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Editor’s note: Troubled times can inspire big gestures – including elopements! Here are two stories of Wheeling brides who took the plunge – one during the heat of World War II and one during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Abbey Kurtz’s and Shane Livingston’s wedding plans had been on ice since October. She was waiting to see how quickly she would recover from an April surgery intended to repair a back injury from a car accident.
“I didn’t want to be hobbling down the aisle,” Kurtz explained.
The call that changed it all came March 19. The surgery — not an issue of life and death — was canceled as part of a systematic shutdown of all non-essential community activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was the last straw.
“I don’t want to wait for this surgery anymore,” the Elm Grove bride instantly decided. “I asked Shane, ‘When do you want to get married, babe?’ He said, ‘Next week is fine.’ We looked at the weather, and we liked Wednesday.”
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
They barely made it.
Realizing that all sorts of other restrictions were likely looming in addition to the statewide ban on elective surgeries — which is now in the process of being lifted — they sprang into action the very next day. “We called the courthouse and we were able to get in the Friday (March 20) before they closed to the public,” Kurtz said, noting they may have been the very last couple to get a license.
That hurdle jumped, another immediately sprang up. While the license was valid immediately, the possibility of a courthouse wedding was already shut down. Through the grapevine, the graduates of Central Catholic High School learned that friend Mitch Haddad, owner of Later Alligator, was licensed to officiate weddings, however.
Haddad agreed to participate. Wednesday, March 25, it would be. That’s when the real action began, Kurtz said.
“I ordered us rings on Amazon. They were like 15 bucks,” Kurtz said of the start to an online wedding blitz. “I had been dress shopping in December, but it wasn’t in yet. I thought, ‘What’s the website that can get me a dress the fastest?’ It was Lulu’s. I ordered three dresses, Facetiming with both my sisters.”
“It really all came together in a day.” Wheeling Flowers whipped up a bouquet and boutonniere. Kurtz borrowed a pair of earrings from her mom. A friend did her hair. “Shane just wore whatever suit he had.”
On March 25 — a warm and sunny Wednesday — the bride, groom, Haddad and photographer friend Kristin Laing of Ruthylee Photography were the only ones actually there. “We all had gloves and masks, and we brought Lysol wipes, and we went out to a trail in Oglebay, and it happened,” Kurtz laughed.
Back in Elm Grove, family members showed they could play a part, too. They, in fact, collaborated in a scene reminiscent of George and Mary’s honeymoon from, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“When we were gone (to the actual ceremony), our families came over and set the table with my grandmother’s cross-stitched tablecloth and cut flowers from the garden,” she said. Relatives also ordered delivery from Figaretti’s, a Kroger cake and more flowers. “It was just really special.”
And, thanks to U.S. mail, Haddad was actually able to file the paperwork. “It’s official and everything,” Kurtz said of their marriage. But, there has been another, small COVID snag. Kurtz plans to share her husband’s name of Livingston, but can’t make the change legally until government offices re-open.
In the meantime, the two are quarantined cozily together. Kurtz, who normally works in Pittsburgh, is working at home. Livingston, who co-owns Livingston Brothers Moving LLC and works for Liberty Distributing, is deemed essential and is still out working at times.
They’ve set a date for June 2021 to celebrate with friends and family and hope to take a honeymoon at some point, but Kurtz said they are delighted with their decision to elope.
“We just wanted to do it now, before anything gets (worse),” Kurtz said. “It turned out to be the perfect day for us … We don’t feel like we missed out on anything. We’re still enjoying being married.”
SOMETHING SECRET, SOMETHING BLUE
That is something Dorothy Chambers Sullivan of Wheeling totally gets. Sullivan and her late husband Robert Sullivan did pretty much the same thing during World War II.
Chambers Sullivan, who grew up on a Nauvo Ridge farm in Marshall County, was a nursing student training at Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale. Sullivan, after deciding college life was not for him, was working at Triangle Conduit plant in Glen Dale.
They met dancing to Big Band records at a nearby nightspot called The Night Club.
