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Love and Beauty Reign at Three Local Weddings

The magnificent wedding of Lea Mei and James Buchanan was undoubtedly the event of the year, and one that those who were fortunate enough to attend will talk about for a long time. I know because I was one of the fortunate ones.

It all started with the traditional nuptials held at First Baptist Church of Sarasota that were filled with heartfelt moments and lots of tears. As the very beautiful and elegant Lea walked down the aisle on the arm of her father, Cafe Baci owner Roberto Mei, family and friends caught the first glimpse of her jaw-dropping custom-fit Ines Di Santo “Cologne” ivory tulle ball gown adorned with pearls, crystals, and delicate beaded lace appliqués. Her cathedral length veil dotted with pearls and crystals was framed by a beautiful custom tiara made by one of Sarasota’s most well known jewelry designers, Nikki Sedacca, who also made Lea’s matching bracelet.  

With her classic, regal look, simple yet sophisticated hairstyle, warm and welcoming smile and sparkle that never left her eyes, this standout bride was indeed our local royalty on her very special day, and most deserving of my thoughts of a brunette Grace Kelly – she was our Princess Lea. 

Her proud mother, the lovely and vivacious Denise Mei, beamed with pride and also shined brightly as her daughter exchanged vows under a grand canopy of white and gold flowers with the man of her dreams, the charming and accomplished James Buchanan. Lea was flanked by her maid of honor, Rachel Palladino, matrons of honor, sister-in-laws Nicole Mei and Diana Buchanan, and eight bridesmaids who all looked stunning in their shimmering gold gowns and sleek chignons.

Denise helped her daughter honor family through traditional wedding elements. For “something old,” Lea wore a diamond cocktail ring given to her by her late grandmother, Marie Palladino, with whom she shared a very close and loving relationship. Her mother’s diamond earrings were worn for “something borrowed,” and the blue garter she wore all evening was the “something blue.”

James is the eldest son of another dynamic and much-beloved Sarasota couple – Sandy and Congressman Vern Buchanan.  And while grooms never get the same coverage about what they wear (sorry guys!), James and his groomsmen, including best man brother Matt, looked dashing in their tuxedos with James’ bow tie framed by a classy white border. With tradition, family love and pride also an important part of the Buchanan family, James added a unique and sentimental touch to incorporate memories of those he loved.  His grandfather was a fisherman and James inherited his fishing equipment.  He used his grandfather’s fishing flies to make the cufflinks he and his groomsmen wore and also placed more of his grandfather’s fishing flies inside the boutonnieres.

The stunning reception was held at our iconic Ringling Museum Courtyard.  From the creative archways of greenery with hanging chandeliers, to the specially made artistic boards displaying the table cards, to the flutist, guitar player and ballet dancers, to the elegant table settings, everything was perfect. Catered by Paul Mattison with the help of Café Baci, guests dined on several exquisitely prepared and presented courses.  

A prayer for the couple was read by Sandy Buchanan and Congressman Buchanan delivered a wonderful, heartfelt speech about his son and his bride.  But there was not a dry eye when Lea’s father, Roberto, spoke so eloquently about his love for his daughter, welcomed James to his family, and toasted the couple with a very special 1987 Chateau d’Yguem, Lur Saluces – a wine given to Roberto by Denise’s late mother who told Roberto that it was to be opened only at Lea’s wedding.
The divinely delicious eight-tier wedding cake was designed with cream and gold-colored roses, and “pearls” around each layer.  Everyone then enjoyed dancing on the custom floor adorned with the couple’s initials surrounded with plush lounge seating, and late night bites as the fun continued close to the midnight hour. The evening ended with a spectacular fireworks display after which the couple left the reception walking under the green archways as their attendants lined around them holding sparklers.  As guests departed, they received a memento of a beautifully framed work of art – a gold rose – by local artist Debbie Danheisser.  
And there it ended. But with that ending, an exciting life journey began for Lea and James. It was indeed a fairy-tale wedding befitting a prince and princess that everyone in attendance will never forget. 

This former principal dancer for Sarasota Ballet, who now serves as its outreach coordinator, packs a lot of punch in her tiny, delicate frame.  For the six years Sara Sardelli graced the Ballet’s stage, her strength and artistry wowed audiences as she shined brightly in whatever role she danced.  So it came as no surprise that on her wedding day, this Sarasota star again shined brilliantly as she began a new role as wife to her new leading man, Kenny.

Sara met Kenny in Indianapolis through mutual friends during their college years. She attended Butler University and Kenny attended Indiana University and Purdue, where he played Division One Tennis. They never dated then, but always had lots of fun and good times whenever they were together.

