Couple selects Alhambra Cemetery for Halloween wedding

Martinez Tribune

Johnny Yasenchok and Lori Banta's wedding was the first to take place at the Alhambra Cemetery (COURTESY / On File)
Johnny Yasenchok and Lori Banta’s wedding was the first to take place at the Alhambra Cemetery (COURTESY / On File)
MARTINEZ, Calif. – When Johnny Yasenchok and Lori Banta decided to get married, they both wanted the ceremony to take place on their favorite holiday, Halloween. And what better place for a Halloween wedding than a cemetery?

So while children were preparing Saturday afternoon for their trick-or-treat adventures and parents were stocking up on candy, Yasenchok and Banta were saying their vows in Martinez’s Alhambra Cemetery, in full Dia de los Muertos attire.

“We love Halloween,” the two said in unison a few days before the ceremony. “It’s fun – it’s spooky,” Banta said.
“It’s unique and different, and we’re different,” Yasenchok said. “I can be with a Congressman and I can be with a homeless person.”

The two met while bowling for the same league in Pinole. Yasenchok was looking for less expensive insurance, and discovered Banta was a broker.

They started talking business, then later Yasenchok decided to ask Banta out for lunch. “She said yes!” he said. That was six years ago. During that time, their friendship grew into love.

They found out they enjoy long rides on Yasenchok’s black Harley Davidson Road King. The two also can be seen at car shows, particularly those exhibiting vintage cars built in 1970 or earlier.

“We love to go to the beach,” Banta said. And Yasenchok has indulged in her passion for shoes by providing her with a shoe room for her collection of footwear.

 (COURTESY / On File)
(COURTESY / On File)
The couple also share an interest in food and attending wine tastings.

“Everything we do is a date,” he said.

They have children from previous marriages. Not only did the children approve, they became involved in the ceremony. Banta’s 16-year-old daughter, Kendall, is maid of honor. Yasenchok has two daughters, Raquel, 32, and Jessica, 29. Jessica’s son, Jackson, 5, is the best man.

The decision to have their ceremony in a cemetery was simple, Banta added. But then, the search was on.

They initially sought the setting at Rolling Hills Cemetery, not far from their home in Tara Hills near San Pablo. But space was limited, even for the small group of 40 or so the couple wanted to attend.

Yasenchok looked online for other cemeteries and found Alhambra Cemetery. He called Martinez Recreation Supervisor Patty Lorick, who gave the two a tour of the site, during which the two picked a spot for the ceremony.

“We came out, and she said, ‘We’re ecstatic.’” Lorick told the couple it would be the venerable cemetery’s first wedding.

Once they knew they had the right spot, Banta found a $1,200 dress online for $75. “It had been worn once. It fit like a glove.” She embellished it, adding black and purple and such accessories as spiders. “It’s still a wedding dress,” she said. “I dolled it up.”

She also wanted Dia de los Muertos makeup, but chose a blend of styles. Rather than extensive black shadow, she chose glamour makeup for her eyes. She picked Day of the Dead designs for her mouth and neck.

 (COURTESY / On File)
(COURTESY / On File)
Yasenchok selected a suitable hat and suit to coordinate with his bride’s attire.

The couple said some still don’t understand the Day of the Dead, even though Martinez has celebrated the day two years in a row, this time with altars, called ofrendas, that were set up in the Main Street Plaza Saturday in a collaboration with Main Street Martinez and the Martinez Arts Association.

Banta said they chose the Day of the Dead theme as well as the cemetery out of respect, too.

“My dad said, ‘When we die, it’s a party,’” explaining that his father never wanted mourning and weeping at his funeral. “In the Mexican culture, it’s a celebration.”

But the wedding guests weren’t limited to that theme. They could wear anything they pleased, the couple said. Most decided to dress for Halloween.

 (COURTESY / On File)
(COURTESY / On File)
If a cemetery still sounds like a strange place for a wedding, the couple pointed out it is a place of Martinez and California history, with markers noting those who died as long ago as the 1830s. It also has a beautiful view of the Carquinez Strait.

In addition, the site the couple chose has a bench where older attendees could sit.

Their reception had a more conventional setting, the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159 Hall, 1308 Roman Way, the couple said. And, keeping it local, they talked Saucie’s into making cupcakes and a small decorated cake the couple used for the customary cutting of cake. But the cake, too, had Day of the Dead figures on top.

Their choice of a cemetery even got the endorsement of Noel Patillo, the Oakland minister who performed the ceremony.

“We explained we wanted to celebrate life in the graveyard,” Yasenchok said. “He said, ‘It’s absolutely excellent.’”

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One comment

  1. Lori Banta Yasenchok

    Thank you Donna Beth for the great article. We now have a beautiful momento of our special day!!!

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