For one family, getting married at Duncan Memorial has become a tradition

Thousands upon thousands of couples have said their wedding vows at Duncan Memorial Chapel in Floydsburg.

All of them have walked down the same slate floor of the Early English Gothic chapel designed by Louisville architect Fred Elswick and gazed at the stained-glass windows above the wood carving of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” on the altar.

It’s impossible to know what each person was thinking as they made their way down the aisle, although it’s likely they were thinking of the happiness and love awaiting them.

After all, Duncan Memorial Chapel was a labor of love — built by Alexander Duncan in 1936-37 in memory of his wife Flora Duncan who died in 1936 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Alexander Duncan was raised on a farm nearby the Floydsburg Cemetery where he situated the chapel in view of his boyhood home. Floydsburg Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Kentucky, dating back to 1799.

Married in 1900, Alexander and Flora Duncan spent the first three years of their marriage living in Crestwood so upon her passing his mind drifted back to Oldham County.

Flora Duncan was buried in the chapel’s chancel and Alexander Duncan was buried alongside her when he died in 1972.

Alexander Duncan wanted the chapel to carry on the memory of his late wife and pay tribute to the small community of Floydsburg, which is right outside Crestwood. He wanted the chapel to be an active force in the community, open for weddings, funerals and even musicals.

After 83 years, the chapel has hosted thousands of weddings, and an exact number is difficult to pin down. When 77-year-old Crestwood resident Mike Zalampas died in 2010, his obituary states he alone officiated more than 4,500 weddings at the chapel.

Duncan Memorial Chapel caretaker Barbara Ruschival said in the four years she’s been there, she’s overseen an average of 150 to 200 weddings per year, and there are multiple volumes of books couples have signed once they said, “I do.”

But everything has a beginning, and the chapel is no different. On Nov. 11, 1937, at 3:30 p.m. the first-ever wedding was held at Duncan Memorial Chapel. That one wedding went on to create a sprawling family and a tradition transcending generations.

Marguerite Vanessa Craft and William Ray Wakefield were the first couple married at Duncan Memorial Chapel. Wakefield was a cousin of Alexander Duncan.

According to the wedding announcement published in the Era, members of the immediate family attended the Craft-Wakefield wedding and “a few intimate friends were present.”

The chapel was beautifully decorated for the occasion, the announcement states, with palms and white chrysanthemums. Craft was “attired in a peacock crepe dress with dubonnet accessories and carried a corsage of white chrysanthemums.

Following the ceremony, the new Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield left for a wedding trip to Washington, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. They returned the following Monday night to their new home near Floydsburg.

“They were the example for everybody in the family,” Mary Esterle, Marguerite and William Wakefield’s granddaughter, told the Era. “They showed you what to be married meant, to have a relationship and build on it.”

Esterle said the two first met at Crestwood Baptist Church (Reverend H.H. Hobbs of Crestwood Baptist Church officiated their wedding). Wakefield proposed, but couldn’t take time off from working on the farm to get an engagement ring and wedding band.

To remedy this he bought his fiancé and a friend of hers a train ticket to Cincinnati, where Craft had seen a ring that piqued her interest in a jewelry store.

She and her friend bought the engagement ring, but skipped the wedding band, Esterle said. She said her grandmother grew up during the Great Depression and was being money conscious.

Wakefield didn’t realize at first that his soon-to-be wife hadn’t bought a wedding band, but once he realized it he again bought her and her friend a train ticket to Cincinnati, insistent she get a wedding band.

Decades later, Esterle’s daughter Lauren Wake wore those same rings in her wedding at the chapel.

Lauren Wake married at the chapel in October 2018. As a child she would go walk around the chapel with her mother and aunt, and her closeness with her great-grandmother greatly influenced her decision.

“Ever since I was little, that’s where I wanted to get married,” Lauren Wake said.

While Mary Esterle and her husband, Ben Esterle, didn’t marry at the chapel, because they had far too many guests for a chapel that comfortably sits around 100, they had their wedding photos taken at the chapel.

However, her two younger brothers, Jo and Bobby Wakefield, were married at the chapel, as were their parents Thelma and David Wakefield.

Thelma Hounshell and David Wakefield married in March 1962 on a nice spring day that was a little cool but not too bad, Thelma Wakefield told the Era. David Wakefield died in 2013 at the age of 71; the two were married 51 years.

Thelma Hounshell Wakefield was born and raised in Ballardsville, and she and David went to high school together. A couple of years after they were both out of high school, they crossed paths again, however, at the time they were each dating a friend of the other.

“But one night at the bowling alley, we decided to switch,” Thelma Wakefield said.

Things moved quickly from there, she said they started dating in September, were engaged by Christmas and married March of the next year.

The two went on to raise five kids together and help rear 14 grandkids. When the Era spoke with Thelma Feb. 14, she said her fifth great-grandchild was born just that day. She reminisced fondly of the years with her husband. A good marriage, she says, and she still misses him.

Like others in the family, she also misses her husband’s parents Marguerite and William. Her mother-in-law was an active force in the community, involved with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), homemakers association, civic club and singing in the Crestwood Baptist Church choir for years. Her father-in-law was a “die hard farmer,” she said.

“I couldn’t have asked for better in-laws,” Thelma Wakefield said.

When she walked down the aisle last December, Makenzie Burgess, Mary Esterle’s daughter, wore her great-grandmother’s DAR pin.

“She took that same walk to her forever and I took her with me,” Burgess said.

The decision to wed at the chapel was an easy one for Burgess, as family is of utmost importance to her and her husband, Kyle Burgess. A chapel with such a strong family connection was an obvious choice.

Mary Esterle said her grandmother would often tell her about how she and her grandfather were the first ones to get married at the chapel, how they were the ones who started it all; she would always follow up her story with a chuckle.

William Wakefield was on the board of the Floydsburg Cemetery for many years, Mary Esterle said, and whenever the chapel was without a caretaker, or the current caretaker was on vacation, then her grandmother would step in and help with the weddings in whatever way she could.

“She would take me there and I would watch weddings with her and things like that, and as you grew up it was just one of those things, it was always the chapel,” Mary Esterle said. “Part of it, you kind of felt like you had ownership with it because it was part of the family.”

William Wakefield died in 1996 at the age of 83 and Marguerite Wakefield died in 2012 at the age of 95. Both are buried in Floydsburg Cemetery.

Ruschival, the current caretaker, said the chapel remains a special place to a lot of people and invariably everybody knows somebody who was married at the chapel — she should know because she and her husband married there in August of 1973.

When Duncan Memorial Chapel was dedicated Oct. 24, 1937, a large crowd was drawn to the Gothic chapel that was built of native stone, surmounted by a slender spire topped with a bronze cross, according to an Oct. 29, 1937, Era article.

Bishop H.P. Almon-Abbott of Lexington led the dedication service attended by about 1,500 residents of the community and their friends, many of whom traveled a long way.

William C. Gibson, a lifelong friend of Alexander Duncan, also spoke at the dedication. As he expressed his appreciation of the gift bestowed upon the community, he said the chapel transformed the spot from a burial ground to a place of beauty.

“Even though this expression of appreciation may not be as concrete as the gift, our prayer is that it may be as real and as constant as this beautiful chapel,” Gibson said.

For the Wakefield family, the chapel has remained a constant since 1937 and likely will continue to be into the future.

Mary Esterle said her 9-year-old granddaughter is already talking about wanting to get married there someday.  

View online at The Oldham Era

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