Rochester couple’s Nigerian nuptials honor their lives

Mar. 4—ROCHESTER — It was a whirlwind romance. Six months after their first meeting, Walé and Audrey Elegbede were married in a simple, quiet courthouse wedding in La Crosse.

It reflected their tight financial circumstances, but more importantly, a desire to get on with their lives together.

Yet, there was a lingering sense of unfinished business. Yes, they were legally married, but beyond that, there was a desire to honor and pay homage to the religious and cultural values that formed a crucial part of their bond together.

So, 16 years after their first wedding, the Rochester couple wedded again, this time in Lagos, Nigeria. It was not an anniversary celebration or a renewal of vows but a completion of what they had started together, Audrey said.

And nothing could have been more different.

Their first wedding had been a private affair that lasted an hour at most. This one, encompassing a Muslim wedding and a tribal Yoruba ritual along with an after-party, was a daylong event attended by hundreds. Both the bride and groom were accompanied by a colorfully clad entourage of up to 40 people who danced and celebrated Walé and Audrey as a pair and as individuals.

And unlike their sparsely attended first wedding, when social media was barely a thing, a short video of Audrey and her entourage swaying to the popular African song “Buga” went viral with 1.5 million views and 45,000 likes.

Audrey said there was no nervousness or trepidation for her. She and Walé had been married for 16 years. Unlike the first wedding, when “you have no idea what marriage is going to be like” and so there is uncertainty and anxiety about what lay ahead, they had built a confident marriage together in the 16 years since.

“You’re hoping, you’re planning but you are not sure,” Audrey said comparing the first wedding to the second. “We knew the outcome of this. I could just enjoy it.”

Walé is president of the Rochester chapter of the NAACP and works at Mayo Clinic as a director. Audrey is also a director at Mayo.

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They met each other at an international banquet at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. Audrey was a faculty member and Walé was an alumnus. Walé was there with a friend. Being a lover of children, Walé was playing with his friend’s baby.

Audrey said she had taken notice of Walé almost immediately. But she thought the baby was Walé’s and so assumed he was already spoken for. When she realized the baby was not Walé’s, “I was like, ‘OK, there some possibilities there.'”

There was dancing at the event, which Walé used as an occasion to “bump” into Audrey. They began dancing together as a couple. They never stopped being a couple when the dancing stopped.

Although she was a white woman from La Crosse and he Black man from Lagos, Nigeria, there was little cultural gap to overcome. In fact, it was their upbringing and life experiences up until that point that added a spark to the attraction that already existed between them.

Audrey’s dad had been a UW-La Crosse history professor who had spent time in Nigeria. Her mom had been a sociologist.

Walé’s dad had been a diplomat. When Walé was about 5, he and his family moved to Lomé, Togo, where his dad served as treasurer for the Economic Community of Western African States, an African equivalent of the European Union.

Both had attended international schools. While in Togo, Walé was enrolled in an American-style international school where he picked up his polished, unaccented English. Audrey had lived in Malaysia as a teenager and attended an international school in Kuala Lumpur.

Audrey understood the Islamic faith because she had lived in Malaysia. So there was a lot in common between them but also a lot to learn, including Walé’s royal lineage.

“So that was key,” Walé said. “And so there were other things she found out about me and my family lineage. But initially that was not even the subject of conversation. It was really more about, ‘How did you get to La Crosse?'”

As if to cap everything off, in the course of their initial conversation, both learned that they were fans of “Shaka Zulu,” a 10-part epic miniseries about the rise and fall of an African emperor.

“I mean, really, you like ‘Shaka,'” Walé recalled saying to Audrey incredulously.

“I never met anybody in La Crosse who knew ‘Shaka,'” Audrey said.

The quiet court wedding soon followed.

“Just seeing Audrey, that was a blessing in my life,” Walé said. “I was at a point where, if I saw the right person, I was going for it. I wasn’t going to waste any time.”

Both said there was an almost immediate understanding that a wedding would take place in Walé’s home country. It was just a matter of doing it.

They had tried to do it three years ago. But insecurities about Boko Haram, an Islamic militant organization operating in the northern part of Nigeria, kept the wedding on pause. Then there was a pandemic outbreak. When pandemic restrictions began to lift, the couple and their three children made a plan to do it last fall.

“There were some insecurities, but you know what, it’s never gonna be the right time. Let’s just go for it. And it was fantastic,” Walé said.

Unlike the clockwork predictably of more traditional U.S. marriages, this one had a number of surprises. They included the appearance of “eyos,” enchanting figures clad from head to toe in flowing white robes. Their presence was a nod to Walé’s family roots. The Elegbede family is indigenous to Lagos and belong to the Awori, a tribe of the Yoruba people considered to be the founders of Lagos. In the cultural part of the wedding, Walé’s entourage prostrated themselves before the elders, then Walé sat among them.

Then there was a parade and salute of representatives from a Nigerian naval school that Walé had also attended. They asked to be dismissed but didn’t take their order from Walé but from Audrey.

“It was extraordinary,” Audrey said.