50 couples, 30 years, 1 Elvis: Valentine's Day wedding at Adelphia
Couples tied the knot or renewed their vows at a mass wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day orchestrated by Adelphia Restaurant in Deptford. Cherry Hill Courier-Post
I’ll be the first to admit this – I’m no Cupid.
Two of my best friends fell madly in love a few years back, and I have to admit it had never occurred to me to set them up.
So, when I got an email last weekend thanking me for inspiring a Valentine’s Day wedding, I was a little surprised.
I also grinned like a lovestruck teenager.
Andrea Hollingworth and Walter Walsh of Hanover Township, Morris County, saw a story I wrote in our sister newspaper, the Daily Record, about a mass wedding planned for Valentine’s Day at Adelphia Restaurant in Deptford. About 50 couples will either marry or renew their wedding vows Friday evening, with Elvis impersonator Keith 'King' Gipson doing the honors.
The story inspired the couple to finally tie the knot. I’ll let Andrea tell you their backstory:
“We wanted to thank you for putting the article about the mass Valentine’s Day wedding with Elvis officiating in the newspaper,’’ she said in her email. “Luckily I read it, and jokingly told my long-term ‘boyfriend’ of 30-plus years about it.’’
You read that right. Walt and Andrea have been a couple for more than 30 years.
They met all those years ago when Andrea was working for the ARC of Morris County, where she supported those with Down Syndrome. She met her true love aboard a school bus headed to the Special Olympics Summer Games, at what was then Trenton State College in Ewing; Walt was a volunteer on the same bus.
Once the sparks flew, says Andrea, Walt upped his volunteer hours so they could spend more time together – and he became Volunteer of the Year.
“That was 30 years ago, and we are happily single as of right now,’’ laughed Andrea when we caught up by phone. “That will change on Friday.’’
While their love is forever, the reasons for getting hitched are pragmatic, she said, although she had the excitement of a bride-to-be in her voice when we chatted. She works for Dial a Ride, a company that transports older seniors to and from medical visits.
“As we get older, we want to make sure that everything is in place in case someone gets sick, and we decided getting married is the way to go,’’ she said. “When I read your article in the newspaper, I just thought, that’s kind of cool.
“I have to say, I used to think that anyone who would go out to Las Vegas and get married at one of those wedding mills, well I always thought they were pretty crazy, so for us to be doing this is really crazy. I’m conventional, but this sounded just crazy enough to be right up our alley!
“We are now 71 and 73 years old. We figured it just might be time to make this arrangement legal.’’
Or, as The King himself would might put it: “It’s now or never.’’
Bill and Evelyn Balis, who own Adelphia, gave away a free wedding for one couple and 150 guests three years ago.
Reached by phone, Evelyn was nearly as excited as the couples her restaurant and banquet hall will be hosting this weekend.
“A few years ago, we gave a free wedding reception to a deserving couple,’’ she recalled. “Family and friends submitted stories about why they deserved to win. We had a full reception, full-course dinner, flowers and open bar.
"Weddings are one of the biggest things we’re known for at Adelphia, and we wanted to get really creative and figure out a way to include as many people as possible this time around.’’
Working together with their public relations team at Peter Breslow Consulting Associates, Adelphia’s owners came up with the concept for a group wedding.
“Somehow along the line, it became what happens if Elvis marries them? Then let’s go a step further, and they can invite their friends and family for a reception afterwards.’’
The free mass wedding will include ceremony, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for each happy couple. Guests who want to witness the marriage kick in $50, with a cash bar and passed hors d'oeuvres. More than 300 guests are expected to attend. DJ, music and flowers also will be provided by Adelphia.
Proceeds will be donated to the American Heart Association, Balis said.
“Elvis is a really big seller for people, and for others it feels like divine intervention. They heard about it and said we can’t pass up this opportunity for a free ceremony and free reception.’’
She won’t spoil all the surprises, but Balis said there will be a photo booth, favors and other fun.
As for Andrea Hollingworth, she is waiting for her wedding band to arrive from Ireland. And then she’s getting back on a bus, just like she did all those years ago.
“We are decorating our rented party bus. We will be having our immediate family of six kids and six grandkids. All tolled, 15 of us are trekking down for a night of love and fun. At first they thought we were crazy, but now most of our friends are more excited than we are.
“The fact that the proceeds will be donated to the American Heart Association makes this even closer to my heart, as both of my parents passed from heart disease. We can’t wait for the fun to begin!’’
As for me, I am not sure this experience will turn me into a matchmaker. After all, I may have had a very small role in this marriage, but I can claim no role in the courtship.
I smiled some more though, when the bride-to-be texted me a meme:
“It’s better to wait long than to marry wrong.’’
OK, Cupid. Even Elvis couldn’t argue with that.
Tammy Paolino covers restaurants, breweries, food trucks and arts events for the USA TODAY New Jersey Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered the Garden State for more than 30 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.