Editor’s note: The Evanston RoundTable is pleased to present “They Do,” a glimpse into the love stories and commitment celebrations of local readers and their relatives.
Sally McBratney and Francis Jeffrey-Idun met in 2013 in Chicago at Cafe Ba-Ba Reeba, where they each worked at the time. As friends and coworkers, the two would often hang out after hours with other staff members.
One particular “cold and snowy night, we were at a friend’s party and he asked to walk me home. And that’s when I thought, ‘He likes me,’” recalled McBratney, an ETHS alum, class of 2010.
But it wasn’t wasn’t until June 2015 that the couple officially began dating. McBratney and Jeffrey-Idun took a camping trip that month to the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.
“It was absolutely terrible! Never go camping at that time of year,” McBratney said. “We had to do food prep in our tent and despite wearing two pairs of pants, I still got eaten alive by mosquitos.”
Jeffrey-Idun wanted to go home.
“I’m tired, this isn’t fun anymore,” he remembers saying. But McBratney persevered.
“I am my mother’s daughter. I told him, ‘Have a little bit of whiskey. It’ll all be OK. I want to watch the sun set and eat s’mores,’” she said. So they stayed, despite the mosquitos, and solidified their relationship amongst the bug bites.
“Her pushing it and making the best out of the whole situation, I knew she could handle pretty much everything,” Jeffrey-Idun said. “The camping trip sealed it.”
In August 2015, Jeffrey-Idun moved back to Maryland and the two dated long-distance for 10 months. During that time, he continued to work in the food industry. Bartending at Sal’s in Cabin John, Maryland, brought him a great deal of satisfaction.
“I love talking to people and listening to their stories,” he said. “I still keep two shifts a week even with my full-time job.” It was while bartending that Jeffrey-Idun met his current boss, Anthony Wilder.
“He wanted to hire me to work with him doing carpentry. I resisted for 1½ years because I didn’t think I had that creative mindset,” he said.
McBratney followed Jeffrey-Idun to Maryland in July 2016, and the two moved into an apartment together.
It was “easy to live together but we never saw each other because we were both working so much,” said McBratney, who was working at WeWork and then in the event-planning business while Jeffrey-Idun was working nights at the restaurant.
She now works for the design agency Swatchroom, directing business development and creative operations. He has been apprenticing for Anthony Wilder Design/Build since April 2021, “trying to learn as much as possible,” he said.
For both McBratney, 30 years old, and Jeffrey-Idun, 38, the pandemic had a silver lining.
“COVID was the biggest blessing for us, even though we both lost our jobs and careers. We grew as friends and partners,” she said.
“During COVID, we had time to sit down and talk and enjoy each other’s company. If it’s going to work now, it’s going to work forever,” Jeffrey-Idun said. “This time gave us the opportunity to be together to see how we can grow as a unit. The time was just precious. Sally pushed me to see my creative side and try something new.”
McBratney is the daughter of Julie and Bruce McBratney of Evanston. Jeffrey-Idun is the son of Alice Annum and Kenneth Jeffrey-Idun of Silver Spring, Maryland, originally from Ghana.
Alice Annum is a former Ghanian sprinter who competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the 1968 Mexico Olympics and the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
For both McBratney and Jeffrey-Idun, family is important. He is close to his family and the couple spends a great deal of time with his relatives in Maryland. While McBratney’s immediate family is still in Evanston and the Chicago suburbs, they make many trips back and forth, spending quality time here in town, as well as at the bride’s family cabin in New Hampshire.
It was in New Hampshire, at what the family calls “Camp Echo,” that the couple became engaged. Camp Echo has been in McBratney’s family for almost 140 years and is a special place for all.
On the day of the engagement, Jeffrey-Idun feigned a stomach ache and bowed out of the traditional family sunset cocktail hike before dinner.
While she was disappointed that Jeffrey-Idun didn’t join her on the hike, she consoled herself by picking blueberries along the trail. With the end of the trail in sight, McBratney’s younger brother, John, told her to look up.
“Francis was there at the top waiting for me,” she said. He proposed while the McBratney family live-streamed the event for Jeffrey-Idun’s family in Maryland.
Planning the wedding was especially meaningful as they blended two cultures. In Ghanian tradition, there is an engagement ceremony hosted by the groom’s family.
”This special night solidifies the union of two people,” Jeffrey-Idun said. Ghanian culture reveres the bride and her family. They are given gifts to thank them for taking on the responsibility of their son. Gifts included traditional fabrics and clothing, as well as whiskey. The bride’s brothers received monetary gifts, because “they had to deal with me growing up,” McBratney joked.
The bride is also given traditional Ghanian fabrics in a suitcase, which symbolize travels and adventures the couple will have together. Both families donned traditional Ghanian clothing for this special night, and they dined on Ghanian food, which included jollof rice, chicken kabobs with shito sauce (homemade chili sauce), meat pies and plantains. McBratney and Jeffrey-Idun followed Ghanian culture and danced and paraded around their families, while elders in the crowd offered words of wisdom and advice for a solid marriage.
The wedding took place on Aug. 20 in Chevy Chase, Md., at the Woodend Sanctuary and Mansion, the headquarters of the Audubon Naturalist Society. The outdoor ceremony and indoor reception was officiated by Johnny Lucero, Jeffrey-Idun’s brother-in-law, before 160 guests.
Following dinner and dancing, the celebration continued at The Barking Dog, a local dive bar where Francis bartended in his 20s.
“I was so filled with joy and excited, we barely ate at the wedding,” McBratney remembered. Jeffrey-Idun echoed his bride’s sentiment.
It was the “best day ever,” he said. “We watched all the people we love mingling and getting along. We got to get married with all of our best friends and family around us. It was the best feeling in the world. Our little village was with us.”
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