It’s not typical to see heart decorations and flowers and hear romantic music at the hub of Hennepin County’s Government Center in downtown Minneapolis – but Valentine’s Day was an exception.
The skyway level of the center was transformed into the site of 17 free wedding ceremonies by Fourth Judicial District judges. The service was targeted toward couples in the military and first responders, as well as civilian couples.
Ceremonies were conducted simultaneously by 10 judges and couples went on their way into married life after about 15 minutes. Some dressed for the occasion with wedding gowns, suits and flowers, while others wore their everyday clothes.
Liz Anderson and Todd Williams of Eden Prairie knew they wanted a low-maintenance wedding when the time came to get married. Williams, 39, actually proposed to Anderson, 33, a week before their wedding. The engagement was planned over time, but their wedding ceremony choice was not, Williams said. They heard about Hennepin County’s offering “out of the blue” and decided it was the perfect way to tie the knot after nine years together, he said.
The couple met in West Virginia when their respective work in the environmental field brought them together to help at the site of a chemical spill, Anderson recalled. Williams, a veteran of the United States Air Force, was Anderson’s point of contact while working at the site and the rest is history.
Williams lived in Chicago at the time and Anderson’s home base was Minneapolis. They went out to breakfast while still working in West Virginia and had a long-distance relationship before reuniting in Minnesota.
Anderson said their families were shocked about their wedding choice, but were anxiously awaiting the engagement news. The couple heard a lot of “it’s about time,” when they announced their marriage plans, they said.
“It was something fun and crazy,” Anderson said. She bought her dress the day after Williams proposed and the couple picked up a bouquet at Bachmann’s in the government center before exchanging vows in front of the reflection pond with Judge Jane Ranum. They tossed $1 coins distributed by the judges into the water while celebrating with their 1 ½ year old daughter, Avery.
Nearby, a couple with 30 years of history began their nuptials.
Richard Lamm, 60, and Leslie Davis, 59, of Bloomington tied the knot on Valentine’s Day as a surprise to all their friends and family.
They picked up their son, Brent, his girlfriend Emily Hutchinson, Leslie’s brother Michael and Richard’s brother Dennis for a supposed lunch gathering downtown.
The real destination was the government center for a wedding taking place in a matter of minutes.
Richard Lamm said he heard about the free wedding ceremonies when he used the Hennepin County court website to pay the fine for a traffic ticket. Leslie was on board. They didn’t even buy new clothes for the ceremony, but Leslie did make a sash decorated with the words, “Just Married.”
“And they say romance is dead,” her brother Michael said, jokingly.
The weddings at the government center drew a crowd of onlookers as well as visits from county commissioners and staff who work in the building.
But the couples reciting their vows hardly noticed the attention. Judges presiding over the ceremonies said it was a fun day and a way to give back on Valentine’s Day – which will be an easy anniversary to remember, according to Judge William Koch.
He even talked on the phone to a family member of St. Paul couple Holly and Segjuanda English to confirm the news of their wedding.
Nancy Peters, the communication specialist in Hennepin County District Court, said plans are already underway for the event next year.
Save the date.
Contact Katy Zillmer at [email protected]