Hospice workers help couple take wedding photos they never had

There was no time to get a photographer or even a wedding gown when Royce King and his wife, Frankie, got married on his whirlwind, two-day leave in 1944 before he went overseas to fight in World War II.

Seventy-seven years later, the couple from Iowa finally have some beautiful wedding photos to cherish.

Frankie King, 97, and her husband, Royce, 98, celebrated their 77th anniversary with an impromptu wedding photo shoot in September.Courtesy Hilary Michelson / St. Croix Hospice

Royce, 98, and Frankie, 97, had a special 77th anniversary on Sept. 16 thanks to the staff at St. Croix Hospice who help care for the couple at the Kings’ home in Oelwein, Iowa.

They found a vintage 1940s wedding gown for Frankie, and Royce wore his Air Force uniform as they held an anniversary celebration in their backyard on a beautiful sunny day. Flowers from the patio were turned into a bouquet for Frankie, and a music therapist from St. Croix played some 1940s standards as Frankie walked down the “aisle.”

The staff at St. Croix Hospice was able to find a vintage 1940s wedding dress for Frankie to wear at the ceremony. Courtesy Hilary Michelson / St. Croix Hospice

“How can you not have a sense of overwhelming emotion?” St. Croix Hospice CEO Heath Bartness told TODAY. “The connectivity you almost feel that you were a part of this, and thinking back to what it was like in World War II the first time, and how meaningful and how emotional this second opportunity to do this was. There’s an overwhelming sense of pride in not just the company and what the organization did, but more so just as an act of humanity.”

Hilary Michelson, a staffer at St. Croix who is also a professional photographer, captured the heartwarming scenes in a series of beautiful photos that now make up the Kings’ wedding album.

The couple’s daughter, Sue Bilodeau, who lives in California, happened to be in the area and was able to witness the impromptu ceremony.

The couple had a “first look” moment when Royce was blindfolded and then saw his bride in her dress. Courtesy Sue Bilodeau

“It was very emotional, very heartwarming,” Bilodeau told TODAY. “I couldn’t stop smiling, and I couldn’t stop being so happy for both of them, especially mom in her wedding gown looking so beautiful.”

They also did a “first look,” where they put a handkerchief over Royce’s eyes and then escorted Frankie in front of him.

“They said, ‘Are you ready to see your bride?’ and took the blindfold off,” Bilodeau said. “He had just the biggest smile the rest of the day. It was amazing.”

“I had the honor of snapping some photos for their 77th wedding anniversary,” Michelson wrote on Facebook. “Absolutely no shame in the fact that I had a hard time keeping it together behind the lens.”

It was long overdue for the couple, who got married in a church back in 1944 and were not able to get pictures of the ceremony.

“We always knew that, and we had so many other pictures because they had dated since high school, but they never had any formal wedding pictures,” Bilodeau said.

The couple was not able to get photos from their original wedding in 1944 because it came on a two-day leave for Royce before he went to fight in World War II. Courtesy Hilary Michelson / St. Croix Hospice

The couple still live in the home where they raised Bilodeau and her brother. Last month’s ceremony showed the spark is still there for the two after all these years.

“In fact, when they said ‘you may kiss the bride,’ when he gave her a kiss, we all commented, ‘That was quite a long kiss,'” Bilodeau said while laughing.

The couple’s daughter, Sue Bilodeau, was able to witness the heartwarming day while she was in Iowa from her home in California. Courtesy Sue Bilodeau

Bilodeau is grateful to the staff at St. Croix for pulling together a day her family won’t soon forget. They also made a special wedding cake with a pair of 7s on it so the couple could have the traditional moment where they cut the cake together.

“It was an impromptu thing, and that’s really the best way for them at this stage,” Bilodeau said. “I didn’t know they were planning it until I was on my way to Iowa anyway.

“They were just very excited and honored that St. Croix would do that for them. They liked to be in the limelight, dad especially, and mom was so happy to put on a gown and be beautiful. I think they were just overwhelmed at the whole day.”

A wedding album has now been made for the couple of the photos taken by St. Croix staffer and professional photographer Hilary Michelson. Courtesy Hilary Michelson / St. Croix Hospice

“With hospice, we always talk about joining in someone’s journey,” Bartness said. “Sometimes you get to create new memories at this stage, and that’s what’s really cool and special.”

Several staff members from St. Croix were able to be there in person after rearranging their schedules to witness the sweet moment.

“We can’t thank them enough,” Bilodeau said. “It was wonderful and long overdue. I just got done printing up a photo album, so it will be in the mail and now they will finally have their wedding photos.”