Alumni couple to wed in ASMSA chapel

2 months ago

Picking the right venue for a wedding can be a tough choice. For some couples, it’s all about the atmosphere — a pristine beach or beautiful garden. For others it may be a deeply spiritual place which honors their view of the ceremony. Others may just need the largest place they can find to hold the most guests.

For a couple who met at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, it was about finding a special place with meaning for both of them. That’s why Larissa Markwardt (’13) and Kori Gills (’12) decided they wanted to hold their wedding in the chapel on the school’s campus.

Markwardt and Gills will exchange vows this Sunday in the chapel that remains from the days when the campus originally served as St. Joseph’s Hospital on Whittington Street. The Catholic hospital moved to a new location across town in 1991. The city purchased the former hospital to serve as ASMSA’s home in 1992.

Raised Catholic, Markwardt said she initially she wanted a Catholic wedding in a church but she and Gills began seeking other places. They considered several sites in Little Rock and Central Arkansas as well as Fayetteville, Markwardt’s hometown, including a barn. The couple decided they wanted a site in Hot Springs because that was where they met. Gills is originally from Friendship, which is north of Arkadelphia in Southwest Arkansas.

“None of them had a lot of meaning,” Markwardt said about the non-Hot Springs sites.

Her mother suggested perhaps holding the ceremony on ASMSA’s campus. They reached out to Bob Gregory, dean of academic affairs, about the possibility of using the chapel and visited campus to see if it might work.  

The chapel was constructed in 1951 by the Sisters of Mercy, the order of nuns who ran St. Joseph’s. Standing tall on a hill above Cedar Street, it’s roof comes to a high peak topped by cross. The tall, rounded-point window facing east let’s early morning light shine in over the indoor balcony. Similar windows on each side allow in more light. Religious emblems decorate the beams that cross the rounded ceiling.

However, to say that the building needs a little TLC is—if nothing else—a fair statement. Moisture damage marks several walls. The wire frame that provides the curved ceiling can be seen after it was scraped in order to remove asbestos.

For the annual science fair, group meetings, dances and other school activities it is used for, those are relatively minor concerns. For a wedding, however, many couples may consider the physical blemishes a nonstarter. Not Markwardt and Gills. What is important is that it is at a place that has special meaning for them that has an indoor space large enough to fit the 125-plus people they are expecting to attend the wedding.

“It was one of those things I had to warm up to,” Gills said. “But I’m thinking if people can get married in a barn, then we can get married in an old chapel.”

He said none of the other sites felt like them. They felt cliché and too picturesque.

“The chapel is a special place for us” even in its current condition, he said. “It doesn’t have to be full of symbolism. It can just be a special place, and that’s all it has to be. We spent a lot of time there together. It’s a very familiar place to us.”

Markwardt agreed, saying it has the feel of a church that she wanted initially while also holding more meaning for them than another chapel would have.

“I was pretty sure I wanted to do it,” Markwardt said. “We did do the one trip to check it out since it’s not in the best shape anymore. But that doesn’t bother Kori and me. I’d rather have something less perfect as long as it’s really meaningful.”

The couple met during Gills’ senior year in 2011-12. Markwardt was a junior in fall 2011. She had attended a computer science camp during the summer and become familiar with the computer lab in computer science instructor Nick Seward’s classroom. She was hanging out in the lab when she met Gills on his first day back as a senior.

They quickly became friends and competed on the robotics team together. They hung out in the lab and on campus quite often. Since Gills was a year ahead, he had already taken the computer science courses Markwardt was in at the time. He helped her study for the classes.

As they grew closer, Gills said he finally decided he wanted to be more than friends with Markwardt. Telling her that, however, was more difficult than he anticipated.

“It was an awkward affair to be honest,” he said. “It was a holiday or long weekend, I don’t remember exactly, but there weren’t a lot of people here. I had been meaning to do it for a while, but I never felt the time was right. There was pretty much no one around.

