Bowled over by love

Local couple gets married at The Gate, fourth wedding held there

By Lauren Fitch and Whitney Gronski-Buffa
Pioneer Staff Writers

BIG RAPIDS – As Nina Raines and Travis Matzen said their vows, there was little evidence that their Valentine’s Day-themed wedding was taking place at The Gate – except for the faint crash of bowling pins falling that could be heard during pauses in the ceremony.

TYING THE KNOT: Travis Matzen kisses his bride, Nina Raines, after saying their vows on Tuesday. The couple held their wedding at The Gate, the fourth wedding that took place there since The Gate’s opening four years ago. (Pioneer photos/Whitney Gronski-Buffa)

The Matzen wedding took place on Tuesday in the back banquet room at The Gate, before about 40 family members and close friends.

Bowling, live bands and cold beer are what The Gate specializes in, but weddings? Not so much, said general manager Tim Leggett. Before Nina and Travis’ nuptials on Tuesday, the venue had hosted only three weddings since its opening more than four years ago.

If The Gate’s four weddings have anything in common, it’s that they have almost nothing in common besides the happy couples involved. Travis and Nina’s wedding was crafted around a Valentine’s Day theme. One wedding had a “southern” theme, another had an “Alice in Wonderland” theme and the third was more of a traditional white wedding, Leggett said.

Even though weddings aren’t necessarily The Gate’s specialty, they are one of the most fun events to host, he added.

“It’s a lot of fun to see people come together and make a union with one another,” Leggett said. “It’s fun to celebrate that with people. We try to build a lot of memories for people and we always call them on their anniversaries.”

FLOWER GIRL: Nina’s daughter, Abigail, drops flower petals on her way down the aisle. Part of the reason Travis and Nina wanted to get married less than two months after his proposal was so Travis could start the process of adopting Abigail as his daughter.

Many couples have celebrated anniversaries at The Gate, and they also get a “Happy Anniversary” phone call from Leggett when their special day rolls around. On an average day, he makes anywhere from 20 to 50 phone calls to wish customers a happy anniversary or birthday. He was especially busy with anniversary calls on Tuesday because so many people choose to tie the knot on Valentine’s Day, he said.

“In a year, we’ll call (Travis and Nina) and say, ‘Thank you for holding your wedding with us and we hope your first year went well,’” he said. “Hopefully, over time, we’ll get to call them each year and say we hope things are still going well.”

After getting engaged at Christmas, the couple decided three weeks ago to get married on Valentine’s Day. The Gate was a convenient, affordable venue that included the options of food and music, plus it’s a place the family had come before for bowling leagues and other entertainment.

“We had talked about getting married on Leap Day, but Travis said he’d rather be that corny couple that does it on Valentine’s Day,” said Nina, 24, from Chippewa Lake.

All the romantic emotions of Valentine’s Day were evoked with red heart balloons, pink and red crepe paper and heart-shaped table favors. An archway at the front of the room, where the couple stood to exchange their vows, featured more red garland and heart balloons.

Krystle Nellis, Nina’s cousin; Tim Matzen, Travis’ younger brother; and Abigail, Nina’s 3-year-old daughter, stood alongside the couple during the ceremony. Nina’s father, Tom Raines, gave her away.

Abigail acted as flower girl during the ceremony, but her role in the wedding was even more important than that.

Nina and Travis had talked about getting married someday, but she didn’t expect him to propose at Christmas. Travis said he wanted to get married sooner rather than later so he could start the process of adopting Abigail as his own daughter.

“The very first Christmas we had (as a family) was at my dad’s house,” Nina said. “We were opening presents, and then everybody kind of moved away from me. (Travis) came over, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I had no idea.”

When Travis, 22, and Nina first met five years ago while working at Cranker’s Coney Island, Nina was married to another man – Abigail’s father.

Travis, from Morley, said he was instantly attracted to Nina and decided to wait and see if he would have a chance at more than friendship with her. The couple started dating two-and-a-half years ago after Nina’s divorce, and their daughter, Amelia, was born in December.

“(Abigail) has been very excited,” Nina said. “She says her mommy is marrying her daddy.”

BLUSHING BRIDE: Tom Raines walks his daughter, Nina, to the front of the banquet room at The Gate. About 40 family members and close friends attended the Valentine’s Day wedding.

Travis went the traditional route of asking Tom’s permission to marry his daughter. The couple spent the night before the wedding apart, and Travis did not get to see Nina until she was walking down the aisle – a walkway on the perimeter of the banquet room.

“Even though it’s not a big wedding, we wanted to keep some traditions,” Nina said.

Family members, dressed in valentine-appropriate shades of red, pink and purple – mingled after the ceremony. Dinner was catered by The Gate, and a DJ was hired for the area of the banquet room designated as the dance floor.

An added surprise at the wedding was the arrival of Karrie Freeman, Nina’s aunt who lives in Alaska. She hadn’t seen the whole family in more than a year.

Travis and Nina flew Freeman in Monday night, without telling the whole family that she would be at the wedding.

In addition to a wedding, guests said, the event was intended as an overall Valentine’s Day celebration.

“It’s more about the marriage than the wedding,” Tom said. “I’m wishing (Nina) a long and happy marriage. Travis seems like a good guy and a great dad, which is really important to me.”

Travis and Nina’s love for their daughters is one of many strengths of their relationship, Nellis said.

“They definitely do compliment each other and they’re great parents to their girls,” she added. “I like that it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s supposed to be romantic, and then you throw in a wedding and it’s fun for everybody. People get to dress up and take their dates out.”

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