It wasn’t a short path to the altar for Sarah Michelle Zel-czak and Mandi Dang Zelczak (née Mandi Thi Dang), but the love they celebrated on their special day was well worth the journey.
The two met at Lamar University in 2009. “We had signed up for the same English Composition II class,” Sarah recalls. She had waited until almost the very last moment to work up the courage to talk to Mandi, and she was certainly glad that she took that chance.
Sarah can’t pinpoint the exact moment she knew Mandi was the one, “But I was fortunate to know very early that I didn’t want to know a life without Mandi.”
For Mandi, there wasn’t one specific moment, either. “Over time, I found myself falling deeper and deeper in love with her, and I knew that she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
Sarah, 34, who is from Port Neches, Texas, and a graduate of Lamar University in Beaumont, is a senior marketing director for Indio Management. The couple relocated from Houston to Dallas last July for Sarah’s work.
Mandi, 32, of Beaumont, is at a crossroads in her professional life. “I’m taking a break from working to explore my passions. I have a background in medical research, and worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center prior to relocating to Dallas.” She attended Lamar University for two years, and then transferred to the University of Houston for the last two.
To celebrate Mandi’s 31st birthday in 2021, Sarah planned a surprise Hill Country vacation to The Yurtopian resort in Wimberley, where she planned to propose. “We love playing card games, and I knew we’d be playing a ton during this vacation. So, I wrote ‘Will You Marry Me’ on the cards (one word on each card) and had them ready to go,” Sarah explains.
“Because it was game time (and she was now the enemy), I inadvertently reshuffled the cards and counted them again to make sure she didn’t give me extra cards,” Mandi adds. “When I saw the cards, I said, ‘OMG of course! Yes I will marry you!’ despite the fact that the cards now read ‘Marry You Me Will.’”
“Mandi, who never cries, cried,” Sarah says. “So it was a double win!”
They had been together for 13 years before the two were wed on September 17, 2022, at the Dukessa Event Venue in Houston. “Our really good friend, Allison Culver, officiated. We knew that we wanted her to be an integral part of our ceremony, and this was the perfect role for her,” Sarah says.
It was a beautiful day, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “I come from a close-knit, very religious family. I knew that I wanted my family at the wedding, but we didn’t reach a point where that was a possibility until very recently,” Sarah notes. “Because of my religious upbringing, I had to work through a lot of shame, which took a very long time.”
Sarah and Mandi fought hard for their dream wedding, and it turned out to be an almost perfect day. “We were surrounded by more family than I could’ve ever imagined, and friends who have become family,” Sarah says. “However, my stepfather who more-or-less raised me since I was 4, chose not to be there. That is something that I’m still working to find peace with.”
In addition, Mandi’s mother was battling stomach cancer at the time. “Although she was very weak and in immense pain, she was able to make it. She passed three months and one day after our wedding. The photos and memories that we have of her at our wedding are things that we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives,” Sarah says.
“I’m a fairly traditional person to begin with,” she continues. “So, our wedding was traditional in almost every sense. We kept a religious element to the ceremony, but kept it fairly minimal. I still consider myself a religious person, but it is a part of me that has wavered.”
The couple wanted to use either women or LGBTQ vendors as much as possible. “We used mostly women vendors, and two LGBT vendors—Perfect Petals by Geo, and Julia Bri Photography for our engagement photos.”
Sarah and Mandi have decided to delay their honeymoon until later this year. “Our lives have been on a bit of a roller coaster since the wedding, with relocating to Dallas, starting a new job, and the passing of Mandi’s mother,” Sarah says.
But the two are nevertheless thrilled that married life has been so good to both of them. As Sarah emphasizes, “My life took a trajectory to a level of happiness and love that I don’t think I ever saw possible for myself.”
And Mandi adds that “Sarah has a heart of gold, and inspires people to be the best versions of themselves. I am so honored to receive this love.”
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