17 couples tie the knot in Valentine's Day marathon

Feb. 16, 2014 @ 10:21 AM

There’s nothing too unusual about getting married by a magistrate on Valentine’s Day.

But nothing’s typical about the way it happens in Lenoir.

On Friday, as they do each year, a slew of couples filed into the city-county chambers of the Alden E. Starnes Administration Building in Lenoir, all set to get married. There were 17 of them, some in jeans or leggings, some in wedding dresses. Some brought full wedding parties along, while others got married alone.

In the background stood floor-to-ceiling decorations, tables of gifts, string musicians and slices of cake ready to be plated as part of miniature receptions just outside. The couples paid very little, just the $20 fee required by the state and $60 for a marriage license.

This is a Lenoir tradition, one that happened for the 10th time this year: the annual Valentine’s Day Wedding Extravaganza. It’s an event sponsored by the Caldwell County Register of Deeds Office – and funded and fueled by community donations, with no taxpayer money used. Caldwell was the first county in the state to do anything like this, although others have followed suit.

The annual event is also a product of donated time – everyone from the magistrates who perform the weddings to the string musicians, students on loan from the Harper School of Performing Arts, are there for free. It’s something of a gift to the community: Here, say all those people volunteering their time, get married and have a real wedding. Hear music played live as you walk down the aisle, and toast each other with cake and punch. Stand in front of your friends and family and take vows of “constant faith and abiding love.” It doesn’t have to cost you thousands of dollars.

This year’s event was a gift to couples like Dawn Martin and Mike Loftin, who’ve known each other for 20 years and always wanted to get married but never wanted a big ceremony. This was nice because it was “kind of like a church wedding,” Martin said.

It was a gift to Reggie Propst, who, instead of immediately leaning in for a kiss, enveloped his bride in a big bear hug after they were pronounced man and wife.

It was a gift to Melissa Romero and Jimmy Newsome, whose small daughters walked them down the aisle.

And it was a gift to Beth Kistler and Larry McQueen, who, perhaps more than any other couple on Friday, exemplified the kind of you-and-I-together spirit that makes anyone want to get married in the first place. Instead of having Kistler walk down the aisle and meet McQueen at the altar, they wanted to walk together, hand in hand.

“We love each other,” Kistler said as she and McQueen signed their marriage license. “We wanted to make it official.”