And they do - all 56 of them

If you sensed love in the air Wednesday afternoon, it may have been the 28 weddings.

Published February 15, 2007

CLEARWATER - There was the couple, ages 73 and 63, who had dated for six years.

There was the couple who met eight years ago, with a kiss that replaced a tip for a cab ride. They were among the 28 couples who gathered in the courtyard of the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater on Wednesday for the county's first group Valentine's Day wedding.

County Clerk Ken Burke said it was an effort to streamline the numerous weddings at various county courthouses on Valentine's Day. Four locations - Tyrone, Northern County, St. Petersburg and Clearwater - perform 1,700 weddings a year.

And although the mass wedding was a matter of efficiency for the county staff, Burke said that by bringing all the couples together, the day becomes even more special.

The couples gathered with friends, family, cameras and grins. Also on hand were the Charmonizers, a Clearwater barbershop quartet, who crooned songs such as I Love You Truly and Heart of My Heart in perfect harmony. There was Pinellas Circuit Judge Jack R. St. Arnold, who officiated the ceremony. And there was a large cake.

"Brides and grooms, I would ask that you both remember to treat yourself and each other with respect and remind yourself often of what brought you together today," St. Arnold said.

After the group "I dos," the mass was bonded in marriage.

Donald Goodwin Sr., 73, and Ernestine Lyons, 63, of Seminole dated for six years before tying the knot Wednesday. It was Goodwin's third marriage, Lyons' fourth. "It's just the right thing to do," said Goodwin.

Goodwin and Lyons have known each other practically all their lives, both growing up in Louisville, Ky.

The two connected about six years ago, when they were doing community work in Louisville. Goodwin moved to Seminole four years ago, and the two maintained a long-distance relationship. That is, until Goodwin went to Kentucky in October to fetch his future bride.

A cab ride and a kiss brought Gisele Belanger and John Yannayon together.

A cabbie in Portland, Maine, for 35 years, Yannayon, 58, gave Belanger a ride to a grocery store eight years ago.

"I didn't have enough money for a tip, so I gave him a kiss," said Belanger, 50. "He saw me a few months later, and gave me a tip, a kiss." They've been together ever since, moving to Clearwater two years ago after Yannayon retired.

They say they are soulmates, and that Wednesday's marriage was the "final piece of the puzzle."

"This was like a fairy tale," she said after the ceremony. "That was the best thing, giving him that first kiss."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 727 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.