For seven years, Rice staff member Henny Halliburton has been helping alumni get hitched.
Nestled in the cloisters of the student center, the nondenominational Rice Memorial Chapel has been the site of hundreds of weddings since opening in 1959. One only has to enter the space to understand why: the wooden pews, classic design, reflective gold tile and Baroque organ are an inviting venue.
The high demand for such a beautiful space, however, requires constant behind-the-scenes work by Henny Halliburton, Rice Student Center’s business and events coordinator.
Couples who want to be married in the chapel contact Halliburton, who then checks for availability. With 36 weddings already scheduled for 2017, it can be hard to find open days — even though the chapel can be reserved a year in advance. “I’ve had times when I have two people email me at the same time, except for a few minutes difference, and then I have to give it to the first one who emailed,” Halliburton said. The chapel is especially busy during September, October and, as one might expect, February. (In fact, for the remaining Saturdays this month, the chapel will host morning and afternoon weddings.)
Another challenge in Halliburton’s line of work involves the occasional “bridezilla.” “Sometimes it’s the coordinator,” she laughed, “arranging everything because the bride and groom are not here.” Most of the stress arises from emails asking her for information that she has already provided. Other times, couples ask her for exceptions that cannot be made. For example, couples are no longer allowed to throw rice outside the chapel; but birdseed is just fine. Once, a couple asked if their dog could be the ring bearer, which Halliburton unfortunately had to decline. (Another interesting requirement: the beautiful organ can only be played by a faculty or student member of the Shepherd School of Music.)
Despite stressed and stressful clients, however, Halliburton has enjoyed working as the space coordinator for the Chapel since taking on the role in 2009. She likes helping couples on one of the most exciting days of their lives and loves receiving pictures of their wedding.
One of her favorite photos came from a bride who found out there wouldn’t be any pews in the chapel on their wedding day. “This was during the centennial,” Halliburton said, “and they had taken the pews away to be refurnished, but hadn’t returned them yet. I had to apologize profusely to the bride, but she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s still happening.’ Those wedding photos are among her favorites.
Another wedding she was proud to assist took place in 2015 among two Wiess College alumni. The groom’s parents were from India, and the couple asked if they could include a barat. A tradition in North and West India, a barat is a procession in which the groom and his family walk to meet his bride. The groom’s musicians and drummers added joy to what turned out to be a rainy wedding day. The joy is this ceremony was captured in the photo above.
As a popular wedding venue, the chapel is clearly a space that holds tremendous sentimental value for its “alumni.” A couple of years ago, Halliburton reserved the space for a couple who had been married there 25 years ago and who came to renew their vows. These lasting memories are created in part through Halliburton’s tireless work. “I love to be able to help couples make this part of the process as flawless and memorable as possible.” In other words, she has perfected the process of getting hitched without a hitch.
— Natalie Danckers ’17