Ahwatukee Foothills residents Mike and Linda Nelson will probably never forget the day they renewed their wedding vows for their 25th anniversary. If they do, they can just replay the episode of "Pit Boss" on Animal Planet, which captured it all.
Mike and Linda were high school sweethearts. They met in 1976 when they lived just around the corner from each other and worked at the same market in California. After being friends for a few years they began dating and eight years later they were married on May 31, 1986.
Now, 25 years later, they decided to renew their vows at the Hotel Laguna, a hotel they discovered while dating.
The two invited about 70 guests, many of whom were at their original wedding, as well as a few friends they've met while living in Ahwatukee. They planned to exchange their own vows and with some help from Kathy at Kathy's Alterations, Linda was thrilled to wear her original wedding dress down the aisle once more, this time with her son escorting her.
That alone would have made the day memorable, but the Nelsons weren't done yet.
"My husband is kind of a character," Linda said. "He's a big guy so he likes little people. He watches this show called ‘Pit Boss' on Animal Planet. You hire them to come to things and the money goes to save pit bulls. So we hired Sebastian to be our wedding officiant.
"I guess when word got out with their production team the producer called us and said they would like to do it as a reality show."
The producers of the show sent three cameramen with Sebastian as well as two other cast members from the show, Ronald and Ashley. The Nelsons decided not to tell anyone.
"Nobody knew, in my whole wedding, not even my parents," Linda said. "We wanted it to be so outrageous. We thought we could do a traditional renewal of wedding vows and everyone would think that was nice and sentimental and that would be the end of it or we could make it something that would make people laugh and have that emotion, too."
On May 20, guests began to arrive for the ceremony and the cameras began to show up. The Nelsons just avoided any conversation about the little people staying in the same hotel and pretended to be busy with ceremony preparations.
On Saturday, the day of the ceremony, Linda walked down the aisle in her original gown while her husband sang a song he had taken voice lessons to perfect. Ashley, from "Pit Boss," acted as flower girl while Ronald acted as best man.
"A lot of the older people were quizzical about why these little people were here," Linda said. "The younger people that had kids, maybe age 18 to 25, were so excited because they knew who the actors were."
As Linda and Mike exchanged vows Linda says the little people, as well as one of the cameramen, teared up. Later, Ashley told her this was the first wedding she had ever been to.
The little people stayed for the reception afterwards and danced and got to know the other guests.
By the end of the night, Mike said it was the best night of his life.
"I think it made it very special," he said. "It made it exciting. It made it something different than the usual ‘I love you', ‘You love me,' yadda, yadda, yadda. It made it last forever I guess you could say."
For Linda it was special for many reasons but she said she loved the end when instead of reintroducing Mr. and Mrs. Nelson, they introduced the "Nelson Family."
"It was just nice having my son there," Linda said. "I think it was good for him to see what commitment really is. I think nowadays a lot of families don't stay married that long anymore. I think it opened his eyes to a different perspective of his parents and what their values are."
The secret to their long, happy marriage? Being friends first, communication, growing at the same pace, commitment, making it a partnership and, of course, humor.
The episode will air Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. on Animal Planet.
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