It was two and a half years ago that Arizona waiter Cody Helgeson was asked to show a pretty young blonde the ropes on her first day on the job. At the end of the evening, Helgeson told a friend, “I’m going to marry that girl.”
This morning, Helgeson did just that, but in a style that neither he nor his bride, the former Jessica Mapel, could ever have dreamed.
Jessica and Cody got hitched in Manhattan courtesy of TODAY in a glamorous ceremony planned by Martha Stewart with the help of the wedding guests: millions of NBC viewers who participated in the planning at every step.
The “I do’s” were exchanged on Rockefeller Plaza. Presiding was Pastor Robert Larson, the senior pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Medford, Ore., where Jessica grew up. Retired after 35 years and some 500 weddings as pastor, Larson agreed to come back to work for a day to sanctify the union of Cody and Jessica, a family friend whom he has known literally from the day she was born.
Larson pronounced the glowing bride to be “gorgeous,” telling her “I know you are just as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.”
To Cody, Larson quipped, “You look much too relaxed.”
Before the start of the ceremonies, TODAY anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira had said the same thing.
“What do I have to be nervous about?” he laughed. “You guys have taken care of everything.”
It was a fairy tale come true for the Arizona couple, who are working their way through college — she in nursing, and he in architecture.
When Jessica entered the “TODAY Throws a Martha Stewart Wedding” contest earlier this year, she never thought they’d win.
Video: Jessica’s walk down the aisle This is the eighth year that TODAY has thrown a wedding for a lucky couple chosen by viewers. But this is the first year that Martha Stewart has joined TODAY as the wedding planner.
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There were 10,000 other couples entered, but Jessica, who’d grown up watching TODAY, thought it was worth a shot.
Jessica, 23, and Cody, 21, had been planning a $5,000 do-it-yourself wedding. But when nearly 200,000 voters chose them by a narrow margin over three other finalist couples, they found themselves stepping up a bit in class.
“The rings alone are double what we were going to spend on the wedding,” Cody recently told “The Mail Tribune,” an Oregon newspaper that covers Jessica’s hometown.
Early to rise
The day began for the couple well before dawn, as they were whisked around the city to be coiffed, clad, primped and prepped for their nuptials.
Some 100 guests had to be organized, including Cody’s parents, Sue and Forrest Helgeson and Jessica’s mother, Terri Mapel, who raised Jessica by herself and proudly walked her to the altar.
America’s hostess, Martha Stewart, was the wedding planner, but she just gave options. The final choices on the wedding particulars were made by TODAY viewers.
With the G.D.O. Classical String Quartet playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, and Cody waiting anxiously at the altar, the wedding party entered. The bride’s attendants wore strapless dresses by Watters & Watters with metallic Stuart Weitzman shoes; the groomsmen dressed in classic, two-button gray suits by Michael Kors.
Cody’s parents, Sue and Forrest Helgeson, were the first to enter, and for Forrest, the day was doubly special — it was also his birthday. The Helgesons have two other sons, Robbi and Ryan, who are twins and who were Cody’s co-best men.
After Cody’s parents, Ryan escorted Buffi Hurley, Jessica’s older sister and matron of honor. Married for 14 years and with three children, she has been a role model and inspiration for Jessica.
Cody’s 2-year-old nephew, Cole Tyler Helgeson, and Jessica’s 6-year-old nephew, Aiden Hurley, bore the De Beers wedding rings chosen by TODAY viewers. They were followed by flower girls Abigail Grace Hurley, 8, and Paige Noelle Hurley, 2, Jessica’s nieces.
Here comes the bride!
Finally, Jessica, wearing a magnificent, hand-beaded Reem Acra wedding gown and accompanied by her mother, walked down the aisle to the song “What a Wonderful World,” sung by Greg Denard.
As Larson read the vows and Cody and Jessica, gazing at each other with joined hands, repeated them in clear and steady voices, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house — and it was an awfully big house.
When Larson pronounced them husband and wife, they embraced and Cody swept Jessica off her feet as they shared their first married kiss.
After a champagne toast on the Plaza, Lauer and Vieira ushered the couple to the curb where Scott Baio was waiting in a classic New York City Checker cab to chauffeur them to their reception at Tiffany & Company.
“Are you guys sure about this?” Baio asked.
They assured him they were.
After the ceremony, the wedding party was off for another TODAY Throws a Wedding first — the Breakfast at Tiffany’s reception, the first ever hosted by the famous Fifth Avenue jeweler. There, they cut the wedding cake, a towering confection created by Sylvia Weinstock Cakes frosted in butter cream and accented by bouquets of sugar flowers in Jessica’s pink-and-yellow theme colors.
Before leaving for Tiffany’s, the couple finally learned their honeymoon destination, chosen by TODAY viewers. The choices had been Argentina/Uruguay, India, Turkey and the Seychelles off the coast of Africa.
When they learned it would be the Seychelles, Jessica shrieked with delight: “Omygod! We’re going to the beach!”
It makes the beginning of their married life and the end of a whirlwind eight weeks of planning that began in mid-August, when Cody and Jessica were chosen from among four finalist couples by the viewers after a selection process presided over by TODAY’s Al Roker in Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago and New York City.
Each couple had an opportunity to show their talent and devotion to each other, and when his time came, Cody accompanied himself on the guitar as he sang again to Jessica the song he had composed to propose to her. It wasn’t exactly Willie Nelson, but it struck a chord with the viewers.
The couple recently bought a home in Arizona on the same street as Cody’s brother Ryan and his wife, Jessica.