September 3, 2022 at Omni Bedford Springs in Bedford, PA. –Marla Aurandt marries Brantley Rice (husband) Marla’s father Tim located a truck that once belonged to her grandfather, who died in the 1977 Johnstown flood along with the grandmother– grandparents were Robert and Barbara Selders.
Shawna McConnell/Snaps by Shawna
Minutes after Marla Rice and her husband Brantley finished saying their wedding vows last September, Marla’s mom pulled her aside to remind her youngest daughter that she and her father had a surprise for the couple.
“Is it Theo?” Marla asked, thinking her parents had brought the couple’s 150-lb. Newfoundland to the wedding. “Is Theo here?”
It turned out to be something even more unexpected.
Parked nearby in the grass was the shiny black and green 1931 Model-A Ford truck that had belonged to her maternal grandparents — Bob and Barbara Selders — before their tragic deaths in a massive flood that decimated Johnstown, Penn., in 1977.
“As soon as I saw it,” recalls Marla in an interview in this week’s PEOPLE, “my jaw just dropped. It brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. It was like my grandparents were here with us.”
siblings–September 3, 2022 at Omni Bedford Springs in Bedford, PA. –this photo: From Leah: My mom (sitting) with her brother Dallen, sister Tracie (mother of bride) and sister Tammie Marla Aurandt marries Brantley Rice (husband) Marla’s father Tim located a truck that once belonged to her grandfather, who died in the 1977 Johnstown flood along with the grandmother– grandparents were Robert and Barbara Selders.
But what made the surprise even more remarkable was that most of Marla’s family had long ago given up hope of ever again seeing the beloved antique quarter-ton truck that had been the source of so many precious memories.
“That truck represented home to me,” recalls Marla’s mom, Tracie Aurandt, who was 13 when she lost her parents. “It was a piece of my life — a piece of all our lives — that I never thought I’d ever see again.”
The long-lost pick-up was one of the vibrant couple’s few belongings not swept away by the floodwaters that claimed the lives of at least 78 people when torrential rains fell on their hometown, causing the failure of six nearby dams.
The couple’s oldest child, Terrie, then 22 and newly married, took in siblings Tracie and Tammie, 10, while their brother Dallen, 18, lived nearby with a friend’s family.
Early 1970s– Robert Selders in front of the truck that was found for grand-daughter Marla Aurandt’s wedding.
Courtesy Marla Aurandt
The truck was sold to provide funds to support the family.
The vehicle’s surprise appearance at Marla’s wedding on Sept. 3 in Bedford, Penn., helped — for a few brief moments — to take a bit of the heartache out of a tragedy that has cast a shadow over the family for decades.
“It turned a sad thing,” explains Tracie, “into something happy.”
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The search for the 91-year-old truck that Bob Selders — who owned a successful kitchen remodeling business — purchased in the mid 1960s began in August 2021. Marla had just chosen her wedding venue and mentioned to her mom that she’d love to have a vintage vehicle at her wedding.
nanny and pappy. Robert and Barbara Selders. The first one was taken in the 70’s in Cover Studio
courtesy Marla Aurandt
“Not long after that Tracie told me, ‘You gotta find my dad’s truck,'” recalls her husband Tim, 61, who manages a car dealership near the couple’s home in Davidsville, Penn. “And all I could think was, ‘How in the world am I going to do that?'”
Ten months later he received his answer during a conversation with Tracie’s older brother Dallen, 63, who mentioned that he’d met the truck’s owner years earlier while making a house call to repair the man’s phone line.
When Tim tracked down the owner — 77-year-old Jay Shaffer, who lived outside of Johnstown — to ask if he would consider allowing the family to use the vehicle in Marla’s wedding, the vintage car buff was thrilled.
nanny and pappy. Robert and Barbara Selders. second one was taken in 1976
Courtesy Robert Tremble
“I told him, ‘Absolutely. I can drive it there myself,'” says Shaffer.
When Tracie first laid eyes on her father’s truck, she burst into tears. Its worn black steering wheel and the odor of the musty interior brought back memories of weekend excursions the family often took in the precious pick-up.
For more on the Selders family’s long-lost truck and the emotional wedding surprise, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.
“It gave me chills,” recalls Tracie, who was raised by her older sister Terrie and husband Wayne Wyar, who are parents to Leah Wyar, president of the Dotdash Meredith Entertainment Group that includes PEOPLE.
** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JULY 22 – FILE ** Swirling muddy water flows across a roadway in a residential area where homes have been completely demolished in the aftermath of a flood in Johnstown, Pa., on July 20, 1977. The flood left 85 people dead, affected more than 7,300 families in seven counties and destroyed homes, businesses, dams, roads and bridges.(AP Photo/Paul Vathis, File)
The couple told no one about the surprise they had planned for Marla’s wedding, which was held at a 200-year-old historic resort in southern Pennsylvania. When siblings, friends and family in attendance to celebrate the couple spotted the truck, most were overcome with emotion.
“I didn’t get to have the presence of my grandparents in my life growing up,” says Marla, “but I certainly did on my wedding day. It was magical.”