News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 1, 2009

Stephanie Salter: Something old, something new, something borrowed and Earth-friendly, too

By Stephanie Salter

TERRE HAUTE — Like so many brides-to-be, Sarah Oblon was fairly fixated on getting exactly the right wedding dress. But it wasn’t visions of Vera Wang and imported peu de soie that swirled in Sarah’s head.

It was T-shirts. Everyday, white cotton T-shirts. And used ones, thank you, not new.

Sarah, who is marrying Andrew Distelrath on Saturday in Indianapolis, may be having one of the most untraditional traditional weddings in the state. Her full-length, strapless T-shirt gown pretty much typifies the approach she and her fiancé have taken to their big day, from the pre-wedding shower to their honeymoon.

“Maybe an Earth-friendly wedding?” Sarah said, when asked to categorize her nuptials.

Sarah is the granddaughter of Bob and Maggie Pabst (and the late Phyllis Pabst), who live in Seelyville and are parishioners of St. Ann Catholic Church, where I first heard about the comfy and environmentally-conscious wedding taking place Aug. 8.

Maggie and Bob were among dozens of relatives who responded to Sarah’s request for donated T-shirts. Kelly Lucas, a family friend and theater costume designer, transformed 45 shirts into a lovely, clingy gown for Sarah.

“It’s genius. He so got what I wanted,” said Sarah, by phone last week from Houston, where she and Andrew live — for now.

“Both of us have a strong urge to move back home,” she said. “We’re looking for a house to buy in Indianapolis.”

I haven’t met Sarah, but I gather from her grandparents that people who have watched her grow up are not surprised at the kind of wedding she and Andrew have fashioned. Always a kid who wanted to help the less fortunate, Sarah vowed in high school, after hearing a Peace Corps volunteer speak, that she, too, would join the corps.

After graduating from Hanover College with an art major and a chemistry minor — “That way I could teach math and science in Africa” — she made good on her promise. In the fall of 2003 the Peace Corps sent her to the rural settlement of Namitembo, Malawi.

“It is gorgeous, hot, and the people are amazing,” she said. Despite what we might describe as abject poverty, the people of Namitembo “are very, very happy. I went there to help people, but I got much more back from them than I gave.”

During her two-plus years in Malawi, Sarah said she was struck most by two aspects of life:

Because native teachers are paid almost no money and even less attention, “students were literally on their hands and knees begging their teachers to teach them,” she said.

She also learned, “a village really does raise a kid.” And when the village does it right, as Sarah says the people of Namitembo do, “everyone learns at an early age to respect their elders.”

That attitude promotes social cohesion and the communal sense that one child is everyone’s child, that the well-being of the entire community depends on the well-being of each individual.

Next year, when they can afford it, Sarah and Andrew, who both come from huge Catholic families, are going to Namitembo for their honeymoon and to have their marriage blessed in the Catholic church there. Saturday, though, the legal and spiritual ceremony will be performed by Sarah’s Aunt Shelley Lucchese.

The wedding is, of course, outdoors, in German Park on Indy’s south side. Sarah grew up just behind the private park and “used to get kicked out of there all the time when I was a kid.”

About 200 guests — most of them relatives — have been invited to dress for games like kickball and corn hole in the morning and for a “pitch-in lunch.” Then there will be a break for everyone to go “dress up a little” and return to the park for the 6 p.m. wedding and sit-down catered dinner. (No Styrofoam or plastic; real plates and utensils that can be washed.)

Andrew plans to wear khakis and a buttoned-up dress shirt. Sarah has still not decided whether to go barefoot or wear white flip-flops with her dress.

“I really wanted a wedding where everybody came in T-shirts and jeans,” she said. “But nobody else picked up on that idea.”

What everyone did pick up on was Andrew and Sarah’s request to direct gift-giving to the Namitembo mission or to Mother Earth. The women of the Distelrath family responded with a bridal shower in which gifts were hand-written pledges of “something eco-friendly” they would do for Sarah in the coming year.

All five bridesmaids will be wearing dresses from second-hand stores, garage sales or family closets. Almost every item used in the wedding and at the reception dinner also will be pre-used.

“Reusing, when possible, is Sarah and Andrew’s effort to conserve our precious resources,” their ceremony program says, under “Andrew and Sarah’s fun wedding info.”

All of the flowers are coming from the yard of Sarah’s parents, Julie and Joe Oblon. When Andrew places Sarah’s Great-Grandma Lillie’s wedding band on Sarah’s finger, it will join his own great-grandmother’s engagement ring, with which he proposed in July 2008.

For that important occasion, Andrew took Sarah back to the place they met and first kissed in 2002 — a summer camp for troubled kids in southern Indiana where both were counselors.

“I knew what was happening so I blew-dry my hair and put on some makeup,” Sarah said. “He was really nervous. He didn’t get down on one knee — that’s not him — but he handed over his great-grandma’s engagement ring. It was perfect.”

Anyone who might doubt the meant-for-each-other factor of the couple’s love need only recall that they split up for the entire time Sarah was in Malawi; neither wanted a long-distance relationship. It didn’t matter. As soon as Andrew learned she was back in Indiana, they reunited.

In Houston, Andrew teaches social studies to eighth-graders; Sarah works for a wind energy company. Both want children, sooner than later, and agree that Indiana is the place to raise kids.

As might be expected, Sarah and Andrew have written their own vows, which will be printed on a marriage contract they want all 200 guests to sign.

“We talk about loving by learning how to communicate, about respecting each other, and also about having fun,” Sarah said.

Andrew, a guitarist, is in charge of the wedding music, which will be performed by a trio of Irish musicians who played at his sister’s wedding.

“I think we’re coming in to ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ probably Izzy’s version because that’s Grandpa’s song,” Sarah said of the arrangement by Hawaiian legend Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

“I do know what our first dance is,” she added. “It’s ‘One, Two, Three, Four’ — by the Plain White Ts. We thought that would be appropriate.”

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or