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Couples Queue Up to Say ‘I Do,’ Vegas Style

February 14, 1989

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Long lines formed at the courthouse and business boomed at the city’s 25 wedding chapels today as an expected 1,500 couples began tying Valentine’s Day knots in this marriage mecca.

Beverly Swinn, who has seen hundreds of thousands of couples line up at the Marriage License Bureau, said workers were hoping they might get a breather this year, with Valentine’s Day falling near the middle of the week.

Last year, when Valentine’s Day fell on Sunday, 1,365 couples purchased licenses Feb. 13 and 14.

The bureau issued 841 licenses this weekend, said Ms. Swinn. More than 400 were issued Monday and at least that many were expected today, she said.

″We thought it was going to ease off, but we’re swamped today,″ she said Monday. ″Most of those people will be saving them for Tuesday.″

In 1988, the Marriage License Bureau issued a record 72,500 licenses, or about 200 a day. Last year’s total was up nearly 5,000 from 1987.

Lovebirds have flocked to Las Vegas to get married because no blood tests are required and there is no waiting period.

During peak periods such as Valentine’s and New Year’s days, the city’s wedding chapels will marry several couples an hour.

There’s piped music, artificial flowers, and ministers who make a living off the wedding trade. Couples pay for the services with cash, credit cards, and, in some cases, casino chips.

One of those conducting services is Charlotte Richards, who dropped by the the Clark County Courthouse to deliver heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to workers at the bureau.

Richards said she had scores of services scheduled today at her four wedding chapels.

″I’ve been in this business 30 years,″ she said. ″They call me the grandmother of the wedding business. ... I’m gonna die with a bride and groom in my arms.″

Also at the courthouse were Clifford Welch and Rhonda Horn of Schofield, Wis., who have been planning a Las Vegas wedding for a year.

″We’re debating whether to get married tonight or tomorrow,″ said Welch, 35. ″She wants to get married on Valentine’s Day and I want to get married tonight.″

One thing they did decide on was where to get hitched. Horn’s finger ran down a list of wedding chapels posted on a hallway wall and stopped at one named Hitching Post Wedding Chapel.

″This is it 3/8″ the 22-year-old woman said.

Out on the Las Vegas Strip, one of the 250 marriages scheduled for today at Gordon Gust’s Candlelight Wedding Chapel was conducted on NBC’s ″Today Show.″

″These knees are never gonna be the same,″ said Rick Vandermillen, 33, following the live pre-dawn ceremony at the tiny chapel tucked among the towering hotel-casinos lining the strip.

His new bride, the former Cindy Guenther, 32, said the couple picked Las Vegas to tie the knot because it was inexpensive and ″this is the most popular place to get married on Valentine’s Day.″

″This is an inexpensve way to do it flashy,″ the groom amended.

The couple, from Central City, Iowa, were picked from among several interviewed by show producers. The Rev. Joe Cunningham of Trinity Temple, who confessed to being nervous, was instructed during a commercial break to talk slower in performing the ceremony.

Gust, who has owned four chapels for 16 years, said his most memorable experience came in 1987 when a man approached him and said, ‴What do I have to do to get married?‴

″It was Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger, my childhood hero,″ Gust said. ″Moore was 73 and his bride was 45. When I asked him about playing the wedding march, he said, ‘No, I’d rather have the William Tell Overture.’

″His bride-to-be told him, ’Clayton, will you grow up?‴

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