Hailey Hildenbrand returned home to Lancaster County for her wedding to L.J. Benet, who she happened to meet at a church service in California. Held just ahead of the Christmas holidays, the wedding echoed the warmth and cheer of the season and reflected the love that enveloped the venue that evening.
The camera’s clicks and flashes that come with a wedding day can unnerve some brides, but not Hailey Hildenbrand. She was ready to pose for the camera. As a professional model who has taken part in countless photo shoots for major brands like Skechers, L’Oréal and Corvette, the cover girl from Strasburg made friends with the camera years ago. Discovered by a model talent scout while playing volleyball for her Lampeter-Strasburg High School team, Hailey has been in front of the camera since she was 17.
When her career lured Hailey to Miami and then to Los Angeles for more opportunities, she met the one: L.J. Benet. Growing up as a child actor in the San Fernando Valley of California, the professional musician met his bride-to-be in 2018, when Hailey, who was then based in Miami, was visiting California for a modeling assignment. Hailey happened to attend a church service where L.J. is an active congregant, using his musical talents to praise and serve. They never stopped seeing each other and their engagement was made official while celebrating Christmas 2020 in Lancaster County with Hailey’s family.
One year later, on a crisp and clear December night, Hailey and L.J. stood before 100 family and friends at Riverdale Manor, a charming event venue situated along the Conestoga River in Lancaster. Their choice of venue was one of many serendipitous pieces of the wedding-planning puzzle that fell into place. “It landed in our laps,” says Hailey. “We saw Riverdale Manor online and then visited in person; we loved the location for both the ceremony and the reception.”
Hailey’s mother, Jessie, says December was important as a wedding date, as it would allow friends and family to attend, including those driven by sports schedules. “The matron of honor’s husband – a cousin – is a professional baseball player, and Hailey’s brother, Hunter, is very involved in Lampeter-Strasburg’s sports, including football playoffs. We’re all local,” notes Jessie, “except Hailey.”
Strasburg was well-represented at the wedding, but so was California. All of L.J.’s groomsmen were from the Los Angeles church he attends. Officiating was Corey Martin of Orange County. Hmmm, Martin – a common Lancaster County name, you say? It’s not a coincidence – Corey is originally from Washington Boro and was an associate pastor at Threshold Church in Lancaster, before setting out for California. He and his family hosted Hailey during her first months of getting settled in California.
The ceremony began as a string quartet’s harmonies wafted to the open rafter beams that were wrapped in tiny lights. Crystal chandeliers added a note of elegance to the setting. Floating candles in glass cylinder vases dotted the greenery-lined aisle as mother-of-the-bride, Jessie, made her entrance in a charcoal sequined sheath.
“Take a deep breath, you’re in the moment,” Hailey thought as she and her father, Ron, began that memorable walk down the aisle. Hailey wore a backless gown that had a story all its own.
While shopping in Orange County, Hailey found the perfect minimal-look dress, but unfortunately it was not her size. After three unsuccessful attempts to order it, she realized the gown stood little chance of making it to the wedding in time. Still, she made one last attempt and went online to stillwhite.com and discovered the dress – in her measurements – was available in Australia. Hailey had her dress!
Before making their vows, Corey asked the couple to turn and face their guests – a “wow” realization for the couple, “seeing everyone who cares about us and what we are doing with our lives,” Hailey recalls. “This is a holy moment,” the officiant reminded everyone, “and what a privilege.”
Hailey and L.J. composed their own emotion-filled vows, which included the promise, “l will choose you every single day.”
The reception was just a few steps away inside the ballroom, where a live Christmas tree was decorated with wedding favors for the guests. L.J.’s talent as a musician and songwriter took the spotlight as Hailey entered the room to his original song written for her, That Girl.
In Lancaster County fashion, guests were lavished with an abundant buffet of a raw bar of oysters, shrimp and clams, corn-on-the-cob, farm-to-table veggies, carving and pasta stations and, of course, cake and other confections.
Following toasts (the best man’s in the form of a rap song) and dancing, guests re-energized with a late-night, salty-sweet treat from a vintage popcorn machine.
After dancing the night away, Hailey and L.J. exited under a canopy of guests waving sparklers and were whisked off to a nearby Airbnb in Hunter’s Jeep – a chilly ride, but who cares – they’re in love!
How did you do that?
Hailey and L.J.’s wedding included elements that are in vogue and in style.
That’s So ’70s!
The black-and-white color scheme that was so popular in the ’70s has staged a comeback. Hailey’s attendants were dressed in long, black, off-the-shoulder gowns and carried white flowers. L.J., who wore a black tuxedo, and his groomsmen, who were attired in black suits and white shirts, echoed the color scheme, which was also reflected in the invitation suite, menu cards and reception décor.
Baby’s breath is having a moment and the ceremony and reception areas were awash in clouds of it. White roses, eucalyptus and ruscus also figured into the floral designs.
A bride wearing two looks on her wedding day is still on trend. Mid-way through the reception, Hailey changed into a satiny halter-style gown (and sequined sneakers) that was reminiscent of old Hollywood glam … or perhaps the dress Meghan Markle wore to her wedding reception.
Engagement Photo Shoot
The two also celebrated their engagement with a photo shoot – with their photographer, Danielle J. Norton – at a place that is special to them, Joshua Tree National Park, which is east of L.A.
The naked cake has become a favorite of younger generations who prefer a more minimalistic approach to wedding cake design. In the case of naked cakes, frosting just “kisses” the layers of the cake, allowing the color of the cake to be visible. The beauty of a naked cake is that it can deliver a chic, sophisticated and even rustic look to the festivities. They can be embellished with flowers, greenery, seashells … the choice is yours!
Lights, Camera, Action!
Couples are documenting their big days with more than photography. L.J., for example, wrote a song and created a video that conveyed his falling in love with Hailey. The two also starred in a short film that documented their wedding day – start to finish – that was created by Visual Rose Films. (Both are embedded below.)
Signature drinks are a whimsical addition to a celebration and Hailey and L.J.’s choices revealed their playful sides.
WeddingTok reports that traditional guestbooks are old hat and couples are now asking guests to convey their best wishes via voicemail (recorded on a vintage rotary phone), on puzzle pieces and game boards and on holiday ornaments. Hailey and L.J. had guests sign a vinyl record album.
- Photographer: Danielle J. Norton, daniellejnorton.com
- Venue: Riverdale Manor, Lancaster, riverdalemanor.com
- Planner: Monica, Riverdale Manor
- Dress: Made with Love Bridal, found at stillwhite.com
- Florist: Unique Designs by Sharon, Bird-in-Hand, uniquedesignsbysharon.com
- Caterer and Cake: Thyme & Seasons, Lancaster, thymeseasons.com
- Music: Vivace Live String Quartet, Lancaster, vivacelive.com
- Dance Music: DJ Mast, Lancaster, djmast.com
- Décor Rentals: Treasured Events, Lancaster, treasured-events.com
- Videographer: Visual Rose Films, Philadelphia, visualrose.com