200 kisses, lifetimes of love
By MIKE BRASSFIELD
ST. PETE BEACH -- They did, again.
They looked into each other's eyes and said it one more time: To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as all 400 of them shall live.
That's right, 200 couples renewed their marriage vows at sunset Saturday on the sugar sand beach at the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa.
Some of them married as high school sweethearts. Others met later in life.
Some couples had a passel of grandkids. Others were young and childless, relative newlyweds, the women decked out in their original bridal gowns and taffeta and veils.
Then there were Pete and Mary Grimm, married 58 years. They wed during World War II, when he was a wounded serviceman in the hospital where she worked.
Between the Grimms' daughters and friends, the Grimm party had four married couples taking part in Saturday's ceremony.
"We have 144 years of marriage between us," said Mary Grimm, 79, who had flowers in her hair and a sparkle in her eye. "There are no divorces in our family."
The divorce rate is about 50 percent nationwide, and slightly higher in Florida. Most Floridians who marry don't stay together.
And yet, there were well over 2,000 years of marriage on the beach Saturday. Four hundred happy husbands and wives. What's their secret?
"You learn to appreciate each other. You know when you have a good thing," said Clover Sheary of Dunedin, married 12 years to St. Petersburg police Detective Rusty Zitzelberg.
"We're best friends," said Hal and Susan Porter of Lakeland, married 25 years.
"We love each other. We work things out," St. Petersburg hairstylist Debora Lucas said of her husband, Stephen. Renewing their vows was his idea -- a 31st anniversary gift.
"I wanted to do something special for my wife," Stephen Lucas said. "She opened up the invitation and started bawling, so I did good."
She did him one better. She surprised him by having a plane fly over Saturday's ceremony, towing a banner that read, "Steve, here's to new beginnings, to romance, to us. Deb."
Cue the wedding music.
The 400 husbands and wives walked in a procession down a staircase at the Don CeSar, which put together the ceremony as a promotional event.
They parked themselves in rows on the sand. Swimsuit-clad beachgoers gawked as the Rev. Bruce Rouzer stood on a raised platform and led the couples through their vows.
"Do not ever take each other for granted," Rouzer told them. "Remember that for as long as you both shall live, you are bride and groom to each other."
After saying "I do" all over again, the couples kissed and posed for photos.
Side by side, they strolled over to the reception, or they lingered at the water's edge to watch the sunset.
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