On June 17, 1932, 24-year-old Gladys Richard walked down the aisle at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in East Dubuque, Ill., wearing a green slip dress, with a delicate matching cape.
The young woman was beginning a new chapter in her life, with her wedding to Bill Doerr.
Eighty-four years later, in August 2016, her great-granddaughter Katie Flynn, married Ross Potter at Hotel Julien Dubuque.
Gladys had passed away in 2005, but her memory, and that stunning wedding dress, took center stage at Katie’s reception, along with the dresses of Katie’s grandmother Jean Heil and mother Becky Heil.
“When my great-grandma passed away, my grandma had gifted me the wedding dress,” said Katie, 33. “I just have always loved vintage kinds of stuff, especially ’20s- and ’30s-era. I just loved it. I loved the color. I loved that it was a slip dress.”
Jean, 83, remembers her mother letting her play with the dress when she was a young girl.
“I always remember putting that cape on when I would try the dress on,” she said. “Probably when I was about 9 or 10, she would let me put it on.”
Jean penned a note to Katie when she gave her the dress, just a short time after Gladys had passed away:
“It is with some sadness and some gladness that I’ve decided to give you Grandma’s wedding dress. The sadness came while I sat here this afternoon to repair it, knowing that Grandma would not be here with us this Christmas. My tears made it very difficult to thread the needle. I’ve done as much as I could to restore it, but I’m afraid to have it cleaned or pressed for fear it might disintegrate. I have many memories of Grandma letting me dig to the bottom of the cedar chest to try it on. I thought it was such a neat dress. I loved it. So it is with much love that I want you, my first granddaughter, to have her dress and hope it brings you as much pleasure and happiness. I am sure Grandma would approve of my gesture.”
Katie briefly considered wearing the dress at her nuptials but realized it wouldn’t be practical.
“She was much smaller than I was, so it wouldn’t fit anyway,” she said. “And it was so fine a fabric.”
Katie and her mom, Becky, 61, brainstormed about what to do with the dress. They discussed taking pieces of it and incorporating them into her modern wedding attire, but the idea didn’t feel right.
When Katie purchased her wedding dress, she ended up with a slip dress similar in style to her great-grandmother’s, which gave her the idea to display the dresses at her reception.
“We realized that my mom still had her dress, and my grandma still had hers,” she said. “Especially now, in the days of trash-the-wedding-dress and that kind of stuff, we still had four generations of wedding dresses. I just thought it was really neat. When we realized we had all of the dresses, it just seemed obvious.”
The family has long been involved in theater productions in Dubuque, so finding mannequins to display the dresses turned out to be a simple task.
Becky, who got married in 1982 at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Dubuque, said it was a stroke of luck that all of the dresses remained intact.
“When I was going to get married, we pulled out Mom’s dress to see if I could wear it,” she said. “Size-wise, it wasn’t going to work. We talked about incorporating pieces of it, like Katie wanted to do. But I ended up getting mine at Roshek’s, and I found out that’s where my mom got hers, too.”
Jean, whose marriage to Bob Heil at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Dubuque took place in 1958, reminisced about buying her wedding dress at what was then the biggest department store in the area.
“You could spend all day at Roshek’s,” she said. “You could spend all day just in the basement. They had a place to buy hamburgers, and an ice cream machine. It was huge. And they had a big wedding department.”
Katie gave birth to a girl, Poppy Eloise Potter, on Feb. 28. Will there be five generations of dresses at Poppy’s wedding reception?
“I would love that,” she said. “If she wants it, it would be pretty amazing.”