Real Weddings: José and JoAnn

Inside an elegant micro-wedding at the Kimpton Saint George

José Rodríguez and JoAnn Chen—both doctoral students in chemistry at U of T—have been together since 2017. In December 2020, when José accepted a job offer that would take them to Chicago, they decided it was time to get married. Here’s how it all went.

José: JoAnn and I met at our grad school orientation weekend five years ago, chatting over the continental breakfast at the Kimpton Saint George. But we didn’t get to know each other until we were teaching a second-year organic chemistry course together.

JoAnn: I thought he was super-keen. He’d always mark assignments and input his grades so quickly. It became a competition to see who could mark faster.

José: We’d see each other before and after the labs, and I thought she was really cute. One day, I asked if she wanted to hang out after work at Swiss Chalet. It was really nice; we talked about our families and where we grew up. For a few months after, we continued to hang out as friends—we’d do movies, go for runs, go salsa dancing, play basketball. I officially asked her out after a trip to Niagara Falls with her friends, while I was getting out of the car.

JoAnn: We started dating in June 2017, and we’ve always been a good match.

José: I knew she was right for me because of how much she cared for her family. We’re also both religious. Soon after we met, she posted a Bible verse on Facebook for Christmas, which stood out to me.

JoAnn: I thought José was really fun and energetic, which was refreshing since I was a little jaded. We balance each other out.

José: During the pandemic, I was working on finishing my PhD and looking for jobs at the same time. In November 2020, I interviewed for a position in Chicago. When it became clear I was going to get it, we started discussing marriage.

JoAnn: We knew that the visa process would be simpler as a married couple.

José: I got the ring in December. I knew she didn’t want a public engagement—and we were pretty limited due to the pandemic—so I planned a proposal in my apartment. I invited her over to work together, and she was in full headphones-on research mode. I told her I wanted to play a new song I was practicing on my guitar: Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.” I lit some candles, played the song in the background and plugged in my guitar, but she was still looking at her screen.

JoAnn: In my defence, he plays the guitar pretty regularly so I didn’t think anything of it.

José: I kept playing, and when the instrumental portion of the song came on, I put my guitar down and pulled out the ring.

JoAnn: I wasn’t too surprised because we’d spoken about it recently, but it was really personal and lovely—we played the song again after and just danced.

José: We decided on the Kimpton Saint George hotel for our wedding venue, which was a full circle moment. We’re planning on moving to Chicago in the fall, so we wanted to get married as soon as possible. We picked a date in mid-March.

JoAnn: We wanted an urban wedding in the city. To keep things simple. I bought my dress online from Lulus in December, and it thankfully fit perfectly. I even watched a DIY video on making my own tulle cape—it cost me $20. We wanted to keep the decor super-minimal with some delicate lights and curtains.

José: I was in charge of booking the venue, getting the rings, organizing the legal marriage documents, and of course, my suit—which was more stressful than it needed to be.

JoAnn: He was waiting to see if the stores would open up to try the suit on in person, but of course, they didn’t.

José: I ended up getting an incredible suit made at Empire Customs in 10 days.

JoAnn: The toughest thing was telling our families they wouldn’t be able to be there in person for the ceremony. I had to quickly learn how to set up a livestream.

José: It was hard not having our people alongside us, but having everyone on a video call was the next best thing. We had friends and family in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ecuador, France, Spain, Germany and Hong Kong all virtually together on the day of the ceremony. We couldn’t make that happen in person if we tried.

JoAnn: Our in-person guests were my pastor, who served as the officiant, plus a close friend from high school and my sister’s boyfriend, who served as witnesses and helped run the livestream. After the quick ceremony, we got cake slices from Butter Baker and sent our witnesses home with a bottle of sparkling wine and a meal of their choice from Victory Cafe down the street.

José: We ended up picking up pizzas from Pi Co. and headed back to the hotel. Honestly, the whole day was perfect.

JoAnn: We were elated to be married. Overall, it was exactly as we imagined. It was nice to have complete ownership of the day and just relax in the evening.

José: The hotel surprised us with an upgrade to a suite, and had caramel popcorn and a bottle of wine ready for us after the ceremony. We also decided spend a few extra days there for a honeymoon. It felt like a proper vacation, which we haven’t had in a while.

Here are some more photos from the day: