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Love was in the air

Couples renew wedding vows at Coral House in Baldwin

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“I found Larry over a death certificate,” Michelle Foder said of her husband. She’s a funeral director at Franklin Funeral Home in Franklin Square. “So we found something happy over something sad.”

Larry, who works in the Town of Hempstead clerk’s office, met Foder when she visited Town Hall to file documents. They married 12 years ago and have two children.

The Foders, of Malverne, were among the couples who were invited by the Town of Hempstead to renew their wedding vows at a socially distanced reception at the Coral House in Baldwin last Friday to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

“We were happy that they extended an event like this at this time,” Larry said. “My wife, being a first responder — she’s a funeral director — she had a rough year, emotionally, physically. It was tolling, so being able to do something like this, a little sense of normalcy, is a nice gesture.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of all types of celebrations, town officials partnered with the Coral House to host wedding vow renewal ceremonies and complimentary dessert receptions for first responder couples and those who have been working on the front lines of the pandemic. 

A sectioned-off part of the ballroom was turned into a wedding chapel that was adorned with red, pink and white balloons, festive lighting, flowers and heart-shaped decorations. 

Another couple, Robert and Lisa Dexter, of Island Park, have been married for almost 32 years. They met while performing in the Sacred Heart Church marching band.

“And then we re-met,” Lisa said, “because I went away to college, and then at the San Gennaro feast — it was raining on a Sunday — and he had to bring his grandmother there, and then we were like, ‘Hey.’”

The rest is history. Robert is a former chief and 35-year member of the Island Park Fire Department, and their two sons, Maxwell and Logan, are also department members.

Matthew and Stephanie Schmidt also renewed their vows. They were married by Town Clerk Kate Murray in 2007 just before Matthew’s deployment as a U.S. Army sergeant. He’s a former Hempstead Town public safety officer and former city and county officer. Stephanie is a registered dietician, and they have three children.

Matt Graci, an Island Park firefighter, and his wife, Yvonne, also tied the knot again. They met at On the Rocks in the village, and have been married for 33 years. They have four children and two grandchildren.

Dawn and Zac Posporelis, a Sanitation District No. 6 employee, which serves Franklin Square, Elmont, West Hempstead, Garden City South, Malverne Park, South Floral Park, North Valley Stream and Lakeview, celebrated 25 years of marriage. The pair live in Massapequa.

The ceremonies featured wedding music, champagne toasts and miniature tiered wedding cakes, cookies and other treats, as well as red roses for each bride, courtesy of Flowers by Mike in Oceanside. Professional wedding portraits were also taken and mailed to each couple.

Masks were worn, social distancing was observed, and none of the food or drinks were shared between couples to practice safety protocols.

The exchanges of vows were officiated by Murray and Councilman Anthony D’Esposito behind plexiglass.

“During this pandemic, there’s been a strain on so much,” D’Esposito said. “It’s been a strain on first responders and our front-line workers, our health-care workers, our grocers, our sanitation, funeral directors, but it’s also been a strain on local business, especially restaurants and catering halls, so this is nice.”

“We still wanted to celebrate love, to celebrate what people are doing and what they mean to each other — we just had to do it with Covid restrictions and guidelines and everything else,” Murray said. “And we thought, well, what better than to invite first responders to renew their vows.”

Town officials invited a broad spectrum of essential workers, “real heroes,” Murray said, and it was their way of thanking them for what they have done for everyone in the last year.

“We have a funeral director,” Murray continued, “and she said to us that she was so pleased because she feels like funeral directors sort of have gotten lost in the mix of who is a first responder — who’s an essential, front-line worker — and boy oh boy, they are . . . If we could just give them a little bit of a celebratory spirit for a little while amongst their very busy lives, we’re very happy to do it.”

The Coral House has been in business for more than 100 years, owner Butch Yamali said, and has been consistently open throughout that time. But last year, the catering hall nearly closed.

“It was sad to see a big building like this close — no events, no parties, nothing,” he said. “So to see people back in the building today and to see some of my staff walking around and filling up glasses with water and champagne and setting things up, it’s great. We’re back in action again.”

He said he hopes it’s the start of a new beginning, when no one will feel afraid to leave their homes and can walk around safely.