Marrying couples must visit the register of deeds for a license.
Nearly a decade ago, Donna Spencer decided the Catawba County courthouse was an apt setting for a wedding ceremony, too.
“Before I became register of deeds, I was a paralegal and I’d be here on Valentine’s Day and would see a lot of people assigned licenses that day,” Spencer said. “The magistrate does a lot of people who just walk in here. You walk in to the desk, and you get married. You have to wait because warrants through the jail and court system are a priority.”
After Spencer took office as register of deeds in 2004, she started thinking of ways to provide a more appropriate scene for a simple, cost-effective Valentine’s Day wedding.
“I knew I didn’t have the money to do it,” she said. “The year came and went, then in 2006 I thought something must be done, but how?”
Wayne Rash provided her answer.
Rash is register of deeds for Caldwell County, which started offering Valentine’s Day courthouse weddings in 2004.
“Without sponsors, we couldn’t do it, and I’m sure they couldn’t in Catawba either,” he said. “The sponsors help make the weddings possible. They get so much out of it, too, the goodwill, the positive publicity.”
So, Spencer and her team set out to find sponsors.
“With any sponsorship we got, I wanted to stick with the local businesses,” Spencer said. “I wanted to help the businesses on the local level and give back to the community.”
Catawba County offered Valentine’s Day weddings at the courthouse for the first time in 2007. Spencer and Tracy Pruitt, deputy register of deeds, provided much of the support the first year — including photographs, music and sparkling cider.
In the years since, florists have committed to provide decorations, Honey’s IGA makes the wedding cakes, and area ministers perform the ceremonies.
On Tuesday, for the sixth year, a group of men and women will say “I do” at the Catawba County Justice Center.
At least 18 couples have signed up to say their vows Tuesday. Each ceremony will last about 15 minutes. Ceremonies begin about 9 a.m. and continue until everyone is married. Walk-ins are welcome, too.
“We’ve had double ceremonies before,” Spencer said. “We’ve had people renew their vows. They come in cowboy hats, baseball hats, blue jeans, tuxedoes, top hats, dresses of different colors.
“Some come and get married and then go back to work,” she continued.
“One year, the bride was late because she had to stop at Wal-Mart on the way. The groom was getting nervous. As long as they come in, we’ll marry them.”
Other counties, including Rockingham and Stanly, now want to replicate that process.
“We’ve had other register of deeds offices contact us to see what we’ve done,” Spencer said. “This is something good that gives back to the community. And women who have come in for weddings have said ‘you’ve helped my dream come true.’”