Connection and purpose are pursuits that transcend culture, age, and health. They’re also the lifeblood of The Ambassador of Scarsdale’s vibrant Assisted Living and Memory Care communities. In paving new pathways for residents and their loved ones to engage with each other and their surroundings, The Ambassador is redefining what it means to live with and think about Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. “Our goal is to empower our residents to live full lives in their ‘new normal,’ and to help our families navigate and celebrate the everyday and monumental happenings in this reality,” said Jean Dunphy, General Manager of The Ambassador of Scarsdale.
Jessie Appel and Mack Kronberg's romance had the makings of a classic fairytale. Jessie was starring as Princess Winnifred in Montclair High School of Visual and Performing Arts’ production of Once Upon a Mattress, and unbeknownst to her, Mack was the humble special effects engineer positioned beneath her throne of mattresses, making the precarious heap of bedding wriggle to comedic effect during every performance.
When the pair finally met face-to-face, the connection was instantaneous, albeit unintentional. “He was trying to set me up with his friend,” Jessie remembers, though a string of text messages and a first date quickly dissolved that notion. Three years later, Mack proposed on the heels of Jessie’s return from a two-week trip to Paris, pending a promise that she would never again leave him for such a spell.
Jessie had always wanted her wedding to take place at her grandmother’s home. Before her move to The Ambassador, Mrs. Reilly had spent most of her adult life in a beautiful house on Shelter Island overlooking the water, and Jessie traces life’s milestones in her memories there. Since her grandmother’s relocation, Jessie has realized that her stock in the Shelter Island house itself, which she’d visited every holiday until Mrs. Reilly’s move, was misplaced. “It’s not about the house,” she says. “Grandma has been the constant, and that’s carried on.”
“Jessie had pretty much given up on her dream to marry at her grandmother’s house,” recalls Mack. “But then, shortly after we got engaged, we went to visit Mrs. Reilly at The Ambassador, and as we were passing the courtyard, this powerful image took hold of us standing there saying our vows amid the flowers and greenery and this strong community that has accepted Mrs. Reilly—and us—with open arms.” So, when the couple expressed Jessie’s childhood wish of holding her wedding at her grandmother’s home, The Ambassador of Scarsdale staff didn’t hesitate to help this dream come true. “We recognized commonalities in The Ambassador’s mission and the couple’s wedding vision,” says Jean Dunphy, the residence’s general manager. “This might be our first wedding, but we have plenty of experience in fostering love and connectivity.”
In attendance at the July 10th ceremony were a handful of the couple’s immediate family members and close friends, as well as all residents of The Ambassador’s Memory Care Community, and their loved ones, who have become an extension of Jessie’s family since her grandmother’s move there last winter. Indeed, the ceremony was a full-fledged family affair, with everyone from flesh-and-blood relatives to Ambassador staff and residents pitching in. Handmade flower arrangements, courtesy of the couple’s mothers, transformed the already-lush courtyard into an elegant wedding scape.
Guests donned aqua shades—a party favor from Jessie’s cousin— as they watched the couple exchange vows beneath an oak arbor. Reveling in her roles as gracious host and proud grandmother, Mrs. Reilly delivered a brief yet poignant toast. “Today is the day that my granddaughter is getting married to the one she loves,” she enthused. “I wish her happiness with love. It is an honor to be here on Jessica and Mack’s wedding day!”
This joy reverberated through the entire Ambassador community. “It was a wonderful feeling to help Mrs. Reilly be at her granddaughter’s wedding,” says Sarah Rouke, the Keepsake program director. Given Mrs. Reilly’s flagging health and memory—the dementia-related drivers of her move to The Ambassador’s Memory Care Community—her attendance wouldn’t have been possible had the ceremony occurred elsewhere.
After the main event, The Ambassador hosted an intimate reception, where the in-house chef rolled out a surprise wedding cake, and Mrs. Reilly presented the newlyweds with a homemade book of marital advice from the residents.
“Seeing this wedding hosted in a space where everyone lives with cognitive impairment breaks the mold and the stigma that these folks are absent or gone,” says Kerry Mills, founder of Engaging Alzheimer’s engagingalzheimers.com, and a dementia coach for The Ambassador’s Memory Care Community. “Jessie and Mack’s desire to have her grandmother present emphasizes that the deep connection people share surpasses memory and verbal communication.”
Marianne Reilly, Jessie’s mother and Mrs. Reilly’s daughter, agrees. “I find this ceremony and this place to be sacred because they celebrate life as it is now,” she says. “We’re all in this together.”
To the newlyweds, this imperfect authenticity transcends any scripted love story. “This has been so much better than the fairytale wedding I imagined as a little girl,” says Jessie. “This is our reality, and we’re incredibly happy.”