It’s time for I do, part two
BY HANNAH BURKE
As published in Emerald Coast Magazine
Marie Di Giovine officiated as the Goodes exchanged vows reaffirming their love and commitment. The couple wrote their own renewal vows, declaring their ongoing devotion to each other after a decade of marriage and to their children.
It’s no secret that Emerald Coast beaches are coveted destinations for tying the knot, with lovely brides barefoot in the sand, joining with their betrotheds beneath an arch made of driftwood.
For many, the timeless beauty of the shore and the immensity of the Gulf of Mexico also are ideal settings for formally telling your spouse you would do it all over again.
Whether you’re celebrating your wooden anniversary or your golden, vow renewal ceremonies are a way to strengthen the love you share with your spouse and reaffirm the promises you made, with sea and sun as your witness.
Marie Di Giovine has been officiating vow renewals, along with traditional weddings, for more than eight years. She has presided over everything from a surprise vow renewal on a beach condo balcony to a shorefront service planned a year in advance.
“When a couple comes to me wanting to renew their vows, the first thing I do is make sure I’m the right fit for them,” Di Giovine explains. “Whether it’s their first official wedding or they’re renewing vows, it’s still a very important day in their lives.”
Di Giovine determines if it’s a match by interviewing the couple to understand what they’re looking for. Personalization is a must when Di Giovine writes her scripts, so she must have a deep understanding of your marriage to formulate the most meaningful exchange.
“A lot of my vow renewal couples never got to have a real wedding,” Di Giovine says. “A lot of them are military and did it before deployment, or finances restricted a big ceremony so they just went to a Justice of the Peace back home. Now they want to come to our beautiful beaches and finally have that extravagant blowout.”
Those couples are referred to a vetted wedding planner and vendors by Di Giovine to craft a memorable reception. Other couples want events in the category of sweet and simple, electing a small ceremony with only the closest friends and family, or no guests at all.
Di Giovine says Henderson Beach State Park, Grayton Beach State Park, Eden Gardens State Park and John Beasley Park are her go-to suggestions for a picturesque, exclusive experience that also makes for fantastic photos.
Meanwhile, Navarre Marine Park and lettered inlets along Pensacola Beach (particularly lot H and G near the Portofino Resort) are the preferred venues of Cheri Pope, officiant and co-owner of Forever I Do Weddings.
“You don’t have commercial buildings or other people on the beach in the background, so the white sand acts as a blank canvas for us to customize our vow renewal ceremonies,” says Pope. “Brides who show up from out of state or different countries are overwhelmed with what’s available to them, and for us it can’t get any better.”
Thirty years of being in the wedding business have taught Pope that people have various motives for renewing their vows.
“There’s only one reason to have a wedding, but there’s a hundred to renew your vows,” Pope states. “I’ll have some couples that say, OK, it’s been 10 years, let’s renew our vows. Or, they’re celebrating other anniversary milestones. But then others seek us out while they’re going through tough times. When life gets in the way, vow renewals are a perfect way to put the focus back on each other, rekindle your bond and remember your love.”
On the other hand, some of Di Giovine’s clients make the decision that because their lives have changed so much since their wedding day, it’s time to take on new roles of commitment. They know they’re here for better or for worse, but the things in between matter, too.
“Personally, my vow renewals follow the same format as a wedding, only when it’s time to say the vows, they’re written and expressed in such a way that they reflect the couple’s continued promise of love to each other,” she describes. “You would think that those kinds of ceremonies would make the petite, dainty wife break down and cry, but nope … it’s always the big, burly husband!”
It’s not just older couples who renew their vows. Marilyn and Cody Poindexter from Springfield, Missouri, had only been married for less than three years when they enlisted Pope and Forever I Do Weddings to create their second union.
“Originally, we eloped to Costa Rica for a quick getaway,” Marilyn Poindexter recalls. “We knew that one day we wanted to have a proper ceremony and have always loved vacationing in Florida, so we decided to take the trip down to the Destin/Navarre area to do it.”
After getting to know the couple, Pope decided the private atmosphere of Navarre Beach would best suit their exchange. As the sun began to set, the Poindexters recited their fresh, handwritten vows and Cody slipped a new ring on to Marilyn’s finger. According to the bride, the promises cemented in the sand that day brought them even closer.
Both Pope and Di Giovine find that children are one of the biggest inspirations behind other young couples that come to them. It’s not uncommon for the betrothed to pledge oaths to always support their kids and parent to the best of their abilities.
Family, after all, is what it’s all about. “We like to say that people call as clients, but they leave as friends and family,” Pope says. “To take someone’s idea or dream for a wedding or vow renewal and make it a reality is very satisfying. It’s special. They’re letting me into a private part of their life.”
It’s an honor and a learning experience for Di Giovine.
“I knew I wanted to do something where I could create happiness for somebody, but I didn’t know what that would be,” Di Giovine laughs. “Unbeknownst to me, not only would I go on to do that, but I would also get something in return. Every day, I’m learning about love and what it looks like at different stages of life. It’s helped me in my relationships, my friendships and has taught me to be a better person.”