We Kept Our Engagement a Secret for Nine Months. Then We Threw a Surprise Wedding

The 52 guests thought they were going to a birthday barbecue.

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Amy Ketcham and Ryan Nolan had a surprise wedding after keeping their engagement a secret. Photography by Emily Wren Photography

There are some couples who love their time in the spotlight: They invite their friends and family to proposals and engagement parties. And, more often than not, everyone on the guest list knows they’re attending a wedding — not only that, but the attire, and what they’re eating. But this couple took a different approach: They decided to get engaged in private and host a surprise wedding at the Seroonian Armenian Community Center for their closest friends and family. They pulled it off thanks to a few in-the-know folks and their vendors, including Emily Wren Photography, who captured the genuinely delightful soiree below.

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For Amy Ketcham and Ryan Nolan, the secret to happily starting the rest of their lives together was keeping everything under wraps — from the engagement to the wedding itself. The Roxborough couple met at a college graduation party for one of Amy’s family friends (who turned out to be Ryan’s cousin). Their first date: Ryan took Amy to get ice cream — and they had their first kiss.

A little more than two years later, Ryan, a telecommunications lineman, popped the question. “It was a beautiful, intimate moment between just the two of us,” says Amy, a Ph.D. student. She knew (to a point) it was coming: The couple had picked out the ring together and had discussed what they wanted their marriage and wedding to be like. “We wanted zero stress for everyone involved and for our guests to have a really fun time.”

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To pull that off? They decided to keep their engagement private — not even their family or friends knew — and, for the next nine months, they did exactly that. They set the date for May 22, 2021, at the Seroonian Armenian Community Center and invited their guests (19 at the ceremony and 52 at the reception) to a fake barbecue birthday party for Ryan and his sister. (The invitation shown above is a keepsake created for the pair by MaryKateMoon.)

A few people ended up being clued in as the Big Day approached; Ryan’s sister, Dana, for one. She made the wedding cake. And Ryan’s parents — they insisted on skipping the barbecue to go to the beach, so the couple had to share the scoop. And the bride casually told her father to bring a suit — so he could walk her down the aisle.

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So you can imagine everyone’s shock when they showed up — some dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts, others in picnic-appropriate summer dresses — and saw Amy donning a wedding gown and a scene set for what she calls a surprise fairytale-Cinderella wedding. Pastel-colored wildflowers (ranunculus, butterfly ranunculus, delphinium, roses, larkspur and more) lined the sweet ceremony aisle, which led to a brick fireplace filled with candles where the couple said “I do.” (Amy and Ryan wrote private vows to each other beforehand and used standard language in front of their ceremony guests.)

As reception guests arrived, they were greeted by large letters set up in the grass that read “SURPRISE.” And those who were hoping for barbecue weren’t disappointed either: The menu consisted of smoked brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, mac and cheese and other comfort-food favorites, all served under an open-air tent presided over by a hanging floral installation that included painted baby’s breath and plumosa, in addition to the other wedding blooms.

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As for the other highlights: Guests loved the mirror filled with wedding photos from aunts, uncles and cousins; the couple had to sneak around to collect the images. They even had pretended they were doing an ancestral project to get access to one family member’s photos. The bride was particularly touched by Ryan’s tenderness and care throughout the whole process — he checked in on her in the hours leading up to the festivities to make sure she had everything she needed, including hairspray and champagne. For Ryan, it was how the few people in on the surprise made magic happen. “They were essential to our day being perfect.”


Ask the couple what their favorite wedding detail was, and they agree: “We had privacy for everything we wanted to have privacy for,” says Amy. “I loved the intimacy of those romantic moments.”

Photographer: Emily Wren Photography | Venue: Seroonian Armenian Community Center | Planning/Design: Sara Murray of Confetti & Co. | Florals: RAM Floral | Catering: Mission BBQ | Bride’s Gowns: Melissa Sweet from David’s Bridal (ceremony); BHLDN (reception) | Hair: Bridget Comaskey of Platinum Hair Co. (extensions from Luxy Hair) | Makeup: Amy Ketcham | Groom’s Attire: Generation Tux | Entertainment: Tony Montanez (couple’s friend) | Cake: Dana Nolan (groom’s sister) | Keepsake Invitation: MaryKateMoon | Wedding Announcements: The Knot Invitations | Officiant: Dan Wiseman (couple’s friend) | Signage: Nicole Marx of SimplyCole | Tent: EventQuip | Lighting: Lumos Co. | Rentals: Something Vintage Rentals

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