Lavern's chapel delivers weddings faster than pizza

NATIONAL CLOSEUP

April 12, 1995|By Michele Chan Santos | Michele Chan Santos,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI, Okla. -- In 30 minutes or less, you can:

Order a pizza and get it delivered.

Have the oil changed in your car.

And in Miami, Okla., you can get married -- in 29 minutes flat. Blood test, marriage license and wedding.

Kim Pruitt and Harold "Dean" West rolled into Miami, a town of 13,000 in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, at 9:30 a.m. on March 10. They were married and back in their black Ford Bronco before 10 a.m., heading home to Lebanon, Mo.

Instant coffee, fast food, eyeglasses in an hour, QuikTrip, Kwik Shop -- a reflection of the times. But long before any of those "instants" were popular, there was Lavern's Wedding Chapel, where Ms. Pruitt and Mr. West were married.

The chapel opened in 1954. It has been the site of more than 100,000 weddings since then. The big attraction is the speed: Oklahoma, unlike Kansas and Missouri, doesn't require a waiting period.

It used to be one of several quickie-wedding sites in Miami, but is now the only one.

Most of the couples who marry there are like Ms. Pruitt and Mr. West -- people from another state who just thought it would be fun. Here's how their nuptials went:

9:30 a.m. Ms. Pruitt, 31, an employee at a canoe factory, and Mr. West, 27, a welder, pull into the chapel's driveway. They've brought cash -- it costs $85 to get married at Lavern's, including the blood tests and the license. They head for the blood lab.

9:35 a.m. Oklahoma requires couples applying for marriage licenses to have syphilis tests. Normally, it takes a few days to get test results back, but in Miami you can go to one of two labs and have the results in a few minutes.

Ms. Pruitt, a slim, upbeat woman with long, curly hair, and Mr. West, a trim, quiet man with a closely cropped dark beard, go to Oklahoma Serology, next door to Lavern's chapel. The lab handles only premarital syphilis tests.

Their test results are negative. Ms. Pruitt and Mr. West are free to marry.

As they leave, Mildred, the laboratory manager, calls out after them:

"Have a wonderful life together."

9:40 a.m. On the third floor of the Ottawa County Courthouse, the couple wait for the court clerk to draw up their marriage license. This is the second marriage for both of them. Ms. Pruitt has two children, Holly, 15, and Ben, 13. Mr. West has a daughter, Lindsay, 7. "Nobody knows we've run off yet," he says.

9:46 a.m. License in hand, the couple go back to Lavern's Wedding Chapel. In the front room, there's a small stand of souvenirs and wedding accessories: corsages of plastic flowers for $1.35, key chains that say "I Love You" for 25 cents, a bag of tin cans on a string to tie to your bumper for 35 cents.

Ms. Pruitt goes into the dressing room/bathroom to change.

She puts on perfume and changes into a lacy formal dress. Outside the dressing room, Mr. West is waiting, his hands knitted tightly together. He looks at his watch.

"We'll be home by 2:30," he says, surprised.

Mr. West's preparation for the ceremony consists of taking off his aqua-colored cap and borrowing Ms. Pruitt's pink comb.

9:50 a.m. They're ready. The Rev. Leslie Couch, a retired Baptist minister who performs weddings at Lavern's every other week, holds a small white Bible and waits for the couple. Mr. Couch is wearing a brown business suit and black Fila jogging shoes -- easier on his feet, he says.

The front wall of the chapel is an explosion of blue and white fake doves, white candles, blue plastic flowers, white and blue ribbons. In one corner is a shotgun, which many couples like to have in their wedding picture (Lavern or her daughter, Patricia, will take a wedding Polaroid for $2).

Both Ms. Pruitt and Mr. West are smiling nervously.

"Can you put up with each other for 100 years?" Mr. Couch asks them. "My guarantee on this runs out after 100 years." They laugh.

Three minutes and several Bible passages later, Mr. Couch says the magic words: "I pronounce you husband and wife in the presence of God and these witnesses.

"Kiss your pretty bride."

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