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Couple Waits 19 Years to Get Married _ And Then Comes Bertha

July 13, 1996

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ John O’Donnell had waited almost two decades for Jeanne Vadala to accept his marriage proposal, so nothing _ not even Hurricane Bertha _ was going to stop the ceremony on Saturday.

``We thought maybe rain. We never in our wildest dreams imagined a hurricane,″ Vadala said in a telephone interview from the wedding reception at Gatsby’s Restaurant in Wilmington.

A friend of the groom said Bertha’s arrival was in keeping with O’Donnell’s life: Nothing has ever been easy for him.

``He means well and he tries his best, but something always comes up and knocks him astray,″ said best man Tim Guthrie, who made the wedding after traveling from Emmaus, Pa. ``This hurricane was typical of his luck. If it had gone smooth, there would have been something wrong.″

Seventeen years ago, O’Donnell tossed the first engagement ring he bought Vadala into New York’s East River.

``He was my first real relationship. I just said I’m sorry, I’m not ready,″ Vadala said.

But O’Donnell kept his hopes up as Vadala went through two marriages. They reunited along the Cape Fear River two years ago and vowed never to be apart again.

The couple invited 67 friends to their nuptials Saturday along the river. But Bertha came early and crashed the party, pounding the Wilmington area, trimming the guest list to 10 and making an outdoor wedding impossible.

Their best man was stuck in Texas; Guthrie was their second backup. O’Donnell’s mother and brother couldn’t get out of New York.

The maid of honor couldn’t get a flight into Wilmington, so she and her husband drove all night from Marietta, Ga., changing into their wedding clothes in the bathroom of the restaurant.

Friday night’s rehearsal dinner was reduced to chicken on the grill for dinner, with champagne and Oreo cookies for dessert. The minister and soloist were slowed down by Wilmington’s tree-strewn streets, so the 11 a.m. ceremony finally took place at noon at the restaurant.

``It does make you question whether maybe this is some sort of a warning sign,″ O’Donnell said. ``But I think it was more of something else that had to be put up with to get this accomplished.″

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