When Ella Wallen delivered an order of petits fours to Ethan Burton at The Anderson Center in Lauderdale County she didn’t get the look of recognition she had become accustomed to as one of the “Wallen Triplets.”
That was fine with her. It also was – intriguing.
The Anderson Center is in the Rogersville area of Lauderdale County, which is Ella’s home. Once a thriving school, the building was shuttered when Anderson Junior High School closed at the end of the 2013-14 school year. The school had been part of the Anderson community since 1910, and the building since 1935.
Ethan, who is an engineer as well as a wedding DJ, bought the building in 2017 and made YouTube videos to showcase the ongoing work into developing a large part of the building as an events venue.
In the first video, he put out a request for a list of vendors in the area.
Ella, who had worked for Jill’s Sweet Memories since she was a teenager, saw the video and called her mother to ask her to give Ethan a call since her mother knows many area vendors.
“Little did I know that my mom gave him more information, like, I was single, I worked with a wedding (vendor), just a lot of information,” Ella recalled. “So, he got my number and he messaged me. I met him on a Sunday (but) that Saturday I had done like 500 petits fours for Jill. So, I took some of them with me.”
Ethan had never heard of petits fours, “and here I am bringing him, like, a hundred.”
They walked through the building and Ella shared her knowledge of local vendors. Since the next day was Labor Day, they met again, “and I let him come to my family function. And seven days later he drove from Huntsville to Florence and took me on a date.”
They were engaged six months later.
What Ethan didn’t know about Ella prior to meeting her is that Ella and her two sisters, Emma and Ivy, are triplets who made a name for themselves as star basketball players first for Lauderdale County High School in Rogersville, then later as a trio package deal when they signed with the University of North Alabama.
“I think that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him. He didn’t know anything about me, so he got to know me,” she said with an emphasis on the “me.”
“He got to learn about just me instead of the basketball triplet me.”
“I was in the middle of basketball season (when they met), so I was not in the mood (to date), but then I guess when we started talking and all of our interests were really similar . . .” She smiled happily at this point, not needing to complete that sentence.
Emma and Ivy are in their senior year at UNA. Ella hung up her basketball career almost two years ago.
“It was a big deal,” to leave the team, Ella said. “When I told Em and Ivy, they were just like, yeah, we kind of saw it coming. We knew you and Ethan were very serious.”
As triplets, the Wallen sisters had done everything together all their lives and bringing Ethan into the fold required approval from Emma and Ivy.
“They met him on the first date,” Ella recalled with a laugh. “He came to the house and they both greeted him. On our second date he took all three of us out. I told him if he couldn’t get along with both of them, then it never was going to work.”
The date at The Pie Factory in Florence was a success. Emma and Ivy gave their stamp of approval.
Popping the question was a secretive recognizance that took place at Disney World while Ella was there with a family she had worked for as caretaker of their children.
“He heard I was going to Disney World. So he looked to Em and Ivy to consult with them.”
Ella was “just taking a picture by myself” and when she was instructed to “turn around, Ella” Ethan was there.
“He proposed to me and he spent the rest of the week with us there.”
They were married within a year of the proposal.
And, of course, the wedding took place at The Anderson Center, which has accommodations for indoor or outdoor weddings. That is a good thing, because “it came a monsoon” on Ella and Ethan’s wedding day and the ceremony had to move indoors. The former gymnasium has been transformed into a large event main room, and Ella had tables set up in there as well as in the former school library, which has been renovated as smaller venue for more intimate events.
The bridal party was lined up ready for the processional outdoors when the skies opened. Ella said her sisters took over. They moved tables in the large venue to make a main aisle. Jill’s did a large wedding cake for the reception that served as the backdrop for the ceremony, as well.
The shift didn’t distract from the ceremony Ella planned that included 375 guests – and a receiving line, which is rarely done these days.
“I wanted to bring the elegance of weddings back,” she said. “To me, people don’t take it as seriously as it needs to be, and to me a wedding is a really big commitment, and I was like, well, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right and I want everybody to dress up.”
She found her dress at Promenade at a sensationally low price during a one-day flash sale by appointment only. She snagged an 8 a.m. appointment and walked out with a stunning dress for - $260. She had fallen in love with the dress before knowing how much the dress cost.
“Two hundred and sixty dollars! I proud to say that,” Ella said. “It saved me a lot of money that I got to put on other things.”
The formality of the dress set the tone for the rest of the bridal party. Ella wanted more of a black-tie event, “but people kind of freaked out about that” so she did more of a formal event with the men wearing black suits to complement the bridesmaids black dresses as well as the red roses in her floral arrangements. The rosettes were an echo of her floral theme as a detail in her wedding dress.
“I was very happy with the outcome of it all.”
Her sisters not only took care of resetting the venue when it rained but had surprised Ella with something prior to her wedding day. Ella, who said she probably owns about 50 pair of heels, said she absolutely loves shoes.
“Emma, my tomboy sister, told my Mama, ‘Ella has to have a good pair of shoes’ for the wedding.
When they asked her to name her dream shoe, Ella said it was a pair of Louis Vuitton’s. While at a basketball competition in New York, her sisters, with mom’s help, went to Saks and bought Ella a pair.
“So I wore Louis Vuitton’s for my wedding day,” Ella said, smiling at the sweet memory. “It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but they pulled it off. They gave them to me two weeks or three weeks before the wedding. I was already kind of picking some shoes out and they were like, no, I think you should wait. And I was like, you don’t understand. This is a big deal”
Because of her years with Jill’s Sweet Memories, Ella knew who she wanted to work with for her wedding and reception. The wedding also had to be in June, not because June is a traditional wedding month, but because that was the only month her sisters had free time.
“So, I did work around basketball season, ‘cause when your family is involved in basketball you’ve got to do that.”
The Anderson Center’s renovation “is done for the most part,” Ella said. Now that she is a partner with Ethan, Ella said it’s important to her to offer outdoor/indoor accommodations to brides who also may encounter a rainy day on their special day and need to quickly shift indoors. She wants that transition to be seamless and to be part of the package to take that angst out of the couple’s special day.
And while Ethan still works as an engineer in his day job, the couple continues to care for and develop The Anderson Center. It’s easier to do these days because they renovated a portion of the building as their apartment.
And the family continues to be close, with Ethan now part of their fold, as evidenced by Emma and Ivy’s communication with him.
“They all text him as much as he texts me,” Ella said, laughing.