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Going to the chapel

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... and we're going to get married

By Beth Braden

There’s something about this time of year. The weather is warming and a gentle spring breeze brings hope of summer. It’s a season of love. All of nature is chirping, humming and calling for mates.  
We humans are not exempt. April kicks off wedding season while studies show June is the most popular month to be married, though weddings pick up between the warm months — now through September.
Join us as we take a look at the keepers of two historic wedding chapels in Campbell County, and be sure and check out this weekend’s Prom and Bridal Expo at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites-Caryville beginning at noon on Saturday.
Come see what a myriad of vendors have to offer, check out the latest in prom and bridal fashion at a 5 p.m. fashion show, and end the day with a fireworks show at dusk.

Get married on the mountain

Jellico resident Marvin Douglas has been marrying people for more than 40 years, and he’s got the book to prove it.
Now the custodian of the Jellico Mountain Wedding Chapel, Douglas, 71, began keeping track of whose weddings he officiated starting in 1971. He estimates he’s performed hundreds of services.  
“What I enjoy most of all is meeting people. I try to encourage ‘em,” Douglas said.
His domain, a 200-year-old former Presbyterian Church, is on the corner of Kentucky Street and Cumberland Avenue in Jellico. Douglas has been the caretaker there for approximately four years. He became keeper of the town’s weddings when then-incoming mayor, Les Stiers, named him town chaplain. He even has a badge to identify his role.
“I’m tickled to death to be over it,” Douglas said.
Much of the chapel has been preserved through the years. The floors and pews are original. Some of the pulpits date back to the early 1930s. Relics, such as songbooks from the early 1900s, are still present in the church. A decades-old bible lays open on a table in the foyer. It is unclear when the town took possession of the building, though Douglas said the building was donated.
With hundreds of weddings under his belt, several stuck out to Douglas as memorable. In one wedding, the Filipino bride incorporated several elements of a traditional Filipino wedding. The couple swapped stones and mixed sand together as part of their ceremony.
“It astonished me to see and watch them,” he said. “That stood out to me more than any wedding I ever had.”
Another wedding party passed wicker baskets through the attendants until the bride placed her basket into the groom’s basket.
“That way they become as one basket,” Douglas explained.
Douglas doesn’t just perform weddings — he counsels the couples too.
In Tennessee, marriage licenses cost $97.50, but four hours of pre-marital counseling drops the cost by $40. Douglas says he especially counsels younger couples.
“They really need talking to,” he said.
Of course, the wedding chapel isn’t the only place the town chaplain will perform a wedding. Douglas has performed weddings at Indian Mountain State Park, Veterans Park, the county courthouse, and even the conference room at the Jellico Public Library.
The conference-room wedding was a New Year’s affair, Douglas said. Just as he pronounced the newlyweds man and wife at midnight, fireworks began blasting outside.
For Douglas, marriage is sacred, and he takes time to tell each couple the history of using rings to seal a promise.
“There’s no end [to a ring]. That’s the way your marriage should be — no end to it,” he said.
Douglas said he plans to have an open house at the chapel later this spring to give people the ability to see the building and renew their vows if they choose.
Information about the Jellico Mountain Wedding Chapel is available by calling the Jellico Municipal Building at 784-6351.

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Declare love in LaFollette
On Central Avenue, a small chapel built of river stones stands on a hill just east of the highway.
The building, now known as the Historic Wedding Chapel, was once home to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church.  
In the early 1900s, Italian workers flocked to LaFollette to work, according to Jocelyn Griffo, who volunteers as a secretary with the Campbell County Historical Society and oversees the chapel.
The largely Catholic workforce was without a church in a predominately protestant area, so work began to remedy the situation. The church was completed in 1909 and was consecrated by the bishop in December of that year.
Services continued until Our Lady of Perpetual Help moved to its current location on Elm Street in LaFollette.
Providing space for weddings helps the historic society raise funds to maintain the building.
“They literally are trying to preserve this chape,” she said.
Griffo, who has managed the 100-seat chapel for nearly a decade, can recall a time when the building would host up to four weddings in a day. In time, she has seen that number drop, but the chapel is still often used for such events.
She recalled one wedding in which only the bride, groom and minister attended.
Evidently, the couple had been planning a wedding but became weary of demands from both families.
“The two of them finally got annoyed with the whole affair,” Griffo laughed.
The couple had paid the chapel’s fee which earned them an hour and a half of time, so after their short ceremony, they sat down on a pew and talked with Griffo until their time was up.
Another time, a wedding party from Knoxville seemed low-maintenance at first. The bride had her ceremony planned down to the minute — but chaos reigned on the big day.
“They weren’t bad, they were just rowdy,” Griffo explained.
The chapel was packed, and the large wedding party started down the aisle. Griffo, who was standing in the back to help direct the ceremony, realized the groom wasn’t standing at the front.
She looked around quickly and saw the groom leaning on the doorjamb, grinning.
“He was just waiting for me to realize he wasn’t in the procession!” she said.
More information about LaFollette’s Historic Wedding Chapel can be found at www.historicweddingchapel.com or by calling the Campbell County Historical Society at 566-3581.

‘Never go to bed angry’ and other advice
We asked our more than 3,400 Facebook fans what advice they would give to newlyweds. Here are some of their answers:

When you say your vows you should really mean them, not think that if things don’t work out you can just get a divorce. Marriage is hard work and should not be taken lightly.”
— Michelle Cooper Martin

“Don’t start right off having kids. Have time to grow as a couple first. Make sure it is your true soulmate before you start a family. Too many kids with broken homes. Remember, children is the largest responsibility you will ever have. Make sure you can provide for them and give them your 110 percent all the time.”
— Ernie Ivey

“Don’t do it.”
— Missi Smith Poston

“There is no Plan B.”
— Angie Heatherly Bostic

“Put God first, and never go to bed mad at each other. Talk to each other about everything. Let your mate be your best friend.”
— Pamela Phillips Olivia

“Don’t just quit at the first sign of hard times. If you say the vows, mean them!”
— Melissa Evans Muse

“Never go to bed angry.”
— Amanda Partin

“Respect one another!”
— Cis’ Robbins

“Just when you think everything is going wrong, remember you have your special someone by your side to go through everything with you. Also, encourage each other to do what makes you happy.”
— Brandy HIcks-Burton

“Love each other show respect. Go church. Raise kids the right way.”
— Candace Nicole