“We might only have had an hour, but we’d race down to the club just to dance.”
The war might have ended their romance. Sullivan enlisted in the U.S. Army. But, the two, both 21, decided to elope before he shipped out for basic training in South Carolina in November 1942.
As with the Livingstons, their families were on board. Chambers Sullivan’s mom chipped in for an aqua blue dress. Sullivan’s father and Chambers Sullivan’s brother drove them to Wellsburg for a quick ceremony with a minister. After one night together at the Sullivan family home in Moundsville, Sullivan left, and Chambers Sullivan went back to school as if nothing had happened.
“We kept our marriage a secret,” said Chambers Sullivan, noting marriage was taboo for nursing students. “I only told a few friends and my roommate because she was in the same fix — her husband was a Marine!”
The couple didn’t see each other again for three years. Chambers Sullivan finished school and took at job at a Pittsburgh hospital. She later returned to help on the family farm when her brother enlisted. Sullivan was posted to Persia (now Iran), where he served as military police.
“We wrote loads of letters,” she said. “His were often delayed and censored.”
Eventually, Sullivan’s tour of duty ended. The couple took a short honeymoon. He went back to work. They had a son, traveled and enjoyed 57 years together. Sullivan died in 1999. Chambers Sullivan, now 99, moved to the Elmhurst House of Friendship in Wheeling in 2014.
SOMETHING PLANNED, SOMETHING POSTPONED
While bold brides like Sullivan and Kurtz may have opted for elopements, brides with bigger ceremonies in mind may be indefinitely stymied, according to area wedding planners and Tim McCormick, president of the Ohio County Commission.
As of late April, it was still impossible to get a marriage license in Ohio County and, possibly, anywhere else in West Virginia. McCormick said he had heard rumors that one West Virginia county was issuing licenses by appointment, but the office had a backlog stretching into late May.
Ashley Dunlap, head wedding specialist at Oglebay Park, said that kind of uncertainty alongside a COVID-sparked state ban on gatherings of more than five people in Ohio County has brides making hard decisions about weddings, showers and bachelorette parties scheduled for one of Oglebay’s indoor or outdoor venues. The park hosts about 125 weddings a year.
As of mid-April, Dunlap said all April weddings and most May weddings (which would have been the park’s biggest wedding month in years) had already been postponed until fall 2020 or sometime in 2021.
“The July weddings and June weddings are very nervous. August feels comfortable now,” Dunlap added.
Among couples who are rescheduling or at least picking a back-up date, she said half are going for September and October of this year, often choosing open Sundays and Fridays as most Saturdays are already full. The other half are moving their weddings well into 2021 to avoid the possibility of another disruption.
“These people still want to get married,” Dunlap said, noting that there will be no additional charge for postponements or back-up dates and that COVID-canceled weddings will involve a full refund. “It’s a very strange time. Some (couples) have had this date planned for two years. That’s very sad.”
Bob Bailey, owner of As You Like It Catering, said he is seeing much of the same thing.
His 27-year-old business sometimes does two weddings a Saturday, and he said that will be good experience if August, September and October play out as now scheduled. “I looked at my calendar and went, ‘Crap!’ ” he said of dual weddings becoming a weekly routine.
“I’m thankful to death that they didn’t just cancel.”
Like Oglebay, Bailey is not charging extra for postponements and will give refunds if events need to be canceled because of COVID-19. “I’m really a shop-the-week-of kind of guy. Almost everything we use is fresh,” he said of not losing actual cash on supplies stuck in freezer limbo.
But, that doesn’t mean he’s earning money now. For the first time in his career, he said he has no work. He and one full-time staffer still on the payroll have instead been feeding neighborhood children out of his 18th Street commercial kitchen. Each Monday, families that have contacted him in advance can pick up multiple to-go meals.
Thank you to Marilyn Mull, director of marketing for the Elmhurst House of Friendship, who contributed to this story. Mull, who was busy styling hair for residents of the facility because of COVID-19 shutdowns in addition to her regular work, took the time to interview Chambers Sullivan and shared her notes with Weelunk.
• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.