The Today show announced yesterday to its national viewing audience which of four locales had been selected as the Hometown Wedding site for Southern Maryland sweethearts Sarah Raley and Mark Dale.
The folks at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club in Stevensville had been informed a day earlier - under a vow of secrecy - that theirs was the chosen site. "They told us it had to be an absolute surprise," said club owner John Wilson. "They were very firm."
Today producers decided to break the news to the club Thursday evening while setting up for yesterday morning's live telecast.
Now that the secret is out, there's no holding back the euphoria: Queen Anne's County is celebrating, reveling in the exposure and economic boost it will receive leading up to the nationally televised ceremony Sept. 16.
And Wilson is still beside himself: Last week, he got a call from an associate who considered the Beach Club's chances against the Johns Hopkins University-owned Evergreen House, St. Mary's College of Maryland and the Annapolis City Dock and lamented, "I guess it's great to be nominated, huh?"
At the time, Wilson figured his associate was correct, and he was merely pleased to be in the final four.
"I thought all of Baltimore and Hopkins alumni would vote for Evergreen House, the St. Mary alumni would vote for it and all the tourists would vote for the City Dock," he said. "We're just from this small community, so for us to win is gratifying. It's wonderful."
And it's sure to reap economic benefit for a county that hasn't seen this much notoriety since the October 1998 peace talks between Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Wye River Plantation.
Paul Comfort, Queen Anne's director of economic development, said Today plans to air segments from the county during the six weeks leading up the ceremony, and that NBC has already booked 90 hotel rooms for the Today crew for the final week.
"For that week of the wedding, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer will be here," he said. "There will be so much exposure for this county I can't put it in words."
Efforts are under way to kick Queen Anne's County promotional campaigns into high gear, highlighting the shoreline community's maritime way of life.
Florists, restaurants, filling stations and department stores are gearing up for the revenue-generating opportunities they say should be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
For Wilson, the selection marks the high point of his 35 years as owner of the Beach Club. Wilson said the Beach Club has weddings each weekend year round, and among those who have been married there are former Baltimore Colts defensive back Bruce Laird.
For many who were married at the Beach Club, the Hometown Wedding exposure has brought to mind their special days. David Wizenberg, a Bolton Hill native who lives in Washington, was married there May 29.
"We looked at a lot of different venues, the Marriott in Annapolis, the Naval Academy, but as soon as we saw [the Beach Club] we knew it was the perfect place," he said. "Being in the restaurant business, I always look out for the little things, and they were great."
Many who have been married at the Beach Club voted for it to be selected as the Hometown Wedding venue. Among them: Colleen Darling of Wheaton, who was married there Oct. 9.
"I didn't get a wedding planner because they helped me with everything," she said. "The wedding was on a Saturday and people came down Friday night so they could go sightseeing. And everyone talked about how nice the wedding was from the very start."
Dale and Raley, both of St. Mary's County, were driven from their homes via limousine to the Ritz Carlton in Washington on Thursday, then picked up first thing yesterday morning, blindfolded and driven around for two hours before yesterday's announcement so they could not tell which venue had been chosen before the blindfolds came off.
The couple were selected last month from among hundreds who entered the sixth "Today Throws a Wedding" contest, where one couple is chosen via e-mail to have the show stage their wedding.
Then most every aspect of the wedding, from the cake to the ring to the flowers, is also voted upon. Next week, Raley's wedding gown will be selected.