Celebrity chef Sandra Lee has been helping her uncle Bill Singlehurst cross items off his bucket list for the past two years, from traveling to his birthplace in Hawaii to riding the Orient Express—but his latest request was the sweetest of all.
“The last thing that he wanted to do was say his vows another time to my aunt Peggy so that when she’s walking up the aisle and he sees how beautiful she is, he actually is mature enough to realize what he’s getting,” Lee, 53, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
In December she surprised Bill, 82, who is battling cancer and heart disease, and Peggy, 78, who has Alzheimer’s, with a vow-renewal ceremony at the Catholic church in Santa Monica, California where they were originally married. “It was an exact remake of their wedding from 60 years ago,” says Lee, who coordinated re-creations of photos from their original wedding album.
Lee also helped her aunt find a dress in the similar blush tone of her original, a replica of her flower bouquet (which she ordered from Hawaii since the type of blooms Peggy used were not in season), and a classic white cake with buttercream frosting — “just like they made them in the ’50s,” Lee says.
For the television star, this was a way to show gratitude to her aunt and uncle, who once took her in during a time of need and eventually helped launch her career in the lifestyle industry. “There was a lot of drama and trauma going on in my family home that was above me,” recalls Lee. “I went to Wisconsin to live with my birth father and he got put in jail. They came to Wisconsin and got me and my uncle asked me if I would please move in with them. So, he gave up his home office and turned it into my bedroom, and I lived with them.”
When she began selling crafts in the 1990s—which led to regular appearances on QVC and eventually her own hit Food Network show, Semi-Homemade—Lee leaned on Bill and Peggy. “My uncle would create all of the props in the booths and the displays for my kiosks and for my demonstrations, and my aunt would help me create all of the decorating elements and demonstrative pieces,” she says.
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Now Lee used her gift for creating beautiful spaces to transform her home for a stunning reception after their ceremony. “The room was completely candle lit. There were over 400 candles. We had two dozen candelabras and it was all crystal and gold and gorgeous,” she says. “We had a DJ and a singer and my aunt made the playlist of all of their favorite songs from the 50s and 60s. They got to enjoy their first dance again.”
“It was a joy and a pleasure to see their joy and pleasure,” she adds. “The whole church was in tears because it was really so beautiful. And, after 60 years, they’re such a great example of what marriage should be.”