Suffolk hotel hosts mass wedding

Published 10:46 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2012

About 20 couples registered on air with Eagle 97 FM to come to Suffolk on Tuesday for a mass wedding at the Hilton Garden Riverfront. Another 60 or so couples came out to renew their vows in the radio station’s 20th annual Valentine’s Day Mass Wedding ceremony. It was the first time the event had been held in Suffolk.

For Jimmy Ray and Jen and the rest of the Eagle 97 staff on hand at the Hilton Garden Riverfront, the event might have seemed comfortable and familiar in its 20th year.

But for the men and women participating in the radio station’s annual Valentine’s Day Mass Wedding, held in Suffolk this year for the first time, the event was anything but standard.

Shaking hands placed rings onto trembling fingers. Proud grooms used their handkerchiefs to dry the eyes of their joyful brides. Mothers and sisters helped nervous brides adjust their dresses, touch up their makeup and tease out their hair.

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And when it came down to the important part of the ceremony, each of the 20 grooms only had eyes for his particular bride, even though each couple was surrounded by others taking the same vows in the same hotel ballroom.

“Each couple — it’s their individual wedding,” Jimmy Ray said as the first of the couples filed into the ballroom to the Wedding March.

Jimmy Ray and Jen are Eagle 97’s popular morning drive-time duo, and they have long experience in hosting the mass wedding in Hampton Roads.

“Over the years — this’ll be our 20th — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of couples have joined in matrimony here on the Jimmy Ray and Jen Show. It’s just quite an honor for us,” he told the radio audience listening to the event live at 7:05 a.m. Tuesday.

Couples came from all around the area to be married or to renew their vows in a separate ceremony that followed the wedding ceremony. They had a variety of reasons for wanting such an unconventional wedding on the day set apart to celebrate romance each year.

“I’m in the military, and I don’t know what the future holds,” Jason Hoffecker said as he had some quiet time in a corner with his soon-to-be-bride Tina Dautrich prior to the ceremony. “There could be an obstacle later on.”

Hoffecker is stationed at Langley Air Force Base. He said Dautrich, who is from Gloucester, surprised him with the idea some time ago.

The two were among those who had come dressed in traditional attire, he in a dark, three-piece suit and she in a long, white gown. But there were cowboy hats and blue jeans in the procession, too. As did all the brides, Tina Dautrich carried a small bouquet of red roses as she walked down the aisle.

While family and friends watched from tables nearby, the couples listened to a homily from a Virginia Beach minister, repeated their vows in unison and exchanged rings.

As he placed the ring on his bride’s finger, Hoffecker used a handkerchief to wipe tears from her eyes.

And then the new couples headed for the dance floor, relinquishing the small ceremonial area to about 60 couples on hand to renew their vows.

“A good marriage must be created,” the minister told the married couples arrayed in rows before him. “You cannot expect the wife to wear a halo or the husband to have wings.”

Freeson Daugherty and his wife Ruth were among those who had come to Suffolk to renew their vows. But it was not their first mass wedding ceremony.

The couple originally was married in 2009 at a mass wedding ceremony hosted by the Unification Church in South Korea, along with 19,000 other couples. They had been interested, Freeson said, in seeing how the Suffolk ceremony would compare.

Touching his wife’s pregnant belly, he joked that there was at least one clear difference in the two ceremonies.