Valeri Bunda and Austin Cantrell
The Cantrells are very married, after two ceremonies
Valeri Bunda and Austin Cantrell have said vows to one another twice – but are married just once and forever. The high school sweethearts from Roland, Okla., became engaged in February of 2016 when he formally proposed to her at a family gathering.
Austin is Roland’s football hero who was recruited to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Valeri was still at home in Roland. They planned a June wedding. But one month after she said “yes,” Austin asked Valeri to make it legal with a civil ceremony. “That day!” Valeri said. Being legally married was advantageous for several practical reasons, including her enrollment in Paul Mitchell The School in Fayetteville. Austin promised they would keep their plans for a traditional wedding, too.
“We drove to the Sebastian County Courthouse with our parents and grandmother and a very sweet man married us,” she said. They had planned to keep the civil marriage quiet but, as they have such close families, everyone soon knew. Their June wedding plans went on.
Valeri was inspired by the timber and glass Cooper Chapel in Bella Vista, designed by Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, but it was a bit far away and had restrictions that didn’t fit their plans. She was delighted to discover Greenwood’s Ed Wilkinson Pavilion was open on their wedding date, June 17. Its stone, wood and glass design created the sun-filled ambiance she loved; it had a patio for outdoor vows and plenty of space for their indoor reception for more than 100 guests.
Family from both sides worked together to create a canopy draped with a riot of beautiful flowers, where the couple would stand with the officiant. “We all made it, in my backyard. Then the guys had to take it apart, move it and put it up again,” she said. That job, plus making and arranging all the decorations and food, was a full-on family affair. Valeri is still touched at how much work their families did to create their special day.
“That morning, I just pointed where I thought things should go,” she said. She left with bridesmaids to get their hair and makeup done by a friend and mentor Sheradon Smith, stylist at Roots Salon in Fort Smith.
“I remember walking back in and everything was perfect!” she said.
She chose to wear her mother’s wedding dress, which fit her exactly and was a style she loved. Except for rehearsing the vows and knowing they’d dance with their parents and each other, “the rest of the plan was ‘wing it,’” she laughed. She and Austin simply wanted everyone to have a good time. The guests enjoyed delicious food prepared by the best cooks in their families. With so many friends in common from Roland, including her fellow cheerleaders as bridesmaids and his brother as best man, “it was a big high school reunion,” she said. Their close friends celebrated and also gladly helped in many ways.
“With everyone pitching in, it was awesome,” Valeri said. “We had until midnight and everyone stayed to help us clean up. It was flawless.”
She and Austin had a honeymoon trip to a Florida beach, a first for him. Then it was back to Fayetteville, where “football never stops,” she laughed. She enjoys the privilege of sitting in the team’s family section in Razorback Stadium and waiting for Austin after the games in a special family lounge.
“I can’t help but be happy for him,” she said of being a football wife.
Neither of them enjoy that his intense athletic training, classes and game schedule often conflict with her school schedule, but they are managing and dedicated to working toward their future. She will graduate at the end of the year and plans to work at a Fort Smith salon she loves. Austin, who has been a standout tight end for the Hogs, is focused on the upcoming college season. He’ll become eligible for the pro draft after the upcoming year. He is currently majoring in criminal justice, however and plans to graduate.
Valeri’s advice for other couples planning a wedding is to accept any gracious offers of help; to try some DIY projects if you enjoy doing them, relax about the details and surround yourself with people you love. The Cantrell’s two happy ceremonies showed they were doubly certain they believe in their love and their happy life to come.
This article appears in the July 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.