Guardian Oaks residents found love in the garden

by Jim Boyle

Guardian Angels has cultivated countless friendships among its residents.

“But none that took the final leap,” said Carolyn June Sakariason, who married fellow Guardian Angels resident Russell James Wellnitz June 24 in the Guardian Oaks dining center.

Carolyn June Sakariason and Russell James Wellnitz posed for a picture during a happy moment on their wedding day at the Guardian Angels senior dining site at Guardian Oaks.

Carolyn and Russell make a cute couple.

They get giggles from young children when they’re out about in town, and the 140 wedding guests that crammed into the makeshift reception hall gushed at the couple’s wedding vows.

But make no mistake, their story is a love story.

“You bet it is,” Carolyn said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone through the work that I did. This is forever. A caregiver could walk out.”

Carolyn Sakariason allowed her groom Russell Wellnitz to pull off her garter belt on their wedding day. The couple says make no mistake their story is a love story.

The couple’s love story  started in the garden that Carolyn tends to out in front of Guardian Oaks where the couple lives. That’s where they had their first extended conversation. It eventually led to a date. And eventually, they were a couple that liked to go to movies and take in concerts in downtown Elk River.

It wasn’t easy for their families to take at first. Most children don’t want to see their parent re-marry. Plus, they had their doubts, Carolyn and Russell state.

When they talked of  a wedding, folks were resistant. It broke Carolyn’s heart, but it didn’t sever the couple’s relationship.

“The more we were together, the stronger we got,” said Russell, who didn’t stop asking for Carolyn’s hand in marriage.

Carolyn June Sakariason and Russell James Wellnitz posed with children and grandchildren on their wedding day. Many of the couple’s grandchildren also participated in the ceremony by reading a series of seven blessings. One grandchild read “May you have the wisdom in the ordering of your life that you may each be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity and a companion in joy.

It’s a miracle that Russell is alive. He was pronounced dead at the hospital in Mora after he was overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1971. He was sent to a mortuary and the mortician said “not so much.” He was airlifted to a Twin Cities hospital where he spent 6.5 weeks unconscious.

He regained consciousness and began on a long path to recovery. He still suffers from the aftereffects. For instance, his hands are curled from being in a tight-fisted position for so long. His memory doesn’t work like it once did. But he perseveres through it all.

“He’s so strong,” Carolyn said. “He’s such a special person.”

Russell’s has been married twice and lived in Rockford when things began to fall apart on him. That’s when he came to Guardian Angels.

Russell Wellnitz and Carolyn Sakariason are pictured in the garden where they had the first long talk and many more since. Sakariason tends to the garden outside Guardian Oaks and Wellnitz serves as an assistant, bringing her water and gardening tools. The couple also like to go to movies and concerts in the park in downtown Elk River.

He came with the clothes on his back and a wheelchair that was not working, Carolyn recalled.

Over time, life improved. Russell and Carolyn realized they liked each other’s company.

“We liked the same things, we had the same values,” Caroline said.

“Life together is important to both of us,” Russell chimed in later.

Russell reminds Carolyn of her father, who she respected growing up and developed an even deeper appreciation for after his death.

“It wasn’t until his funeral that I realized what an impact he had on an entire community,” she said. “He was a paramedic, a Sunday school teacher and he lived his life as an example.

“He accepted people for who they were and it didn’t matter where they were in their growth life.”

Carolyn’s first husband died. His death was one in a long line of deaths in her family that took a toll on her. She lost her father, father-in-law, mother-in-law and son to cancer. She lost a mother to depression and Alzheimer’s.

It was health issues of her own that brought her to Guardian Angels nine years ago. She didn’t know a soul at first, and the transition was not easy.

Now she has many friends. So does Russell. Together, they have each other and their families. They have nine children and 14 grandchildren between the two of them.

They wrote their own wedding vows.

They started by looking online, realizing those were other people’s words. So they worked on words of their own. Things they had said to each other. Things they felt about each other. Things they promised one another.

They also prepared seven blessings, which were taken off the Internet and read by grandchildren.

Sonja Dixon, a pastor at Central Lutheran, married the couple. Couples in attendance were asked to hold hands and renew their vows when Russell and Carolyn read their vows to each other.

Afterward, they kissed.

The couple is now writing new chapters to their love story.

“We take it one day at a time,” Russell said. “Sometimes one moment at a time.”


“My sweet Carolyn, on our wedding day, I think of all the reasons I love you. You bring me so much joy and happiness. When you’re not with me, I miss you. It means so much to know that I can trust you. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are my best friend. I love the way you look out for what is best for me. Life is always fun and interesting with you, even when I get burnt blessings. I promise to encourage you, to laugh with you and comfort you in times of sadness. I promise to be faithful, love you, cherish you and grow in Christ’s love together.”

“My wonderful Russell, you are God’s precious gift to me. From the moment I first saw that sparkle in your eye, I knew you were someone very special. You’re everything that I have ever wanted in a Christian man, honest, kind, tender, loving and funny. I love that you’re always ready to go places and do things, at a moment’s notice, even shopping! And when you remind me that I am speeding, as you tell me, I have your life in my hands. Thank you for making me feel so loved and cherished and letting me be just as I am. When life seems easy and when it is hard, when our love is simple and when it takes effort. I promise to be faithful, love you, and cherish you, according to the commandments of God in the holy bond of marriage.”