(This story was first published in the Dec. 27, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
Their story begins further back than their memory holds. Grace Smith was 4 and Joel Bassette was 6. “We were so young then, we hardly remember,” said Joel Bassette of Hartland. “We’ve known each other literally forever.”
The couple began dating a year-and-a-half ago, had a whirlwind courtship and, a week ago, married. Not an unusual course of events for two people in love, but the decision to wed was made two weeks prior to the scheduled date — perhaps somewhat out of the ordinary, but for good reason.
Bassette, a graduate of West Point and now stationed in North Carolina, is currently waiting to be deployed to Afghanistan.
“We had planned to get married next summer, but realized right after I heard from the military last month that that wouldn’t be possible, that I wouldn’t return until next winter,” said Bassette, sitting in the lobby of the Woodstock Inn & Resort as a new honeymooner.
So, with two weeks to plan and email invitations to nearly 200 guests, he and his future bride contacted Lisa Gaujac, owner of the Old Lantern Inn and Barn in Charlotte, Vt.
“They asked if we had availability for a party and after a couple of minutes of telling their story, the planning began,” said Gaujac. “Our event planner began the process of working out menus, timing, and all involved with the wedding.”
Colors were decided after finding three matching eggplant-colored gowns for the bridesmaids and, luckily, lavender roses and dark purple stock were available without a special order.
|Joel Bassette (left), of Hartland walks with his new bride, Grace Smith, alongside Bassette’s best man, Joshua Evans. The couple had to rush their wedding at the Old Lantern Inn and Barn in Charlotte, Vt. after Bassette received word he’d be deployed overseas in the spring.|
Jonathan Couture Photo
Chairs were covered with chiffon sashes, linens and napkins with mercury glass candles on each table surrounding bouquets in Mason jars on birch stumps, Gaujac said. Each guest was given a maple leaf of maple syrup with a metal snowflake and label tied to it.
“We hung Japanese lanterns in ivory, silver and white over the dance floor and large crystal and metal snowflakes from the rafters,” Gaujac said. “The Barn looked beautiful.”
The wedding was precipitated by Bassette’s sudden understanding of the difficulty of being separated from Smith. Stationed in Missouri as a second lieutenant in Fort Leonard Wood for nine months after his West Point graduation, his connection to her had diminished.
“The distance made me realize what I missed — connecting with Grace all the time,” Bassette said.
“We’ve stayed connected since we were toddlers,” said Smith. “There hasn’t been a single year that we haven’t seen each other.”
Smith said Bassette called her father to get his permission to ask her out.
“My Dad was shocked because he had no idea that we liked each other,” she said. “He knew but he didn’t, you know what I mean?”
And so it began.
“It’s been a contemporary and perhaps abnormal relationship, having seen each other only five to six times a year through the years,” said Bassette. “Managing a long distance relationship leaves no room for wasting time. You can’t beat around the bush. It forces openness and honesty.”
Smith and Bassette were homeschooled separately for 12 years. Bassette took some additional courses like advanced placement chemistry at home and geometry, pre-calculus and calculus at Woodstock Union High School where he was on the Nordic ski team. He earned his high school diploma from Crossroads Christian Academy.
Grace was homeschooled until she was 17 and then attended Vermont Technical College earning her high school diploma from the Vermont Academy of Science and Technology and Registered Nurse degree at VTC in two years. She graduated in 2012. She is now employed at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington in the maternity ward.
One of six children, Smith’s three siblings suffer from an extremely rare hereditary disease called familial juvenile nephronophthisis, requiring dialysis and transplants. It is a recessive disease, with both parents being the carriers and, according to Smith’s mother, Mary Ellen Copeland, the chances of having it are about one in 8.3 million.
Bassette was the second in a family of four sons to attend the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. His older brother John graduated in 2010. Joel took a double major in languages (Arabic and Spanish) and graduated in 2012. His younger brother, James, will graduate in 2014, and brother Josh has just been accepted and will graduate in 2016.
Joel is one of nine children, with two younger sons after Josh who have already shown an interest in West Point.
Joel Bassette credits a distant relative who shaped his decision to attend the Academy. Graduating in 1929, Bassette’s great grandmother’s brother, General Frank D. Merrill was the founder of the Army Rangers, Bassette said.
After graduation, Bassette was sent to Missouri where he took preparatory courses for eight or nine months.
“They were my specialty courses including vertical/horizontal engineering, drainage, explosives, and earthworks,” said Joel. “Engineering in the army is very broad-based. You have to be very functional. We have the longest officer basic course of any branch in the army. My career, if I stay in long enough, will be incredibly diverse.”
Right now, Bassette is in the sapper unit, an old term for an explosives expert.
“The original sappers were British soldiers who tunneled underground,” Bassette said. “They were like the moles in the ground. Now, however, the definition has changed so the original doesn’t fit anymore.”
Bassette left Missouri in February 2013 and was sent to Fort Bragg outside Fayetteville, NC. He is still there with the First Brigade combat team of the 82nd Airborne Division.
This Brigade is deploying him to Afghanistan before April 2014. He predicts he will be there for less than 12 months.
“I’m ready,” Bassette said. “That’s what they’ve trained me to do. I’ve been getting ready to go.”
On Dec. 2, the couple quickly decided to reschedule the wedding for Dec. 21.
“My mother and both of my grandmothers put in a huge amount of work,” said Smith. “Joel’s mother did, too. They all dropped their lives for us, especially Lisa Gaujac owner and Julie, event coordinator, at the Old Lantern Inn and Barn in Charlotte.”
One-hundred-seventy people were invited but, due to the ice storm, 150 people attended, coming from all parts of the country. They were invited by email and were quick to reply.
Bassette’s sister Kathryn Bassette and Smith’s sister Hannah, along with Smith’s good friend Leah Conchieri from Essex Junction, were the bridesmaids who wore magenta plum dresses.
One of Bassette’s friends from West Point, Joshua Evans of Newport News, Va., was his best man.
“He’s stationed in Kansas and took a flight to Burlington which was canceled the night before the wedding but he jumped in a rental car and showed up ready to go,” said Bassette. “He was so excited. He would have done anything to be there.”
While Bassette is deployed, Smith will stay at Fletcher Allen but will move to North Carolina shortly before Bassette returns. Eventually, Bassette will head back to Missouri again before being sent back out somewhere in the U.S.
“We’ll both pursue higher education,” said Bassette. “I’d like to end up at Fort Drum in New York because it’s closer to home. It would only be a four-hour drive to Charlotte to see my family. “ “My wedding was the most important event of my life,” said Bassette who, along with his bride, wanted a low-key but fun wedding.
“It was far better and more gorgeous than we ever thought it would be,” said Smith.
“We were all humbled by the way these two families came together to make sure that this was an amazing day for Joel and Grace,” she said. “We were so lucky to have been chosen by them.”
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