Fast-forward ten years to November 2014. Kenny was visiting his parents in Fort Myers and connected with Sara to have dinner in Sarasota the night before Thanksgiving. The couple immediately realized that the strong connection they made during their college years was still there and from that dinner on, they became inseparable.

Almost a year later when Sara’s sister, Lisa O’Donovan, and her good friend, Sarasota Ballet marketing director Mike Marraccini, knew Kenny’s proposal was imminent, they prodded him to propose during Tea & Tutus, a wonderful family event Sara orchestrated for the Ballet. But Kenny, not being one that likes to have the spotlight on himself, chickened out, and instead deciding to propose his way. The night before the event, he came home and proposed with flowers and a bottle of champagne. For Sara, it could not have been more perfect. They celebrated with friends afterwards at Shore Restaurant, one of Sara’s favorites. 

The couple wed on May 6 at St. Martha’s Catholic Church followed by a reception at Michael’s On East. Sara planned every detail with co-owner Phil Mancini, who delivered everything exactly how Sara dreamed it would be. But the very organized Sara, who planned the evening with specific timelines, was totally surprised when her friends Anais Blake and Kate Walsh Honea planned an unbelievable flash mob with several of Sara’s favorite dancers from Sarasota Ballet. For Sara, who is not one who typically likes surprises, it was one of her favorite moments of not only her special night, but of her entire life. She still keeps watching the video over and over!

There were many special touches all evening long. Instead of the traditional tiny bride and groom sculptures atop their wedding cake, it was replicas of Sara and Kenny’s two dogs that made the top tier! Guests were also treated to a guided trolley tour in between the ceremony and the reception narrated by local attorney Bernard Walsh. Michael White provided caricatures for guests all night long and Jonathan Cortez entertained with his amazing vocals. After a delicious three-course dinner and three different cake choices, there was a late night slider station. But for this beautiful couple, the best part was having their parents and sisters there with them and loving every moment. That was their dream come true!
Sara’s “Sarasota mom” is dear friend and Sarasota Ballet supporter Sydney Goldstein. Sydney provided Sara with yet another very special moment. She passed her wedding band down to Sara who said, “It is so beautiful and special. I can’t stop looking at it!” 

Sara and Kenny took a “mini-moon” to Key West and will be going on their honeymoon later this summer.

Shannon O’Brien learned from the day she was born that the fruits of life and knowledge were hers for the taking.  She only had to pick wisely.  And who better to teach Shannon about life’s many fruits than her parents, Tom and Leanne O’Brien, owners of O’Brien Family Farms in Bradenton! So when she married the man of her dreams, Frank Kerney, it was apparent that when it came to picking her life partner, her ability to select well was undeniable, and his was impeccable!

Frank, an attorney for Morgan & Morgan, is the son of Frank and Julie Kerney. He grew up in New Jersey attending Watchung Hills Regional H.S. in Warren, and then headed south to attend USF and Stetson University, College of Law.   

Shannon, a graduate of Manatee H.S. who received her college degree from the University of Florida and her undergraduate degree from UF’s Hough Graduate School of Business, is an accomplished businesswoman in her own right. The very fit and health conscious Shannon is the owner of Pure Barre in Brandon and Carrollwood.  And despite her rigorous schedule running both clubs, she also finds time to handle marketing for O’Brien Family Farms.

The couple met at a house party.  Shannon actually had a date that evening, but since it wasn’t going well, she decided to come home early.  Her good friend (who also knew Frank) begged Shannon to come with her to the house party.  She would soon learn that leaving her date early and attending the party would change her life forever. It was there she met Frank and the two quickly became inseparable.
Their engagement came on a Christmas Eve. Shannon got dressed preparing for a simple dinner with her parents and grandparents. But when she came downstairs, Frank played a video he made highlighting their best dating memories. He then got down on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage. Afterwards, both families got together for their first official family dinner. Frank made sure to get Shannon her first pair of Pure Barre “Bride to Be” exercise socks as a gift!

A little rain on the couple’s wedding day didn’t stop it from being perfect. The ceremony, conducted by Pastor Arthur McClellan of First Church, took place in front of a large wall of flowers at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, as guests looked on seated in modern ghost chairs. Shannon’s magnificent Inbal Dror dress was traditional, yet had a modern flair. During the ceremony and cocktail hour, Classern Quartet played a fun and unique mix of classical and contemporary pop music. The festivities continued as guests entered the Ritz Ballroom for the reception, which glowed throughout from the tabletop mirrors and candles, and linens of blush tones and sequins. Evolution Party Band from Atlanta rocked the party and everyone danced the night away.

Shannon and Frank plan on honeymooning this Fall in France, Spain and Italy.

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