Wedding bells ring at nursing home, mall and street corner For better or worse, in all sorts of places

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

FOR TRADITIONALISTS, June is the month to marry. And the trimmings of choice are a long white dress, a black tuxedo and a religious ceremony followed by champagne and cake.

But non-traditionalists have decidedly different weddings. Over the last few years in Maryland, couples have been married by Druid priests at a Renaissance festival; by county clerks on street corners; by ministers in shopping malls and by a priest in a nursing home.

No matter what surprises married life has brought the avant garde lovebirds, recalling their whimsical ceremonies brings them chuckles and smiles, despite the fact that some of the marriages haven't lasted.

* Janine and Philip Medlin opted for a traditional wedding in the surprising setting of a nursing home. Janine, who worked as activities director at Crofton Convalescent Center, wanted to bring joy to the residents she had come to regard as family. After all, they had helped her to get together with Philip, who was working on a construction project at the home.

"The residents saw me meet him, date and get engaged," says Medlin. "So I thought it would be nice."

When Medlin told the residents she would hold a traditional Catholic wedding at Crofton Convalescent Center, following a Catholic ceremony held in a church a few days before, they were elated. The seniors set about to organizing a perfect wedding with their many years of experience.

"They did all the planning . . . they made my bouquet, the favorand everything," says Medlin. "Over a six-month period they did nothing but plan my wedding, and it really took their minds off aches and pains."

A married couple at the center served as the wedding's hostsand other residents took on roles as ushers and bridesmaids and read at the ceremony. The convalescent center's medical director walked the bride down the aisle.

The families of the couple were seated at the wedding, watching with pleasure -- and considerably more relaxation than at the church wedding. And now everyone is pleased with the dividend of marriage -- baby son Brandon, born to the Medlins in the summer of 1990.

"Married life is great, especially now that we have a little baby," says Janine. She no longer works at the Crofton center, but has a job part-time directing the day-care program at Holy Trinity School in Bowie. Her husband has continued to prosper in the construction business.

* Tears and a bomb scare brought Diane Mantegna her street-corner wedding.

"We were going to get married in the courthouse," says Mantegna, who showed up with husband-to-be John at the Towson Courthouse in December 1987.

"We were next in line to get married, but when we walked in the door, the security guard comes running through, yelling, 'Everybody get out of the building!' They were having a bomb scare. So we were sitting outside and I started crying. I said, 'We got our license and we can't get married and we're supposed to have a reception on Sunday!' Then my husband recognized the judge and [the judge] thought maybe he could do something for us and he found somebody [a clerk] to marry us."

The ceremony was far from the private event they had planned. Hundreds of courthouse employees were waiting on the street along with the Mantegnas and took it upon themselves to become cheering guests. Her mother, in the audience, started snapping Polaroid pictures.

bTC "Everyone was screaming and yelling and clapping for us," Diane recalls. "I told my husband I always wanted a big wedding, but 500 people? It was fun, it was different."

Looking back, she says she wouldn't have had her crazy wedding any other way.

"We haven't had any adventures since then," says Diane aboulife since the wedding. The Mantegnas would like children, but that hasn't happened yet. Diane has steady work cleaning houses in Parkville and Fullerton, but her husband suffered a layoff from his construction job over the fall and winter.

On their third anniversary, Diane recalls with a laugh, "Mhusband came home with flowers and his last paycheck and he said, 'Happy anniversary, hon!'"

Fortunately, John returned to work this spring, and the couple is "still catching up" with bills, Diane says. The sense of humor she exhibited in hard times is typical of the good spirit in which the couple accepted their impromptu, street-corner wedding.

* Romantic fantasy was the foundation for the Renaissance Festival wedding celebrated by Tom Friedel and Ginger Lee Abrigo in Crownsville Sept. 27, 1987.

Friedel says he and Abrigo wanted to include their co-workers at the fair in their wedding, and loved the idea of tying the knot in full costume. Once the wedding was approved by festival management, they set about getting their families' approval.

Abrigo's mother liked the idea, Friedel recalls, but his family refused to come. To appease them, the couple held two weddings: a small affair in a chapel, and the renaissance extravaganza.

With flowers in Abrigo's hair and feathers decorating Friedel'cap, the couple solemnly stood before the pewter booth where they had worked. Two Druids and a magician named Sir Neville performed the ceremony, which included the couple's hands being tied together. At the end, according to old Celtic custom, the couple leapt over a broom into the future.

"The ceremony down at the Renaissance Festival went very well, it was actually a lot of fun," says Friedel.

Almost four years later, though, the couple is separated.

Life "would have been a whole lot easier," Friedel believes, if the marriage had really taken place during the English Renaissance rather than in the late 20th century, when modern-day demands strained the young couple's marriage.

"We don't have an anger or a hatred," Friedel says. "It's more like a sadness. Things didn't come together the way we wanted. We've got a lot of life left, and it wasn't really three years wasted. We learned a lot. Ginger is a wonderful woman," he adds. "She has so many possibilities and opportunities . . . She has different plans and dreams and I respect that."

Despite the way things worked out, Friedel still remembers his Renaissance bride for the adventure she brought into his life.

* James Anthony Graves and Sonya Scott's 1988 wedding was so big it filled Golden Ring Mall to standing capacity. The two, who met while working at the mall, decided they would like to marry in the mall's center court. The Golden Ring merchants decided to turn the wedding into the highlight of a wedding goods festival, and pitched in with free tuxedos and gowns, cosmetics, music and video services. Models in spangled white leotards served as attendants, and a six-foot cake was served to everyone in the crowd.

The couple could not be reached for comment two years later, but the Rev. Aaron Bryan Claxton Jr. of the New Creation Christian Church, who officiated at the ceremony, spoke with the groom's parents and reports the couple has had a baby.

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