EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 25, 2014

A July 4 wedding in Haverhill

Military couple to have patriotic nuptials at golf club

HAVERHILL — For most people, the Fourth of July is a time for backyard cookouts and fireworks displays.

But for one couple, Independence Day will be their wedding day.

Mark Leonard and Rachel Blydenburgh served in the U.S. Army and each was injured while serving in Afghanistan. They met as wounded warriors and are now planning the wedding of their dreams, courtesy of the posh Renaissance Golf Club on Kenoza Street.

The Wounded Warrior Project put the couple in touch with Southworth Development in Newton, which owns the Renaissance club. Southworth had offered to host a free wedding for a military couple and asked the Wounded Warrior Project for recommendations.

Leonard said he learned about the offer through a Wounded Warrior Project email and, on a whim, he responded.

Then he received an email saying he and Blydenburgh had been chosen for the wedding opportunity.

"We were thinking of a small wedding at first," Leonard said yesterday as he and his bride-to-be toured the club in preparation for their big day next week.

"I'm speechless,'' Blydenburgh said. "I have no way to express how it feels. Instead of a low-key backyard wedding... to have something so grand."

"It's almost overwhelming," Leonard added.

The couple chose their 2-year-old daughter, Scarlett, to be the flower girl, while Leonard's 8-year-old son, Payton, will serve as ring bearer.

They are expecting upwards of 125 guests at the wedding, which is shaping up as a lavish affair that would normally cost between $150 and $300 per person, according to Cindy Lawrence, who is meeting and public relations director for Southworth.

Leonard and Blydenburgh met over morning coffee with mutual friends while still in the Army. They quickly developed a close relationship.

Engaged last June, they decided they wanted a vintage wedding, something out of the novel, “The Great Gatsby.’’ They knew it would take time for that to happen because they would have to save plenty of money.

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