LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lauraine Strussion's wedding will be anything but traditional.
For starters, there's no white dress.
No decorations, either.
Her dog, Rosa, will be in the wedding party, and so will her brother, who's serving as her "maid of honor."
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And maybe most unique of all, the Oct. 12 wedding won't be in a church or on the beach, but deep inside one of Lakewood Ranch's nature parks, under one of the biggest and oldest trees in the area. It's truly an Old Florida setting, hidden in the middle of the sprawling residential community of Summerfield.
"People that know me expect it because I'm kinda off the beaten path," Strussion said.
Strussion, 50, grew up in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, where she says she and her family spent much of their free time in a rural setting.
"Yeah, the beach is OK, but I'm one of those rare people, I love the woods," said Strussion, who was hired in August as events coordinator for Lakewood Ranch Community Activities.
Strussion moved to Florida about 2 1/2 years ago and eventually moved in with her fiance, Larry Marshall, a 49-year-old golf instructor at IMG Academies' David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton. The two knew each other growing up in Reynoldsburg, but didn't re-connect until 2009 through Facebook.
Strussion had been living in Fort Worth, Texas, and Marshall had been in Bradenton for years. The relationship began with a lot of phone calls.
"I thought to myself, 'Man, I need to find somebody like Larry,'" Strussion said. "Well, why don't I just date Larry?"
The couple would often bring their dogs for walks along the trails in the 110-acre Heron's Nest Nature Park adjacent to their Summerfield neighborhood.
Along the way, they would admire one particular tree along one of the trails, a massive southern live oak Strussion guesses to be at least 200 years old.
The southern live oak, often synonymous with the Old South, is usually draped with Spanish moss and "can measure its lifetime in centuries if properly located and cared for," according to the University of Florida Extension.
What started as a "ha, ha, what if" suggestion from Strussion became a reality when she was able to convince her fiance this is where she wants to hold the wedding ceremony, right under one of the arching tree branches. She'd previously been married "for about five minutes" and did the whole white-dress-and-a-church thing then. This time, she wanted something completely different.
Marshall admits it wasn't exactly the first location he would've chosen.
"She's very much the right-brain person in the relationship," Marshall said with a laugh.
Once he was on board, the couple had to work out the logistics for the ceremony. First, they needed permission from Community Development District 1, which governs the park and the district. There's no facility to reserve there, after all, just a clearing in the woods.
Ryan Heise, director of operations at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, said the request was unusual. To his knowledge, no one's ever held a ceremony like this at a public spot in Lakewood Ranch.
"It's kind of odd," Heise said. "We were like, 'OK, that's great. We'd love to have them.' We think it's pretty cool."
One of the biggest challenges will be getting chairs -- not to mention the 70 or so guests who will sit in them -- to the site of the ceremony. It's about a 10-minute walk at a leisurely pace along a trail of leaves and dirt, and sometimes mud. Luckily, a friend has hooked the couple up with two six-seater golf carts to transport some of the older guests.
There are more unique touches, like a friend of Strussion's who will play acoustic blues guitar at the wedding, plus an old-school ice cream truck that will set up in the park's parking lot to serve refreshments to the guests as they come and go. Other than that, there won't be any decorations, "no frills, just keeping it nature," Strussion said. The reception will be in a lot more traditional setting, however, at Pier 22 in downtown Bradenton.
Strussion says she doesn't mind if walkers or bikers come traveling down the park's trails during the ceremony -- she thinks it would be hilarious. Marshall, no stranger to watching the weather as a golf instructor, is only concerned about the chances of rain that day.
They aren't quite sure what all the guests will think of the wedding site, but they know it will be an experience they won't forget.
"People come to Florida, they think it's the beach, the attractions," Strussion said. "They don't see Florida the way it used to be."
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.