Sitting on the corner on the way in was a bait shop.

Progressing further, it was more of the same – metallic warehouselike buildings in an industrial area in southwest Bakersfield. A sign indicating “county maintenance ends here” was the icing on the cake.

Spencer Shoemaker wasn’t sure what she got herself into as she continued her search for a venue to host her wedding to longtime boyfriend and high school sweetheart Andrew Lewis.

The two dated for 6 ½ years before Andrew popped the question on the central coast beach of Cayucos on Dec. 9, 2017, and now Spencer was on the hunt for a place where they can become Mr. and Mrs. Lewis.

The weeks that followed their proposal were filled with the same questions from family members and co-workers: When are you getting married? Where?

Spencer was getting stressed.

They didn’t have answers to those questions and she was heading into her final semester in the educational counseling master’s program at CSUB at the end of January. Once classes started, she would have no time to plan the wedding. Between her school schedule and job as a substitute teacher in the Kern High and Panama Buena Vista school districts and Andrew’s work schedule as a firefighter with the Kern County Fire Department, scheduling site visits would be extremely difficult.

But first, they needed a date.

A summertime wedding wasn’t ideal considering it was in the middle of fire season, which would make it difficult to celebrate anniversaries in the future. That’s when Andrew suggested an October wedding. Fire season will be winding down at that time and the weather won’t be too hot. They originally looked at the 15th since it was right in the middle of the month, but looking at the calendar, they found that it fell on a Monday. The 14th, however, could work, and with the discounts they could get for having a Sunday wedding, it made the date even more appealing.

“We really did just pull Oct. 14 out of nowhere,” Spencer said.

The next step was selecting a venue. Always the planner, Spencer went to work.

Since returning from a family vacation to Kauai, Hawaii, on Jan. 2, Spencer researched 10 potential wedding venues, contacting six and visiting four, the last being The Gardens at Monji located on the grounds of Monji Landscape Companies.

“Driving into it is really weird,” she recalled. “But as soon as you walk in, it’s beautiful. I loved it right away.”

The initial visit was a solo venture, but Spencer returned a week later with Andrew; her mom, Teresa; and her sister Perri. Even before seeing it himself, Andrew was already sold on Monji after Spencer told him about it.

“She has good taste and I trust her good taste, in both men and everything else,” he said.

Andrew’s one request is that the ceremony and reception be at the same location and that it be an outdoor affair. Other than that, he followed Spencer’s lead – a wise decision considering he’d much rather get married in Vegas. They can put the money they would have spent on a wedding on a single hand of blackjack and see what happens.

“There’s a possibility you win more money,” he chuckled. “There’s not a possibility you win more at this.”

Walking through The Gardens at Monji, Andrew could picture getting married here. The combination of floral decorations and statues gave a comfortable, relaxing vibe that wasn’t overwhelming, which matches perfectly with his and Spencer’s laid-back personalities. The only “drawback” was the groom’s dressing room wasn’t as decked out as the bride’s.

As the group wandered around, Spencer caught a glimpse of Andrew at the back of the lawn. That’s when it hit her: This is where they’re going to get married.

Tears soon followed – a rare occurrence considering not many things make Spencer cry.

“She had this big old smile on her face,” Andrew recalled. “It was adorable. It wasn’t ugly crying; that’s not possible for her.”

Everything fell into place for the young couple.

The venue was booked on a Saturday, and Spencer started school two days later. In May, she’ll graduate with her master’s. In October, she’ll marry Andrew. 

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