Burnin’ old love: Couples renew vows

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Betty and Bill Staff, left, and Esther and John Weidenbenner, all of Jasper, renewed their marriage vows with Elvis impersonator and minister Otis Berry of Sulphur on Thursday evening at Brookside Village Senior Living Community in Jasper. The Staffs have been married for 65 years and the Weidenbenners for 62. Eight couples participated in the event, which included a reception after the ceremony. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Staff Writer

Red and white balloons floated near the entrance to the Brookside Village senior living center Thursday evening in Jasper.

Eight wives sat in a semicircle, each with a rose in hand, preparing once again as a bride-to-be for their wedding ceremony. Each husband sat dutifully next to his wife, a corsage pinned to his suit jacket or sweater.

Friends, family and other Brookside residents pulled up chairs to join in the ceremony until about 50 people filled the room. Then in walked the minister — the king of rock and roll himself, straight from his “1973 Aloha from Hawaii” appearance was Elvis Presley to help the couples say “I do” and renew their vows.

Elvis impersonator and minister Otis Berry of Sulphur rocked out at Brookside Village Senior Living Community in Jasper on Thursday.

Reverend Otis Berry of Sulphur in Crawford County has been an Elvis impersonator for 25 years, traveling to state fairs, parties and nursing homes to swing his hips and get people moving. He performs ceremonies as an ordained minister at Chapel on the Hill in Sulphur.

“Wonderful. Wonderful. Marriage is wonderful,” Elvis bellowed in his thick southern accent as he rolled through the door with his speakers in tow. “Let’s get you people married.”

Brookside Activities Director Brenda Poselwait organized the ceremony and smiled when Elvis began asking each of the grooms if they’d ever been in the doghouse with their wife. Most said no. A couple said a few times. One said he was working out if it right then, but getting married again might help.

“You all are too good. Guess I don’t have to sing ”˜you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog’ tonight,” Elvis joked.

Esther and John Weidenbrenner, married 62 years, were the shortest-tenured couple in the ceremony. Iona and Leroy Schnarr have been married 63 years, Gerry and Charlie Seger and Laverne and Charlie Schuck both for 64 years, Betty and Bill Staff 65 years, Helen and Charles “Botts” Bohnert 66 years, Janice and Wilmer Kreitzer 69 years and Wilma and Paul Meyer renewed their vows 72 years after their New Year’s Eve wedding in 1941.

Complete with white jumpsuit and boots, gold rings and sunglasses and a bedazzled eagle emblazoned across his back, Elvis clutched a bible and launched into one of his most famous ballads, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” to much giggling and applause.

“We are gathered here today,” Elvis said reverently into his microphone, which sent back reverberation from his speakers that sounded as if he was in a sold-out stadium. “To join these folks in holy matrimony.”

He handed out his official “Elvis’s Wedding Award” to each groom, complete with Elvis’ personalized seal.

Betty Staff held a rose while renewing her marriage vows with her husband, Bill, on Thursday at Brookside Village Senior Living Community in Jasper.

“Now I know you folks have heard this many times, but tonight is special. You all have had arguments no doubt, but you’ve stuck together. Through the good times and the bad, you’ve stayed together. All those years ago you made a vow and you meant it,” Elvis preached from the middle of the circle. “That’s why we’re here tonight, and I’m proud of that.”

Elvis made his way around the room with the microphone, asking each groom individually if they say “I do.” Botts Bohnert had been chatting with his wife and missed the question, prompting Elvis to ask again if he wants to remarry Helen.

“OK,” Botts chuckled.

The wives’ portion went much smoother, each woman joyfully renewing her vows.

With their hands on their certificates in their laps and their hands on their wedding rings, the couples smiled at one another and kissed.

“Wonderful!” Elvis declared to much applause. “Now let’s get this party started!”

During the reception, Elvis sang some of his classics, including “Hound Dog” at Poselwait’s request, “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Return to Sender,” “Fever” and “Kentucky Rain.”

“That was a good program,” John Weidenbenner said as he prepared to help his wife, Esther, back to her room after the ceremony. “We celebrated our 50th and 60th anniversaries, and now our 62nd. What a fun thing to do.”

Betty Staff had been trying to get her husband to renew their vows for nearly 40 years. All it took was the King to get it done.

“I wanted to do this for our 25th anniversary, and then for our 50th,” Betty said. “I even tried to get him to do this last week. He caught me off-guard this time.”

“I figured at 65 years, the fruit was just about ripe,” Bill said with a smile, clutching his bride’s hand in one and their certificate in the other.

Contact Jonathan Streetman at jstreetman@dcherald.com.

John and Esther Weidenbenner of Jasper kissed after they renewed their marriage vows at Brookside Village Senior Living Community in Jasper on Thursday. The Weidenbenners have been married for 62 years.

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