Annapolis perennial

Every spring, the Naval Academy Chapel bustles as former midshipmen get married

May 28, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

When the two midshipmen sat down at his Crofton dinner table four years ago, Greg Baur made one thing clear: His daughter was off-limits.

Baur was a little worried that becoming a "sponsor parent" at the Naval Academy - agreeing to play host to students on holidays and weekends throughout their four years - could backfire. After all, Mids can be fairly handsome in their uniforms.

And Joshua Lewis, one of the two at his table that night, was only a year older than his daughter Jessica.

Little did he know that four years later, after getting to know Josh and eagerly encouraging the two to break the rule, he would look on with delight as they left the domed academy chapel as husband and wife, holding hands under an arch of swords.

"I was trying to make them feel at home, but at the same time, my primary concern was for my daughter," said Baur, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve who graduated from the academy in 1978 and was married in the chapel 27 years ago. "I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways."

Of all the traditions and rituals that surround Commencement Week in Annapolis, perhaps the most unheralded - yet lovely - is the frenzied schedule of weddings in the days and weeks after graduation. Years ago, hundreds of newly commissioned officers would tie the knot before heading off to war, often having waited for years because the academy doesn't allow midshipmen to be married.

Though there are decidedly fewer weddings now, in a much different age, the chapel will nonetheless host 30 ceremonies in the next month. Even yesterday and Saturday, the historic chapel had the feel of a Las Vegas operation, as 11 weddings were piled hour upon hour in two days.

Lewis and Baur, who married at 2 p.m. yesterday, were whisked away at 2:45 p.m. in order to prepare for another couple.

But no one seemed to have any complaints.

Jenny Hochschild, an Orange County, Calif., native who tied the knot at 4 p.m. with 2007 Annapolis graduate Jack Skahen, said she decided to marry Jack in the chapel the first time she saw it, even though the two had been dating only eight weeks.

"It's just so extravagant and gorgeous, with the organ and the architecture and the stained-glass windows," she said about 20 minutes before walking down the 100-yard aisle of blue carpet. "I've actually been in contact with some of the brides, and it's been an interesting process. Some of us are local girls from Baltimore or D.C. and some have been planning it from the Midwest and California. It's been interesting to see all of it come together finally and see how beautiful it is."

Although Lewis and Hochschild said they would not have gotten married sooner even if the academy allowed weddings, other couples find the prohibition difficult.

"It was the most frustrating thing I've ever been a part of," said Ian Uber, a 2006 graduate who was married the day after his graduation, in an earlier interview. One couple he knew contemplated getting married in secret, since they had been committed to each other for six years. Eventually, they decided against it, he said.

"This is a time in our lives when a lot of people normally get married," Uber said. "So to put the restriction on people that they can't get married until after they graduate puts a lot of stress and strain on their lives and relationships."

For Josh Lewis, 23, and Jessica Baur, 22, there was no rush.

Jessica was just a senior in high school when her father made his now-famous edict that she was off limits, so initially, neither thought it would be a problem.

Early on, the Baurs considered Lewis an answer to their prayers. As longtime members of Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, they wanted to sponsor midshipmen who shared their values, but made their request for a "Christian" on sponsor questionnaires too late to be guaranteed their preference.

Seemingly out of a hat, they got Lewis, who would later join the Officers' Christian Fellowship at the academy.

In the summer of 2004, Jessica and her mother, Beth, visited Lewis and his family in Chino Hills, Calif., and the two grew closer. They didn't start dating, though. Greg Baur had been called to active duty and was serving in Iraq, and Lewis decided to wait until the colonel came home that fall to ask his permission.

He consented, and about 18 months later, in the spring of 2006, Lewis invited Jessica's parents to dinner at an Olive Garden restaurant in Bowie. The young man's palms were sweating, Greg Baur recalled recently, when he asked for their blessing to propose to Jessica.

"I said, `I couldn't think of anything that I would like better,'" said Baur, a commercial pilot for American Airlines.

Lewis planned to propose at the end of summer, but once he got the engagement ring during Commissioning Week last year, he couldn't wait any longer.

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