“After forever, I finally managed to blurt it out. I don’t think of it as asking her out. It was more of a ‘I want to be more than friends’ kind of thing. I didn’t really figure out the details. She kind of laughs at me now. As soon we finished talking about it, I was like ‘OK, I’ve got to leave for the weekend.’ She still gives me [grief] for that all the time.”

He then got lost in his schedule of classes and exams and took a while to follow up on the conversation. He said Seward later prompted him to speak Markwardt about it.

“Even Seward at one point called me out. He said ‘You need to go talk to Larissa,’” Gills said.

Regardless of the awkward start, the couple grew closer. Gills graduated in May 2012 and began classes at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he studied computer systems engineering. He would come back to Hot Springs on weekends to hang out with Markwardt during her senior year.

Markwardt graduated in May 2013, beginning work on a degree in physics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville the following fall. The couple now had more distance between them, but Markwardt traveled back to Little Rock to visit Gills.

“It was definitely difficult the first year,” she said. “I was living in the dorms, so he couldn’t visit me. So I was doing the three-hour drive back every other weekend to visit. My sophomore year of college I got my own place off campus. It got a little bit easier but not ideal.”

Gills said it was hard to have the long-distance relationship at first, but “the longer I did it, the more I realized it was worth it. I was pretty much hooked at that point.”

The couple were engaged in June 2016 during a vacation trip to Tulsa, Okla., before Markwardt would leave for a months-long internship in Baltimore. The couple had periodically discussed getting married over their years of dating but had never made any firm plans. Typical of their long relationship, the proposal was laid back with a tinge of awkwardness.

“I wouldn’t describe it as movie-esque,” Gills said. “It’s just one of thing just kinda talked about that the time was about right. We had nothing official said or done before that trip.

“I think the proposal was a really big deal. It was going to be a life-defining moment. But even though it was a little awkward, it was in our style. It was in a quiet, comfortable place where we could enjoy the moment.”

Markwardt said Gills knew she didn’t want a big public engagement. She was kind of expecting a proposal because they had talked about it the weekend before. That didn’t mean when Gills popped the question that she initially heard it.

“He said ‘Hey Larissa, what ya doing and something else. I really wasn’t paying attention and had to have him ask again,” she said with a small laugh.

After the trip, she told her mother that they had become engaged. She initially considered having a wedding in May 2017 after she graduated from Fayetteville, her mother said to do that would require to have a date and venue picked out in the week before she was to leave for her internship. They decided to push it to September instead.

Thus the journey to having the wedding at ASMSA began. Markwardt graduated in May and was accepted into the University of Michigan to pursue a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics. That is presenting the couple a challenge as well.

Their wedding is set for this Sunday, Sept. 3, at 4 p.m. Markwardt is set to begin classes in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Tuesday, Sept. 5. That means no immediate honeymoon for the couple who will be spending the day after their wedding driving 13 to 14 hours with a small U-Haul trailer behind the car.

“I’ll be napping a lot,” Markwardt said. They may take a cruise or a different trip during her holiday break this winter, she added.

“That’s going to be fun,” Gills said. “It’s going to be bam, bam, bam, bam. I just put a hitch on my car today. We’ll get home in time for her to go to bed and get up first thing Tuesday to go to class.

Gills works for Molex, a firm that provides electronic solutions for a wide range of industries, including data communications, consumer electronics as well as the industrial, automotive, commercial vehicle and medical fields. He started as an intern in the Maumelle facility while a senior at UALR and was hired full-time after graduation. The company is going to allow him to telecommute from Ann Arbor.

The wedding party will have a definite ASMSA flair as well. Markwardt’s younger sister Theresa, who is a junior at the school this year, will serve as a bridesmaid. Several of their classmates from the Classes of 2012 and 2013 will be members of the wedding party as well.

“I made some lifelong friendships at ASMSA. To this day we still hang out,” Gills said.

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