A labor of love

Jul 20, 2021 | Spotlight

By Katelyn Latture

Wedding planner Lydia Petersen knows what it’s like to find a great love. Perhaps that is why she loves her job so much. She gets to send off happy couples on a lifetime journey.

Her own journey to finding true love was complicated. After years of living in an unhappy marriage and trying hard to raise her two children, she divorced. She gave marriage a second chance with Chuck, who became not only her better half but a better fit. 

“The security, the trust, knowing when someone truly loves you is, I think, why I love working in weddings as I do ‘cause I’ve known both sides,” Petersen said. “When I was able to walk away, and my children understood – I waited until my children were old enough to understand.”

Petersen sat at a mock-wedding table in the foyer of the Arling. She was wearing blue jeans a fuzzy pullover, and her short, brown locks were pulled back in a clip. Her glasses framed her bright eyes and sat above her big smile she almost always wore. Behind her sat a case of binders. “Lindsay and Zach” read one. Each binder has a photograph of one of her couples on the front, their names printed on the side. Petersen makes one for each couple as soon as they make an appointment to tour her venue, even before the couple decides to book the renovated tobacco-barn-turned-wedding-venue.

Chuck was working on a loft addition to the Arling’s main reception area. Tall, natural wood ceilings and towering antique doors are met with white drapes that reach from ceiling to floor. Petersen and Chuck own and run the Arling together.

“Every day I’m so glad I have Chuck. I knew he’d take care of me, and he does,” Petersen said.

Almost as if on cue, Chuck walked in wearing a pair of blue jeans, a flannel and a green ball cap. He grabbed a box of Girl Scout cookies off a table in the foyer and asked, “Are these our cookies?” Petersen confirmed they were. Chuck replied, “I’m gonna make sure they put the right cookies in there.”

Petersen laughed and smiled at her husband’s response. Her eyes fell and smile disappeared when she talked about her past marriage. Her smile reappeared when she talked about her present and the change.

“I never really, through my first life in the marriage world – I was never really a happy person. When I met Chuck, and then as time went on, and eventually we got married, it’s like every day now since we’ve been married, it’s like, every day is a happy day,” Petersen said.

Petersen married Chuck in December 1991 after dating him for two years. She had befriended his parents at church before she met him. When Chuck’s dad heard Petersen was getting divorced, Chuck showed up at church the next Sunday.

“Well, she couldn’t do it without him,” said Marty Sharer, Petersen’s son. Chuck serves Petersen well and does whatever he can to make her dreams come true. 

Twenty-three years after they married, Petersen and Chuck opened the Arling, a barn wedding venue in Franklin, Kentucky. Petersen had admired the barn for many years. Her brother’s golf course, Kenny Perry’s Country Creek, sits next door to the property. Perry eventually bought the 100-acre farm on which the barn sits. Petersen tried for years to convince him to sell the barn to her, but he would not budge and often laughed when she brought it up. 

“Finally, in early part of 2013, I went to his house – he was home – and I sat down beside him in his den, and I looked at him and I said, ‘I want to buy the barn and 10 acres.’ And he looked at me. He said, ‘Why? Why do you want to work every weekend?’ And I said, ‘Because it’s my passion.’ And, when I said that one word – passion – he stopped, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘OK.’” 

According to Petersen, the Arling is built on three things: passion, family and love.

Before opening the Arling, Petersen wore many hats in the professional world. She worked in insurance for 30 years, at the pro shop at Perry’s golf course, and then opened her own wedding planning business, Elle Squared. 

Petersen paired Elle Squared with the Arling and enjoys planning weddings much more now that she has her own venue.  

Pieces of Petersen’s family are carefully placed throughout the venue. The Arling is named after her grandfather, “Olley” the trolley is named after her grandmother, and there are family pictures hung in the foyer. There also hangs two dresses that belonged to Petersen’s mother: her navy-blue suit she wore for her wedding and a yellow-aquamarine party dress. The website features a picture of Petersen, Chuck, her children and grandchildren standing together outside the wedding venue. 

Sharer worked at the Arling with his mother shortly after he moved back to Franklin, and he still DJs for some of the weddings there. His wedding was the first one Petersen ever planned. It was held at the First United Methodist Church in Franklin, and it is what started Lydia’s creative wheels turning. 

She used an antique parachute to hang from the high ceilings and strung lights with it. There were live trees and shrubs thoughtfully placed around the reception area. The same plants are now rooted and growing in Petersen’s yard. 

“I don’t think I have one,” Petersen said of a least favorite wedding. “They’re all my favorites.” However, she did remember a time when a mother-in-law of the bride had been unkind to her throughout the entire planning process and made her feel like she wasn’t doing a good job. However, that woman’s husband came up to Petersen the evening of the wedding and apologized for his wife’s behavior. He hugged her and thanked her for the work she had done.

Even though she does not have a favorite wedding, one of Petersen’s favorite decorating moments was when she had a hefty budget with which to work. She said she was able to do and create things she had always dreamed of: a special tent for the outdoor area, a chandelier from Nashville hung over the dance floor, a harpist performed during cocktail hour and a live band during the reception, and special lighting was placed all around the property. Not to mention the ice sculpture. Petersen said photographs taken at that wedding have been used in many of her vendors’ advertisements. She can look on their websites at any given point, and there is at least one photograph she can recognize as her own.

Sharer said Petersen has an affinity and talent for planning weddings. He and the family thought she was crazy for wanting to own a barn venue, but they supported her the entire way. It has apparently turned out well for Petersen, and she is able to do what she loves.

Petersen welcomes each couple into her family, and the brides feel the same way. She keeps up with the brides, years after she planned their wedding. Last month, one of the grooms with which she worked passed away, and Petersen was saddened by the loss. 

“I want to share a beautiful love story with tears rolling down. I have known Todd and Cara for years,” Petersen wrote in a Facebook post. “Their love for each other just stole my heart. I knew they were soulmates… On their wedding day I was beside Cara and her Dad as they prepared to walk down the aisle to Todd. The song Cara had chosen will forever be engraved in my heart. ‘I’ve waited a hundred years….but I’d wait a million more for you, Nothing prepared me for what the privilege of being yours would do’ (Turning Page by Sleeping at Last)….yes most everyone was crying.” 

Petersen talked about Todd and Cara with kindness and sadness. 

“Yesterday Todd was called to come home in heaven. Nothing can prepare us for this time in life here on earth,” Petersen continued in her Facebook post. “My heart has broken for Cara and the family. All we can do is keep them in our prayers and be thankful knowing they will be together again one day. I love you Cara.”

Petersen remembers every wedding. She friends every couple on Facebook, has their phone numbers and enjoys keeping up with them throughout the years. She likes to know her hard work pays off, and she helps usher in a love of a lifetime she didn’t get the first time around.

“When we can be here on earth and support one another through the happy times and the hard times, it’s kind of like what blesses me,” Petersen said of watching her couples come and grow together. “That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am.”

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