No longer homeless, Topeka couple see brighter future

TOPEKA — SuAnne Kissee Ivey walked down the aisle recently in a borrowed white lace wedding dress that she tailored, a borrowed veil and donated shoes. The garter she wore was handmade from scraps of lace, and the flowers she carried were simple.

But for Ivey, those borrowed items represented a future brighter than she had ever imagined.

The 31-year-old formerly homeless woman placed a simple donated silver band on the hand of her husband, Kent Ivey, and the two sealed their future with a kiss.

"This is one of the best Christmases I have ever had," said retired Presbyterian minister Alden R. Hickman. "This is a young couple on a journey. New life is going to come out of this."

Hickman married the couple during a small ceremony at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

He read about the couple in a November Topeka Capital-Journal article, which featured the help SuAnne received from the Marian Clinic. SuAnne and Kent lived in a small tent along the Kansas River from April until late November. They ate and oftentimes showered at the Topeka Rescue Mission.

SuAnne's teeth were so badly infected, she nearly became blind. She sought help from the Marian Clinic, and it was able to offer her the aid she needed.

SuAnne and Kent wanted to get married but didn't have the money for a marriage license.

Hickman saw the article and thought to himself, "I can perform the ceremony."

"At the same time, my wife said, 'You can marry them,' " Hickman said a few days before the wedding. "I set up an appointment to meet with them."

SuAnne shared her past with Hickman — she lived part of her childhood out of a car and was forced to bathe in a river, she was physically and sexually assaulted, and spent many years without a real place to call home. Then she found Kent and the Marian Clinic.

"You can't make up a story like that," Hickman said. "She had this look of survival and acceptance."

After the newspaper article appeared, life began to improve for the couple. Through donations, they got a marriage license, a rental home and stability in their lives. Both continue to look for steady jobs; Kent sometimes works in construction.

In the meantime, Hickman contacted the Marian Clinic and Trinity Presbyterian Church about performing the wedding ceremony. The church officials agreed, and a few short weeks of planning led to the recent vows.

A friend gave SuAnne a wedding dress, and another person offered to make the wedding cake. Hickman's wife donated her veil from 50 years ago, and a local jeweler helped the couple get wedding bands.

"It is wonderful," SuAnne said. "Everything for our wedding was donated. And that's OK."

As Kent Ivey waited for his bride, he nervously made coffee in the church's small kitchen. When asked if his soon-to-be wife had gotten cold feet because she hadn't shown up yet, Kent jokingly replied, "Not if she put socks on this morning."

Snowflakes fell outside the church as the couple said their vows in front of a small group. More than 20 candles flickered in the sanctuary as they partook in Communion and song.

"I think it is a blessing to see how things worked out," said Sister Mary Rosaleen Driscoll of the Marian Clinic.

A reception with cake and punch gave the Iveys time to thank everyone.

"I see this marriage as one of the most important marriages I have performed," Hickman said. "All it takes in many cases is someone saying, 'Hey, I will stand up with these people.' That can change lives."