.”
Jackie also made the ring bearer’s pillow, and the whole family got in on prepping for Keely and Austin’s wedding.
Keely and her mom hand rolled cones out of card stock, stamping each one with an “H” for Hooks and the couple’s address. The cones were designed to hold rose petals for guests to shower Keely and Austin with as they left the wedding reception for their honeymoon.
“But the cones kept popping open, so Dad designed a special holder for them,” she said.
Jackie got in touch with Martha Aldridge, who dried hydrangea petals and made wreaths to hang on the doors of the church. Jackie and Keely made the sashes for the door wreaths bearing Austin and Keely’s names.
“My mom was so creative and kept thinking of all these projects for the wedding, but when it got to be about one week out, I had to tell her that there just wasn’t any more time and we had to finish,” Keely said.
But Jackie thought of a few more details to work into the wedding, including engraved champagne glasses for the couple’s first toast and delicate orchids to adorn a chandelier.
“It was all a labor of love and just really fun to do,” Jackie said.
About three weeks into planning the wedding, all the details and projects started adding up, and Keely felt the full weight of being a bride-to-be.
“I asked my father if it was too late to just take the wedding money and run and elope,” she said, laughing. “And he said no because we had already ordered the dress.”
For her bridesmaids, Keely thought it was important to choose dresses the girls might actually want to wear again, she said.
“I’ve seen weddings where the poor bridesmaids are wearing these brightly-colored dresses that they will never, ever get to use again, and I wanted something that was more practical for my bridal party,” she said.
Keely chose gray dresses for her bridesmaids, giving each a choice of different styles of the dress to wear.
Keely and Austin chose black tuxedoes, vests and ties for the groomsmen.
“We didn’t want the whole ‘Steel Magnolias’ kind of wedding where everything is bathed in shades of pink,” she said. “I wanted something classic, simple and neutral.”
For her bouquet, Keely chose blush and ivory roses, hydrangeas and freesia. The freesia was also used in the boutonnieres for the men in the wedding party.
“The flowers we chose were to give a little pop of color without going overboard with too many different colors,” Keely said.
Jay Ross was the floral designer for the wedding.
“He did an awesome job,” Keely said. “The flowers were perfect.”
Keely’s cousin, a pastry chef, created the wedding cake and the groom’s cake.
The three tiers of the wedding cake came in red velvet, lemon and white cake and featured buttercream icing finished in a simple swirl pattern. The cake was decorated with a metal “H” cake topper and fresh flowers.
The groom’s cake was a nod to Austin’s love of golf and featured a green patch of “turf” decorated with real golf balls.
A fellow John Carroll alum, Lisa Marie Bearden, took the wedding photos and, much to delight of Austin and the other guys, knew exactly what shots she wanted.
“The guys loved the fact that she had every shot planned out and the pictures didn’t take forever,” Keely said. “I think she and two other photographers working with her took about 3,000 pictures, and they were great.”
The couple’s rehearsal dinner was a Low Country boil at the Hoover Country Club where Austin’s sister presented a slideshow featuring photos of the couple throughout their more than six-year courtship.
On the morning of her wedding, Keely and her bridal party had their hair done at Salon 150, wearing men’s button-down shirts with their monograms embroidered on the pockets by Jackie.
“We used to wear those shirts to sleep in when we were in college, so I thought it would be fun to hang out in them while we were getting our hair and makeup done,” Keely said. “It was another one of the special things that my mom contributed to my wedding.”
But before she walked down the aisle, Keely had her own special wedding day mementos that she wanted to present.
For her father, Keely embroidered a handkerchief that read “Today I’m a bride, tomorrow a wife, forever your little girl.” For Austin’s mother, she embroidered a handkerchief that read “Thank you for raising your son to be the man of my dreams.”
The handkerchief Keely embroidered for her mother, which read “To dry your tears as you have always dried mine,” was one of Jackie’s favorite parts of the wedding.
“It meant so much to me,” Jackie said. “Of course, she gave it to me right after we had our makeup done, so I thought I was going to ruin my makeup before the ceremony even started.”
Keely said several elements of her wedding were planned to pay tribute to her family and their traditions, such as how she carried the same handkerchief down the aisle that her great-grandmother did in 1909.
But some parts of the ceremony were a surprise, she said.
“Since I was a little girl, my dad called me Taz like the Tasmanian Devil from cartoons,” she said. “Right before the ceremony started, Dad came into the bridal room and had forgotten to button his jacket, and I asked him what was on his vest because it didn’t look like the plain black ones the other guys were wearing.”
That’s when Keely’s father broke into a wide grin, opened his coat and revealed to his daughter that he was wearing a tuxedo vest emblazoned with tiny images of the Tasmanian Devil.
“It was the most awesome moment,” she said. “My dad’s the greatest.”
At the reception, the 250 wedding guests danced to the tunes of Moondance and enjoyed a buffet of heavy hors d’oeuvres.
“I don’t think I have ever danced so much in my life. It was so fun and everyone enjoyed it,” Keely said. “I saw my 78-year-old great aunt dancing to ‘Brick House’ at one point, and Mom was out there dancing the cha-cha.”
As the reception fun continued, Keely changed into a going-away dress her mother made for her as she and Austin prepared to embark on a honeymoon to Jamaica.
“The dress was white and came to just above the knee. It was backless and had this awesome bow in the back,” Keely said.
The couple made their getaway from the reception in a vintage Plymouth that Austin chose for the occasion.
“I think it was a 1930s model but I’m not sure,” Keely said. “All I know is that it didn’t have air conditioning.”
Keely said her wedding couldn’t have turned out any better, and she feels grateful that she was able to get married on the date that has been special in her family for 104 years.
“I still think it’s incredible how it all came together, and I’m so glad it did,” she said.
And the family tradition of memorable wedding and engagement dates continues.
Keely’s brother, Woody, proposed to Ann Marie Pylant on Dec. 12, 2012, or 12/12/12. The couple were married on May 25 at the Windmark Beach resort in Port Saint Joe, Fla.