Family passes down $100 wedding dress for 72 years

So far, eight brides spanning three generations have worn the special dress.

ByYi-Jin Yu ABC logo
Friday, September 16, 2022
Bride Serena Stoneberg, center, stands with six women in her family who have all worn the same wedding dress, at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Chicago, Aug. 5, 2022.
Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images-ABC

For more than seven decades, one family has upheld a special tradition of passing down the same wedding dress. Now, they're continuing the custom by preserving it for a new generation of relatives.

Overall, eight brides have worn the same wedding dress.

Adele Larson first wore the classic satin gown at her wedding to Roy Stoneberg on Sept. 16, 1950. The traditional dress features a mandarin collar, a lace panel in the front and back, and lots of small, fabric-covered buttons. She purchased it at Marshall Field's department store in downtown Chicago, now home to Macy's State Street, according to her niece, Julie Frank Mackey.

"She bought it for $100.75, which, in this day and age, is kind of wild," Mackey, 42, told "Good Morning America." "When you see it up close, the fabric, the satin and the lace are just really, really gorgeous and timeless."

Three years after Larson Stoneberg's wedding, her younger sister, Eleanor "Elly" Larson, decided to wear the dress for her own wedding to John Milton in June 1953. As the family story goes, "when her mom offered to go shopping for a wedding gown for her, she said, 'Well why would we do that? We'll wear this one,'" Mackey continued.

Mackey's mom, Sharon Larson, would follow in her sisters' footsteps and became the third bride to wear the cream-colored dress when she married John Frank in May 1969.

"When I attended my sisters' weddings, I was 5 years old and 8, so I don't think I really thought about it very much. I was a flower girl. I adored my sisters," Frank, now 77, told "GMA." "I just assumed I'd wear the dress, and not because I felt obligated to, just because I thought, 'We've got a dress. I'll wear the dress because my sisters had worn it.' It just seemed like a fun thing, a good thing to do."

After the Larson sisters wore the wedding dress, a second generation of brides would go on to wear it nearly two decades later, starting with Susan "Sue" Lianne Stoneberg McCarthy, Adele Larson Stoneberg's daughter, who married Robert "Bob" McCarthy in 1982.

"I'm very close with my mom. We're a very close family. So I always figured when I got married, I would wear the dress," McCarthy said, adding that it was "a given."

That sentiment was echoed by Carol Milton Zmuda (Elly Larson Milton's daughter), who would become the fifth bride to wear the beloved dress, a couple of years after Adele Larson Stoneberg's passing.

"When I think back to when I was engaged in the late '80s, I never gave it a second thought to get any other dress than the one I had. It was just, I loved my aunts, my mom, my cousin, it was just sort of like, I'm wearing what they wore. It just was not a decision," Zmuda, who married Lawrence Zmuda in 1990, recalled.

Jean Milton Ellis, also Larson Milton's daughter, would wear the dress again the following year when she wed Tom Ellis in 1991.

"I was asked to be a bridesmaid in my cousin Susie's wedding -- Sue and I are the same age and so we grew up in the Chicago suburbs doing a lot of things together -- and when she chose to wear the wedding dress, I think that was the first time that I thought, 'Well, if I eventually get married and get to plan a wedding, I think I might want to wear this dress, too,'" Ellis said. "And then the year before Tom and I got married, my sister Carol wore it, and I think in planning her wedding and knowing that she was going to wear it, I pretty much solidified that I would wear it, too."

It would be another 22 years until the dress would be taken out of storage and zhuzhed up for its time in the spotlight at Mackey's February 2013 wedding to Tom Mackey.

"It was just never even a question. Never any family pressure but it just was something I really looked up to and really wanted to be a part of," Mackey said of her decision to wear the dress.

For her ceremony, Mackey had a ribbon hem added since she was taller than the past brides, and she wore it with an open neckline and a handmade veil made by her mom.

Over the years, the family has had the dress professionally cleaned and stored to keep it in good condition. Zmuda has also made a memory book called "The Bride Book," featuring photos of the brides and their memorable dress.

"At the beginning, there was never any intention -- going back in the '50s - that this was going to become this decadeslong tradition. So I would give that initial credit to my grandmother, Anna Larson -- so Adele, Elly and Sharon's mother -- for preserving it in those early years," Mackey said. "By the time the next generation started wearing it, then we became aware that we need to preserve it. So my mother Sharon has assumed that responsibility. She's a very talented sewer and so she's taken that on."

This past August, Serena Stoneberg Lipari wore her grandmother Adele Larson Stoneberg's dress on her wedding day. She finished her ensemble with another handmade veil from her aunt Sharon, too.

"I felt just so happy and honored to be able to wear it," Stoneberg Lipari said of donning the gown 72 years later.

Stoneberg Lipari wed Chris Lipari at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, the same Chicago church her grandmother got married in. The family reunited for the occasion.

"It was extra special because of the church where it was. ... It was really magical to watch Serena come down the aisle with her dad, our cousin, Mark. I get chills talking about it. It was really special, lots of tears in our eyes, happy tears. It was wonderful," Zmuda said.

Each of the eight brides has added their own accessories for their ceremonies.

"There's just something like magic to it that it has looked good on every bride," Stoneberg Lipari added.

Not only has the dress become a meaningful family tradition, but Mackey also pointed out that everyone who has worn the dress has been happily married.

"It's also worth noting that each of these marriages has been very long-lasting," she said. "I think that's part of the legacy of the dress that each of us have been drawn to wearing the dress and it connected each of us because we all value family and tradition so deeply."