By EMILY THURLOW
For the Advocate
As the largest public research institution in New England, the University of Massachusetts Amherst holds an international reputation for its more than 200 academic programs serving over 28,000 students.
The university has received acclaim as being one of the top campuses for students identifying as LGBTQ+, earned high marks for its business, computer science, and health care programs, and a linguistics department ranking No. 2 worldwide.
Beyond its academic accolades, UMass Amherst has a cadre of prominent alumni, including Olympic gold medal-winning goaltender for U.S. women’s soccer Brianna Scurry, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Actor Bill Pullman and the late Grammy award-winning R&B singer Natalie Cole.
And next June, the campus will have the honor of hosting the wedding of alumni Emily Bamberry and Noah Collier. The couple, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 2018 with bachelor’s degrees in operations and information management and kinesiology, respectively, won the institution’s first-ever “win-a-wedding” essay contest.
“We’re just over the moon,” said Bamberry.
A UMass love story
Every year, UMass Amherst Auxiliary Enterprises hosts between 10 and 15 weddings, according to Director of Hospitality Jennylyn Fontaine.
Auxiliary Enterprises is responsible for bringing in revenue to the school from outside conferences, weddings and meetings, and is comprised of UMass Dining, UMass Catering, University Club & Restaurant, Hotel UMass, UMass Conference Services, Licensing, and the bookstore.
Last fall, Fontaine suggested holding contest to “win a wedding” to Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises, and Jean Mendoza, director of marketing and communications, and the idea quickly took off from there.
“It was a way not only to give back to our alum, but also the UMass community as a whole,” said Mendoza. “This was a way to provide some awareness (of our services), and a way to let our community know that auxiliary services are still here, even post graduation. We hope to resonate with them while they’re here on campus, but also keep us in mind in their futures.”
As part of the contest, interested parties were required to submit a brief essay — no more than 250 words — detailing the couple’s connection to UMass and how the university played a role in their relationship.
The winning couple will be awarded with a wedding organized by UMass Amherst Hospitality Services that must be held in 2024.
The wedding includes a venue for reception, catering, floral centerpieces, wedding cake, and a photographer, as well as a ceremony location on the 1,450-acre campus and hotel accommodations for the couple.
The value of the wedding package is $25,000, according to Christopher Howland, director of procurement, logistics and special projects.
The drawing closed on August 1 and to the organizers’ surprise there were more than 100 entries.
“It was beyond our wildest dreams,” said Howland. “This is a really fun contest and it’s a positive way to celebrate the experiences that alumni have had on campus.”
Finding the one … couple
After whittling down the number of entries, a handful of couples were interviewed in front of a camera, sharing their story of how they met and how it connected to UMass.
Chloe Bramlett, who is double-majoring in marketing and hospitality tourism management, was among several interns who were given the opportunity to sort through each couple’s love story and provide insight on the potential contest winners.
“I loved reading where each couple came from and how they grew their relationship here at UMass,” said 19-year-old Bramlett of West Springfield.
In the end, Bamberry and Collier stood out, Mendoza said.
“Their story resonated so much with us,” she said.
Bamberry, a native of Westwood, and Collier, who is from Milton, met on a September afternoon in 2014. Both freshmen at the time, the two were introduced to each other by a mutual friend in the stir-fry line at the Berkshire Dining Commons. Little did they know that this meet-cute would not only be the site of their first official date, but also the location of their second, third and fourth dates as well.
Though they had both planned to focus on their individual goals that first semester, the more time they spent together, the more taken they were with each other. They solidified their dating status two months later.
While studying toward their individual degrees, Bamberry worked in the Meal Plan Office and Collier worked as a cook in the Baby Berk truck. Outside of work and school, the couple took advantage of the institution’s offerings and competed in intramural sports, strolled through the Fine Arts Center, cheered on the Minutemen, and soaked up some rays by the campus pond.
These days, the couple resides in Bellingham with their 3-year-old rescue dog, Margo.
Bamberry works as a production planner and project manager at an outsourcing pharmacy in Canton and Collier works in the sports medicine department of a high school in Dedham.
How did they know?
Both Bamberry and Collier said they just “clicked” with each other early on. But as Collier tells it, the moment he felt like his now-fiancée was “the one” all came down to laundry.
One of the first times the pair hung out one-on-one was when Collier convinced Bamberry that he didn’t know how to do laundry.
“She willingly offered up — well, it was more of an offer to come help do laundry with me, but it was a pivotal moment. I felt like she could definitely be the one,” he said with a chuckle. “I am doing my own laundry now. And also, I did in fact know how to do laundry. It was just a good excuse to hang out.”
It was, however, not the laundry that did it for Bamberry.
Almost immediately into spending time together, she says their connection felt like that of two friends that had known each other for a long time.
“I always felt comfortable with Noah. It was never a question,” she said.
When UMass first announced the contest, Bamberry and Collier were not engaged.
Collier says that he had been planning to pop the question for a long time, but ended up holding off until shortly before the university announced its winning couple.
It was Bamberry’s mother who saw the win-a-wedding contest on social media and brought it to her daughter’s attention. After Bamberry showed Collier, the couple thought they might have a good chance of winning.
The couple spent some time contemplating their story and finally sat down and spent about four hours writing and rewriting it down.
“We were limited to 250 words. We could have written a short novel on our story, but we had to cut it down, which meant a lot of snipping things out and putting things in and changing words,” said Bamberry. “It was a process, but we kept telling ourselves that it was going to be worth it.”
While they waited for the results, Collier worked with Bamberry’s friends to organize a proposal.
Collectively, Collier and Bamberry’s friends settled on a brewery in Canton as the location.
Her friends headed to the location before the couple and set up a scenic area complete with a blanket, flowers and a cut-out sign that read: “Emily, will you marry me?”
And six days before the contest winner was announced, Collier proposed and Bamberry said “yes.”
“I knew they were going to announce the winner (of the contest) in September and thought it would be a good time. And then if we do win the wedding contest next week, what a week it would be,” he said. “And it was quite a week.
Seeing the campus through a new lens
Since getting the exciting news, Bamberry and Collier have been working with auxiliary services to start ironing out the details for their wedding, which at the time of this interview is tentatively set for Saturday, June 22, 2024.
Intern Bramlett has had the opportunity to meet the couple and join them on their tour of the campus to select locations for the reception and ceremony.
“This was a very special moment between the couple and I’m glad to have been a part of this start of their journey,” said Bramlett. “Before working on this wedding campaign I had never worked in this specific industry, but having the chance to work directly on projects from start to finish has made me want to pursue possible jobs in the future.”
As of now, the couple has their sights set on the Student Union Ballroom for their reception and the Old Chapel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as the location for their ceremony.
Though the next few months will be especially busy as Bamberry and Collier decide the details of their special day, the couple is thankful to be able to start their new lives as husband and wife at the place where they met and sparked their romance some nine years ago.
“Before the contest, it wouldn’t have been possible for us to have a wedding like this … or even one in general. It’s hard these days as a young couple to save for a house and a wedding and everything that comes with that,” said Bamberry. “This is going to be the dream wedding for us, so we couldn’t be more grateful.”