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Wee Chapel's 'Marrying Sam,' dies at 73

Charles E. Measels and a partner ran the Gandy Boulevard chapel for two decades.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 17, 2003

Charles E. Measels

* * *

GANDY -- If you said "I do" in Tampa between 1971 and 1991, there's a good chance you said it to Marrying Sam.

Marrying Sam, whose real name was Charles E. Measels, presided over some 10,000 weddings at his Wee Chapel of Love on Gandy Boulevard. That's an average of about 11/2 weddings a day for 20 years.

Declining health forced Measels to retire in 1991. But as recently as October he would stop by to help out his longtime business partner, Ray Lyle, who still operates the chapel.

Mr. Measels had been ill for years. Arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and heart problems were a part of his daily life. But his death Saturday at age 73 after a short hospital stay still took friends and family by surprise.

"He was going to come home so he could have a football party (Sunday)," said his sister-in-law, Dianna Measels.

Charles was something of a patriarch to the Measels clan, Dianna said. His parents died when he was young, and for several years he raised his younger siblings, including Dianna's husband, Gene. Until the time of his death, holiday dinners and other family gatherings were invariably held at Mr. Measels' house in South Tampa.

In 1960, Mr. Measels started a wholesale flower business with Lyle. In 1967, they opened Gandy Florist. Lyle was the businessman; Measels, the floral designer. Four years later, they opened the Wee Chapel of Love, which Dianna Measels said was probably Tampa's first wedding chapel.

Lyle still owns and operates both the flower shop and the chapel, which he moved to Dale Mabry Highway just south of Gandy Boulevard in 1999.

"When you pick a business partner, you'd better pick a darn good one," Lyle said. "And I sure did. For 43 years he was my friend."

Mr. Measels became a notary public and a nondenominational minister mainly to perform weddings at the chapel.

It wasn't long before people started calling him Marrying Sam, after a character in the L'il Abner comic strip.

As his reputation grew, Measels started performing ceremonies at other locations. Novelty weddings were a specialty.

"He did all the weird weddings," Dianna Measels said. "He did a wedding on horseback. He'd say, 'We are gathered here -- Whoa, horsie!' Every other word was 'Whoa, horsie.' "

Through the years, couples who shared their first kiss as man and wife in front of Marrying Sam regularly stopped by to visit Mr. Measels and his Wee Chapel of Love.

"The first couple we ever married came back here about a year and a half ago," Lyle said. "They have a grown daughter now. She wanted to see where mom and dad got married."

Though Mr. Measels was widely known for his weddings, his chosen career was as a floral designer. His designs won national awards, and he never lost his affection for the work, even after he retired.

"He always seemed to like it," Lyle said, "He'd come help me some. The last thing he helped me out with was a wedding in October."

Mr. Measels' younger brother Gene also worked for Gandy Florist, delivering flowers all over the area. Gene married Dianna, a lifelong friend of the family, and she opened a flower shop of her own, with some expert advice from Mr. Measels.

"He was the one who taught me to do flowers," she said, "and now I have an award saying I'm one of the top 10 in the country. He has been teaching me since I was 10."

Mr. Measels' death was the latest in a series of difficulties the family has faced recently. His sister, Edna Mankos, died on Dec. 3. His only other sister, Louise Munson, died just a few months ago. Brother Jerry Measels had died two years ago.

Mr. Measels' only surviving siblings are brothers Gene and Willie Ray.

There had been other setbacks in the Measels family in recent months. Gene and Dianna Measels' neighborhood in Ridge Manor flooded during the heavy rains and rising rivers in December, and Dianna's nearby flower shop burned down around the same time.

Family was central to Charles Measels his whole life, but his spirits remained high until the end.

"He could still be a bit rowdy," Dianna Measels said.

Mr. Measels entered the hospital Jan. 6, after complaining of difficulty breathing. He was diagnosed with strep pneumonia. His chronic heart problems led doctors to insert a pacemaker later in the week. As late as Thursday, he expected to be home Sunday to host a gathering of family and friends to watch the Bucs' playoff game.

"He was getting better," Lyle said. "Then Saturday we got the word that he had died."

The football party went on without the patriarch of the Measels family. The remaining members of the family tried their best to celebrate the Bucs' victory.

"The Bucs won for Charles," Dianna Measels said. "Every time they did anything, it was for Charles. And the tears just rolled."

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