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Love and Charity

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A donation drive brought Melanie Pang and Kendall Toarmina together.

By Henry V. Thiel  

Melanie Pang and Kendall Toarmina met in 2009 at Willy’s Pub on the Rice University campus. They spoke briefly, and added each other as friends on Facebook.

After a year-and-a-half of little interaction, they reconnected when Pang started a donation drive and promoted it on social media. Seeing an opportunity for them to get to know each other better, Kendall messaged Pang and said she had some items to contribute.

“Since I didn’t know her well, I thought it would be a quick stop,” says Pang, a University of Houston graduate who grew up in Missouri City. “That ‘quick stop’ ended up being a two-hour laugh-fest while Kendall baked sweet-potato fries.”

Pang, who now serves as cochair of the City of Houston LGBTQ Advisory Board, says “laughter and donations” are the way to her heart, but adds that “the fries didn’t hurt,
either.”

“Our relationship didn’t start for another six months after that,” says Toarmina, a Rice graduate who’s originally from Nashville. “It was around April 2011. We know now that we can weather just about any storm together, because our relationship started during a very tumultuous time. I had just arrived in South America to teach English as part of my Fulbright Scholarship commitment for the
next year.”

“We actually made conscious efforts to try to give each other space,” Pang says, “but there was a gravitational pull so strong that at a certain point we realized it didn’t make sense for us to continue living our lives as though we weren’t extremely important to one another. The relationship was revealed to us more than we chose it.

“I realized I wanted to marry her after she supported me and stayed with me after an emotionally challenging time, when I was looking for gainful employment,” Pang adds. “I learned that she would stay beside me, even when I was struggling and not at my best, and if she could love me through that time, we could love each other forever.”

Unbeknownst to Pang, Toarmina had been planning to propose ever since purchasing rings right after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 Obergefell decision. The proposal finally happened on a random Monday in May.

Toarmina told Pang she was receiving an award from Rice, which was the perfect cover. Pang knew to dress nicely and be on time. When Pang arrived at the Rice Memorial Chapel, she discovered Toarmina standing by the altar with rose petals in the shape of a heart at her feet. Toarmina had also lit five candles, one for each year of their relationship. “She was giggling nonstop,” Pang recalls. “I cried, of course. By the time she got down on one knee, I was so nervous that I got down on one knee, too, and just said, ‘Please?’”

Their good friend and former roommate, Kasia, captured every moment—from Pang’s confusion to the couple’s pure joy. They were married on May 28, 2017, in the Rice chapel, with Isabel “Texas” Longoria officiating.

Pang’s favorite moment from the wedding ceremony was when Toarmina realized she had forgotten to bring her vows to the altar and immediately told Longoria, who replied, “Well, I guess you will have to wing it.”

Never one to improvise something so important, Toarmina asked her trooper of a bridesmaid, Chelsey, to go find them. Chelsey ran back and forth searching everywhere while the ceremony proceeded, but to no avail. Eventually, they had to let the cat out of the bag, and Toarmina went to look for the vows herself in the dressing room.

“You could hear the rustling while she looked around,” Pang says. “Then she swung the door open and said to everyone in attendance: ‘Okay, somewhere there’s a little white purse with my vows in it. Look under your seats.’ It felt like an Oprah giveaway, and I
loved it!”

One of their guests in the last pew held up the purse, and it was as if someone scored a touchdown. Toarmina ran halfway down the aisle in her beautiful long-train dress, then back up to the altar, launching into her vows as if nothing had happened. After she began with “Melanie—,” Pang and the audience burst out laughing. The formality of the wedding had dissipated.

“Having that moment to laugh with my family and friends was priceless, and changed the whole tone of the wedding to something more like ‘us,’” Pang says. “I couldn’t have planned for a better way for us to engage with our guests and have fun during a typically serious ceremony. It was an authentic and imperfectly perfect, wonderful experience. Not everything goes as you plan, but sometimes it’s even better than you could have hoped.”

The couple, who refer to themselves as Melanie and Kendall Toarmina Pang, decided to delay their honeymoon and instead do a weekend “mini-moon” in Galveston so they could decompress. Unlike their typical elaborate trips (they went to Europe to celebrate their engagement), this time they got a room by the beach, had breakfast at IHOP, ate ice cream bars on the seawall, and enjoyed each other’s company. They will do a full honeymoon soon, but neither would trade their Galveston “mini-moon” for anything.

Henry V. Thiel is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. He loves weddings.

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Henry Thiel

Henry V. Thiel is a principal with The Epicurean Publicist, a boutique public relations company which works exclusively with chefs and restauranteurs. He loves weddings.
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