BIGELOW — When Thanksgiving arrives, the Svalland family of Bigelow won’t have to dig deep to recall why they’re thankful.

Health, safety, and enduring love will be at the very top of their gratitude lists.

The eldest two of Chad and Krista Svalland’s four children — daughters Tara (Svalland) Van Grouw and Tori (Svalland) Theisen — were married in October, within just two weeks of each other.

In addition, one of the young couples was diagnosed with — and recovered from — COVID-19, Chad suffered a broken elbow in a work accident a week before the first wedding, and the very next day Krista’s mother emerged unscathed from a scary Minnesota 60 crash in which her vehicle was struck by a wayward semi-tractor tire.

“Yes, it’s all’s well that ends well,” said Krista.

“Both girls got married, each had her dream day and it turned out the way they wanted.”

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Planning for two

For the mother of the brides, a month with two weddings — on Oct. 10 and Oct. 24 — was a frenetic period of time.

“It actually was a blur,” admitted Krista. “Everything went so fast.”

Krista credits her daughters’ strength, maturity and personal effort for making both events successful and satisfying.

“They held me together,” she said. “They each did a lot on their own to get things ready, but COVID made things extra hard.”

For instance, both Tara and Tori prepared, printed and addressed their wedding invitations, and while their parents covered a large chunk of wedding-related costs, each couple also contributed to their respective expenses.

“It was a cooperative effort,” said Krista.

The sisters didn’t intend to have their weddings in such quick succession; originally, Tara’s was scheduled for June 27, which made Tori’s Oct. 10 date seem manageable.

“We’d decided on June 27 about a year earlier,” said Tara.

But when COVID-19 invaded, the ground became shaky.

“First our caterer canceled,” noted Tara. “Then the photographer was unavailable.”

Churches also had smaller capacity limits due to COVID restrictions.

“So I had to reschedule, and Oct. 24 was a date that worked out for everyone,” Tara explained.

Oct. 10: Tori and Andrew

Tori, a 2015 Worthington High School graduate, was studying nursing at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, when Tara’s then-boyfriend, Jake Van Grouw, told her about Andrew Theisen.

“Jake had been at Hobo Days [in Brookings, S.D.] and ran into Andrew,” said Tori.

“He told me, ‘Hey, I met this guy who goes to USD and he seems pretty cool; maybe we could hang out with him sometime.’”

A few months passed, and while Tori was celebrating her January birthday with girlfriends, she made a passing choice that turned out to be momentous.

“You know, girls going out, talking about guys, I brought up this guy my sister’s boyfriend mentioned, we stalked him on Facebook a little bit, they said, ‘Come on, Tori, he’s pretty cute,’” described Tori.

She ended up messaging him on Facebook with an opening line that today makes her laugh: “Hey, you know Jake?” she recalled having written.

“Honestly, I didn’t know if he was available, but I just kind of went for it,” said Tori.

They arranged to meet on a Saturday night that same month.

“We just hit it off,” she said. “The next time we met up, he came over and hung out with me and all my girlfriends and he just rolled with it.”

Andrew, now employed at Interstates in his hometown of LeMars, Iowa, was in the National Guard. He was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait as a military policeman from October 2017 through October 2018. By then, the two were a steady couple.

“It helped that I was super busy with my nursing program and a part-time job,” said Tori.

Andrew proposed to Tori on June 7, 2019, during a visit to his family’s Yankton, South Dakota cabin.

“He got my favorite meal — a Subway BMT — we went to the beach and he whipped out a blanket, wine and glasses,” said Tori.

“I kind of knew what was happening because he was super, super nervous.”

They soon set their Oct. 10, 2020, wedding date and began planning for a ceremony/reception at the Prairie Winds Event Center in Orange City, Iowa.

“Our colors were navy, burnt orange and maroon,” listed Tori, adding that the five groomsmen wore navy suits while the bridesmaids wore burnt orange dresses.

An intensive care unit nurse at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, Tori was well aware of the dangers COVID-19 posed.

“The numbers were crazy,” she said of developments last spring. “The hospital and ICU were full, and I was worried because I knew COVID hits older and more vulnerable people harder.”

She became concerned about the safety of their senior family members, especially grandparents.

“We decided we’d still get married on Oct. 10 no matter what, even if it was at a courthouse,” she said. “We’d just get it done.”

Eventually, their plans evolved to a reduced number of guests (200 instead of 300), an outdoor ceremony, masks for guests and carefully spaced-out reception tables.

“It was up to individuals if they still wanted to attend,” said Tori. “We wanted them to share the day with us but to also be safe.”

However, it was Tori and Andrew who fell ill with COVID — only three weeks before their wedding date.

“We quarantined for 14 days and both tested negative at the end of that time,” said Tori.

That health scare — which likely originated from a contact at one of their workplaces — helped them sweat the small stuff a lot less, Tori confirmed.

Oct. 24: Tara and Jake

Tara and Jake Van Grouw, both WHS graduates (Tara in 2013, Jake in 2010), began dating in 2014. Together they have a daughter, Westlyn, who celebrated her third birthday on Nov. 1.

“I’m a receptionist at RCM Construction in Sioux Falls, and Jake is a carpenter at the same company,” said Tara.

The couple loves the “Avengers” movies and their dog, Zeke — a lab/pit bull rescue.

“He’s like a horse,” laughed Tara. “He did not attend the wedding.”

When COVID-19 began sinking their original wedding date of June 27, and Oct. 24 emerged as the replacement date, it was admittedly dispiriting, although everything ultimately came together in an almost miraculous manner.

“October 24 was just working for everyone — our photographer (Chantel Saufley), videographer (Torri Zins), DJ Barry Roberts, the church [American Lutheran of Worthington] — one by one, they all worked,” said Tara.

However, they switched their reception site to the Wilmont VFW instead of Pioneer Village, as the latter was closed for the season by October. Also, a new caterer (Tony’s of Brandon, S.D.) was engaged because their previous choice permanently shut down as an economic consequence of the pandemic.

“We ordered flowers online from Ling’s Moment, and Tori and I made my bouquet and boutonnieres,” Tara explained.

Tara’s wedding dress, purchased at the Bridal Gallery of Sioux Falls, S.D., in August 2019, was waiting in the wings, as were the bridesmaids’ dresses in a soft sage color.

“The men wore gray suits with light pink ties,” she added.

Daughter Westlyn enjoyed the chance to look like a princess not once but twice in less than a month; at her parents’ wedding, she was bedecked in a frothy champagne-colored gown, while at her aunt’s she wore a more modern white dress that mimicked the bride’s frock.

Tara and Jake took care to follow the church’s COVID guidelines.

“Guests sat at least three seats apart from others, everyone was masked and they had to sign in and have their temperatures taken before entering the church,” Tara listed.

Between 85 and 100 guests enjoyed the reception’s taco bar, plus the option of eight flavors of cheesecake from Simply Sweet Cheesecake of Lakefield.

Tara and Jake were thrilled to celebrate their love and marriage, and yet Tara acknowledges that 2020, which also included their move to a new house in Harrisburg, South Dakota in late June, has been incredibly stressful.

“This was one of the biggest challenges of my life,” said Tara. “We wanted to get married, but also to be sure that everyone was safe.”

The near-miss accidents involving Tara’s dad and maternal grandmother were stark reminders that it isn’t the frills binding families together, but the love.

“We were lucky we had both dad and grandma there; we were extra grateful,” said Tara, mentioning that a honeymoon will have to wait until Covid worries pass.

She is also thankful for a supportive mother and a cooperative sister.

“Mom was really helpful for both of us,” said Tara. “Granted, it was really hard with two weddings in two weeks, but she kept us sane.”

Added Krista, “At the end of the day, they’re with the people they want to spend their lives with — and that’s the main thing.”