Roy and Whitney Ladd met at the bank, as he was walking out and she was walking in. He asked for her name, they chatted, phone numbers were exchanged. After a month, he said, he knew she was the one.
On Valentine’s Day seven years later, wearing matching high-top sneakers custom-painted hot pink, Roy and Whitney got married.
The pair was one of 31 couples who tied the knot midday Tuesday at the Hennepin County Government Center. This is the fifth year that the county has offered free Valentine’s Day wedding ceremonies, officiated by judges who waive their regular fee and volunteer an hour for the task.
On Tuesday, Judge William Koch greeted the couples, families, friends and onlookers gathered around the government center’s reflecting pool. In offices overlooking the atrium, county employees peered down.
“For those of you who are getting married, congratulations,” Koch said. “This is a happy time.”
Applause started slowly, then grew to envelop the crowd.
“Yeah, we can applaud,” Koch said, encouraging the celebration.
Judge Ivy Bernhardson performed the show tune “Someone Like You,” from the musical “Jekyll and Hyde.”
“If someone like you found someone like me, then suddenly, nothing would ever be the same,” she sang, her voice filling the atrium.
After that, things happened fast. A dozen judges stationed themselves around the reflecting pool, and couples started to cycle through. Vows were exchanged, certificates were signed, selfies were snapped.
Many of the couples who got married Tuesday have been together for years, and decided for a variety of reasons — romance, convenience, gut instinct — that Valentine’s Day was the day to make it official.
Mike Huppert and Per Chomdokmai started dating after meeting a decade ago at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Every year, they said, someone they know has gotten married — and 2017 is finally their year.
The two men have had the legal right to marry in Minnesota since 2013, and across the United States since 2015. But in a changing political climate, Chomdokmai said, they wanted to get married now, in case that right one day disappears.
On this particular day, they planned to celebrate by going out for lunch.
“We’ll try not to go back to work,” Huppert said.
Shelia and Demetrius Emmons have been together for more than 30 years, and have three children, ages 31, 30 and 28. The two met when Shelia was just 17 — Demetrius saw her coming home from school, and struck up a conversation.
“He had tried to talk to me for a little while,” she recalled. “He finally succeeded, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Across the atrium, Anthony Merwin and Stefanie Timo were with their three children — ages 11, 7 and 6 — all dressed in white.
The two connected after the death of a mutual friend in 2002, and eventually became a couple.
“We just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Merwin said of their decision to marry Tuesday.
After they were pronounced husband and wife, Timo burst into tears. Merwin held her as their children gathered around, wrapping their arms around their newly married parents.
Their plans for the rest of the day? Going for burgers, Merwin said, then a nap.