By Danny Schrafel
The Saturday after next is Valentine’s Day – love’s greatest holiday. And Huntington Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia will be Cupid’s top helper as she weds couples on Feb. 14.
Raia will again host a marriage marathon at Huntington Town Hall, a tradition she has embraced and expanded each year since the first one 20 years ago.
“It’s very heartwarming,” she said.
So far, six couples have signed up to take the plunge in ’15, but Raia said she expects that number to grow as Feb. 14 draws nearer. For that day, the town board room will be transformed into a magical wonderland for weddings thanks to the generosity of local bakers, florists, supermarkets, pharmacies and photographers.
It all got started two decades ago after a change by a marketing company – and a bit of fast thinking by people in the town clerk’s office that day – set the marathon’s foundation.
“Years ago, there was a promotional company that used to give the town clerks and hospitals that wanted to participate little gift baggies,” Raia said.
Raia and her staff would sift through those products and make packages for couples who just got their marriage licenses. But, a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day 1995, Raia was told the company was no longer offering those promotional items – but had something for Valentine’s Day.
“If you do something, the company will donate a 2-pound box of chocolates [for every couple getting married],” Raia recalled being told.
Coincidentally, the saleswoman was making her pitch while a local photographer was in the town clerk’s office, who offered to take pictures and give the newlyweds prints. With the foundation in place, Raia reached out to bakeries and flower shops to complete the experience.
“It just blossomed from that point,” Raia said.
It hasn’t all been rose petals along the way – there’s a lot of hard work to make it all happen, and there’s been a couple of close shaves over the years. Raia recalls scrambling with her staff to decorate the town board room after a daytime meeting left them little lead time before the ceremony. Another year, she married 16 couples – exhilarating, but exhausting.
“I was ready for a bed,” she laughed. “It was rough, but it was fun.”
There have been countless highlights, too. She’s facilitated renewals of vows, and helped spring elaborate surprises – including sending a bride-to-be a phony dog summons to get her to Town Hall, where her future husband was waiting, poised to propose.
Along the way, she’s married couples from all walks of life, ranging from a Supervisor’s daughter to cash-strapped newlyweds for whom the Town Hall event is their only reception.
“It’s welcomed by the guests, and it can get very emotional and sentimental at times,” she said.
For more information – or to make an appointment to marry – call 631-351-3216.