IDAHO FALLS — Christa and Kenny Sarkela's first date wasn't ideal.
What started off as a group date turned into a twosome after friends canceled at the last minute. Even dinner and dancing couldn't overshadow an evening riddled with awkward moments and first-date jitters.
Despite that less-than-perfect start, one thing caught Christa Sarkela's attention.
"He was a perfect gentleman," she said.
The pair met about two years ago when both were hired by the Idaho Falls Care and Rehabilitation Center on the same day. Both worked long days at the facility and quickly forged a friendship.
As new nursing school graduates, they relied on each other to navigate the ins and outs of their first jobs.
When they were in the friendship stage, as Christa struggled with the end of her 26-year marriage, Kenny provided support. He knew how she felt. He'd been divorced, too.
Kenny continued to impress her, volunteering to work the graveyard shift so she could be home with her young son each night.
"I felt bad for her," Kenny said. "I already liked her then. We were both divorced; we were both new (employees). We just bonded with each other. Everything just seemed to fall into place."
It was a year ago that Sarkela popped the question and asked his co-worker to marry him.
They exchanged vows Nov. 11 under an arch made of IV poles in the rehabilitation center's dining room. Many center residents and former patients attended the ceremony.
"You don't understand — these people go to bed right after dinner, so they made an effort to stay up for us," Kenny Sarkela said. "This place made sense. People say it was cheesy, but we thought it was wonderful."
Patients joined in the fun. They used craft time to fashion a collection of decorations, including handmade paper flowers.
Betty McNichol, 88, said she looked forward to the event. The couple had worked closely with her.
"I don't get to go to many weddings," a teary-eyed McNichol said. "It was a lot of fun for me to see them so happy."
Nurses and aides continued to care for the patients as the ceremony unfolded, wheeling them in and out of the nuptials.
The wedding party blended in, wearing scrubs embellished with bits of lace and satin.