Love will be in the air today at Hotel Congress

2013-02-14T00:00:00Z 2013-02-14T09:42:40Z Love will be in the air today at Hotel CongressVeronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Six couples will exchange vows in quickie weddings or marriage renewals at Hotel Congress today, the most romantic day of the year.

They include couples who have been married for 65, 15 and three years, and couples who are ready to say, "I do."

All are part of the hotel's wedding contest, Marry Me, Hotel Congress. The contest, now in its fourth year, offers a free customized marriage or vow renewal ceremony for each couple, a bouquet, photos and a reception for up to 50 guests in Club Congress including cupcakes, a champagne toast and dancing - all within a 45-minute span.

The six pairs were chosen from about 20 entries by the hotel's banquet director, Nora Jean Miller, because of their unique love stories or connection to Hotel Congress, and it was no easy task.

"I cry at every interview," she said.

The hotel began offering the speedy ceremonies as a way to show off its venues and offer something for those who hold a special place for the hotel in their hearts.

Meet five of the couples:

Toni Ballesteros and Jesse Bustamante

Bustamante was Ballesteros' first boyfriend more than 20 years ago when the two were students at Hohokam Middle School.

Their puppy love dissolved, for reasons they can't remember, and they lost touch. Several years ago they found each other again on Facebook, and Ballesteros said Bustamante came back into her life at a time she needed a friend the most. Her teenage daughter, Brittney, was just diagnosed with leukemia and Bustamante became part of Ballesteros' support system.

"When we were talking I was more like venting, just as friends talking to each other, telling him what's going on. He would always call and see how my daughter was," Ballesteros said.

In August 2011, shortly after receiving a stem-cell transplant from her brother, the 17-year-old girl's health began to decline and she lost her battle with cancer on Aug. 9, 2011.

"From that day on, he just never left my side," Ballesteros said of Bustamante, who has helped her raise her other three children. They'll be getting married today.

Karen Weaver and Clay Deardorff

When Deardorff proposed to Weaver last Valentine's Day, she was expecting a long engagement.

They couple, who both have been married before, went to Pei Wei Asian Diner on University Boulevard and then took a stroll on the University of Arizona campus. At the Women's Plaza of Honor, Clay, 45, asked Karen to marry him.

"He pulled out a ring and said that he loved me and he wanted to marry me and we could be engaged for five years and he didn't care," Weaver, 38, said. "At that point I wasn't ready to get married, and it was comforting that he said we could stay engaged for five years because I thought we might. After being divorced and going through that heartbreak, it's not something you want to jump into right away."

But Valentine's Day is significant to the couple - his dad and stepmom were also married Feb. 14. They wanted a stress-free wedding and wanted to get married at Hotel Congress, so the Marry Me event was a great option, Weaver said.

Lona Lee and Erin Kearney

For this Phoenix couple who wed in Massachusetts in 2010, having a vow renewal ceremony at one of their favorite places is a symbol of how far they've come in the last three years.

Right after they tied the knot, the women, who are in their 30s, both landed jobs in Tucson. But due to an injury to one of them and a job that evaporated with the downturn for the other, they found themselves unemployed.

"Both of us were kind of like 'Did we make a bad move? What's going on?' Lee said. When they had extra money, the couple would enjoy brunch or inexpensive beers at the hotel's bar.

When Lee heard about the contest, she thought it would be a great opportunity for her and Kearney, now both employed, to celebrate the growth of their relationship.

Robert and Sybil Keim

The Keims have spent 65 years happily married. In that time they've lived in several states, traveled the world and raised three children.

They've come a long way from the time in college when Robert hid from Sybil in the library when she tried to "catch" him for the Sadie Hawkins dance.

"We couldn't go into buildings and catch men, so that was a real dilemma for me. I tried to go in under other pretenses but he was down in the basement with the cobwebs and the mice and everything, and I understand he held out until 1:30 a.m.," Sybil said.

The couple, who are in their 80s, first met as freshmen at McPherson College in Kansas.

They will set foot in Hotel Congress for the first time when they renew their vows. Their daughter, Linda, was the mastermind behind their application.

What's their secret to a long marriage?

"I just keep my mouth shut," Robert said.

Gawain and Jenny Douglas

The couple met at a wedding, and the photographer snapped a photo of the "strange" moment when they spoke for the first time.

It was 1995, and Jenny, now 42, had pulled the bride aside to eat without being interrupted.

"I wandered over totally ruining their plan to let her eat and I was leaning on this table in a very weird way," said Gawain, 43. "I'm laying down, my legs are going straight up behind me and both elbows are on the table so I'm almost horizontal. It's very strange."

They started dating soon after that, got married three years later and now have three children.

The pair were guests when Jenny's parents, Ron and Nancy Barber, renewed their vows at Hotel Congress last Valentine's Day. They decided it would be fun to participate to honor their own 15 years of marriage.

"We both have parents who have been married over 45 years and they're still together," Gawain said, "and so it's kind of cool for us hitting a milestone like 15 years."

On StarNet: See some Valentine's Day photos at azstarnet.com/gallery and go to azstarnet.com/multimedia to take a few quizzes about Cupid's day.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4224.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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