Rock County Courthouse hosts Valentine's Day group wedding
JANESVILLE—Security guards had to check a record number of wedding rings through the metal detector at the Rock County Courthouse on Friday morning—22 rings, to be exact.
It was just one scene from a free Valentine's Day group wedding at the courthouse Friday, the first of its kind in Rock County, officials said.
The courthouse's Jury Assembly Room room was buzzing, but not with families sweating the arraignment of a loved one. Rather, dozens of people were dressed in suits and dresses to witness the legal matrimony of 11 couples on the year's most romantic day.
Instead of the rap of a gavel, a piano man played “The Rose.” Wedding cupcakes sat laid out on a table. Court Commissioner Steve Meyer, the man in charge of Friday's wedding ceremonies—all 11 of them held back to back—stood at a podium adorned with red and white Valentine's Day-themed balloons donated for the event.
“Will you take this woman, to have and to hold from this Valentine's Day onward?” Meyer asked groom Joe Quint as he stood with bride Kim Pregont.
Pregont said she and Quint, both Janesville residents, have been a couple for seven years.
“Joe always said, 'If you want to get married, just tell me. We'll go to the courthouse.' I always said, 'No, no. That seems impersonal,'" Pregont said.
A family member saw a story in the newspaper about the group wedding Friday, and the couple decided to tie the knot, almost on the drop of a hat. Pregont said the numeric significance of Friday's date, 2-14-2014, made the idea of a wedding irresistible.
“It's perfect. The date. It'll be memorable,” she said.
Pregont cried even before the ceremony started. She said she was emotional because one of her sons had surprised her by traveling from Colorado for the courthouse wedding.
The Janesville couple were just two of the 22 people who decided to get married at the free ceremony, which County Clerk Lori Stottler said she planned after reading about other counties that have tried it. The county does free wedding ceremonies at the courthouse, but it's never had a group wedding on Valentine's Day, and certainly not one with decorations and cupcakes.
“I wanted something that'd be memorable for people, but I wanted it to be Valentiney and simple,” Stottler said this week.
The county opened the ceremony to 20 couples. Fourteen couples initially signed up, but Stottler and Meyer said one man, who is 86 and has been widowed twice, decided to get married earlier in the week.
Two other couples decided they wanted weddings more private than a group ceremony. They got married at the courthouse later Friday, away from the crowds, which included newspaper reporters, photographers and TV news cameras.
Meyer held all 11 ceremonies Friday morning back-to-back, instead of lumping them together into one mega-ceremony with nearly a dozen simultaneous “I do's.”
“I know it took longer, which maybe people didn't expect, but it didn't seem right to hold these weddings on this day and not have the feel of an individual ceremony for each couple,” he said.
All told, the ceremonies took 45 minutes—a little less than average time for a church-based wedding ceremony for a single couple. And at the end of each ceremony, which was complete with ring-and-vow exchanges, Meyer had each newlywed couple kiss.
For each couple, the piano man, Yuri Rashkin, played a clipped portion of Mendelssohn's “Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream” while smartphones flashed to capture the courthouse kisses.
Most of the couples seemed prepared for the ceremony. Lennay Bartz of Janesville who married Jerry Strickland, wore a white jeweled gown and had lavender-colored flowers in her hair. Strickland wore a dark suit with a lavender tie.
Another bride, Kim Mueller, held a bright bouquet of South African Bird of Paradise plants.
As the newlyweds crowded together for a group kiss and cupcake ceremony, and the county register of deeds went into overdrive formalizing the 11 wedding licenses signed and witnessed, Janesville couple Kristine Case and Paul Kuhnle basked in a moment they'd waited for since high school.
Case said Kuhnle had given her a pear-shaped diamond in 1989, when they were “very young,” but the two decided to break off marriage plans. They went separate ways and later married other people.
Case said both she and Kuhnle later divorced, and the two reunited eight years ago, after their respective divorces. They'd decided to get married Friday mostly because it was Valentine's Day, Case said.
Case showed her wedding band, which was once her mother's. Set in the ring was the same diamond that Kuhnle had given her years ago.
“It's been thirty years in the making,” Case said.