The Catholic school principal wed police officer Joe Dunster at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Montecito, Calif., on May 5: "It was everything I dreamed of," Ashley tells PEOPLE
Ronald Reagan's youngest granddaughter Ashley Reagan is married!
The Catholic school principal, 40, wed police officer Joe Dunster in front of 80 guests during an intimate celebration in Santa Barbara on May 5.
The bride and groom exchanged traditional vows at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church, and later celebrated with friends and family during their reception at the Ronald Reagan Ranch Center — one of many nods to her late grandfather, the country's 40th president. (Ashley and her brother, Cameron, are the children of President Reagan's eldest son, Michael Reagan.)
"We looked at a ton of beautiful venues, but we wanted a personal connection," Ashley tells PEOPLE exclusively.
The location, which is now owned by the Young America's Foundation, features original Reagan Ranch artifacts and exhibits that highlight the history of his presidency and 25 years at Rancho del Cielo, his vacation home with Nancy Reagan.
For her walk down the aisle, the bride wore an elegant long-sleeved, lace Grace Loves Lace gown.
"I was drawn to it because all their dresses are handmade lace, and they're just beautiful," she says. "They're simple, they're elegant, they're timeless. I wanted something that gave off that elegant and timeless feel."
Ashley had two bridesmaids, while her husband's 7-year-old son Colt served as his best man. Dunster is also dad to 5-year-old twins Duke and Walker.
"It was very sweet," she says. "He stood up there, and he did awesome." Ashley's older brother, Cameron, also served as one of Dunster's groomsmen.
The traditional church wedding gave way to more history at the black, white and burgundy-themed reception, where guests dined at stations serving locally sourced chicken, fish and barbecue — the latter of which featured a special item that Nancy Reagan and her husband used to love: chili from Chasen's in West Hollywood.
"It's actually where my grandma and grandpa met," says Ashley, adding that the legendary restaurant has "world-famous chili."
Red velvet cake and a McConnell's ice cream bar added a sweet touch to the event, after which guests took the Santa Barbara trolley back to the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, where sliders were served as a late-night snack. As another special nod to Ashley's iconic grandfather, the couple included Jelly Belly jelly beans — President Reagan's favorite treat — in welcome bags for the guests.
One moment that will always be special for Ashley, was the couple's first dance as husband and wife to Lady Gaga's "Hold My Hand."
"Joe, especially, doesn't necessarily like a ton of attention," she says. "I think for that moment both of us were like, 'Oh my gosh, everyone's going to be staring at us. It's going to be overwhelming.' Then in that moment, when we were having our first dance, I felt like it was only the two of us in the room. We just had a great moment between the two of us."
The couple first met decades ago as kids. Years later, they reconnected when Dunster contacted Ashley in March 2021.
"He had randomly reached out to me," she says. "He said, 'Do you want to go get a cup of coffee, and meet and catch up?' We met, and we caught up, and then the rest is history."
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Ashley says that she marvels at the timing of it all.
"I think that life happened as it should," she says. "We try so hard I think to feel ... I just turned 40, so I feel like you think, okay, I'm supposed to be here. I'm supposed to do this. Then life happens as it should."
She adds that their "beautiful" day was perfect. "It was everything I dreamed of."
For Ashley, the most meaningful part of the whole day was making a lifelong commitment to Joe and his children.
"It means a lot because he has three little boys. It feels really special to make a promise to Joe, but I'm also making a promise to the boys to be a part of their lives, to love them as if they're my own, and take care of them as if they're my own. It was the most special."
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