Ten military couples to wed Saturday in mass ceremony in Ontario

Imani Tate, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Created: 10/28/2011 12:44:10 PM PDT

Hundreds of Inland Empire entrepreneurs, volunteers, service professionals and community activists will show their gratitude to military men and women with more than flag waving and hand shaking on Saturday.

Ten soldiers who’ve recently returned from or will soon be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan will be feted to completely free weddings and honeymoons as part of Operation Community Cupid, a massive effort that began 10 weeks ago.

The simultaneous salute suggested by Inland Empire Business Journal publisher Bill Anthony begins with an 11:30 a.m. parade procession, sponsored by the city of Rancho Cucamonga and coordinated by attorney Sal Briguglio. It steps off at Haven Avenue and Arrow Highway; proceeds south to Inland Empire Boulevard in Ontario and heads east to the Ontario Airport Hilton Hotel.

Anthony and the aggregation of volunteers making this happen are asking Inland Valley residents to turn out to support the bride-and-groom procession.

The 10 weddings, open by invitation only, will be conducted by ministers organized by the Rev. Tim Evans, former Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital chaplain.

The 10 couples – with the military person listed first and the names of their fianc following: Marine Corporal Victor Martinez and Erika Acevedo; Coast Guard pilot La’Shanda Holmes and Jamal Jones; Marine Lance Cpl. Emerson Alex Rodriguez and Melissa Moore; Marine Sgt. David Castillo and Maritza Alvarado; Marine Pfc. Kevius

Tamagyow and Jayline Dugwem; Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony Stewart Roldan and Rosa Rivera; Coast Guard Marine Science Technician and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jennifer E. Donnely and Raymond Jennings; and Marine E-3 Thomas Wright and Rocel Basco.
Navy E-8 Sean Bailey and his bride Alison Bailey and Marine Sgt. Jose G. Herrera and his bride Australia Herrera will repeat their vows in the wedding they couldn’t have previously. The two couples merely married in simple court ceremonies before the military men were deployed.

The multiple weddings are made possible only because of the dedication and determination of volunteers and businesses who wanted to do more, Anthony said. The only gain they get is the joy of the couples who will get the weddings of their dreams without fretting about the substantial costs usually associated with traditional weddings, he added.

“This could and would not happen without a great many people so graciously willing to volunteer their time, services, products and money to help these brides and grooms,” said Anthony, the idea man.

The simultaneous weddings idea grew out of a life-changing experience.

On April 4, Anthony’s wife Ingrid asked him to look at something while they sat at the kitchen table in their Orange County home. He suddenly discovered he could not turn his head and was also having considerable difficulty breathing.

Rushed to Hoag Hospital, emergency room physicians discovered his kidney function was reduced to 4 percent.

“Two doctors in two days told me how lucky I was to be alive. If I’d gone to a smaller hospital or one with less ability to effectively and quickly respond to my medical crisis, I’d be dead,” Anthony said.

While undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney failure, the journalist wondered why his life had been spared. Considering that thought, he did what many in his profession do: he kept abreast of current events by reading news stories. That habit revealed repeated stories about the alarming poverty – 68 percent – of current returning and honorably discharged military personnel.

“Soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and can’t get a job,” he said of employers’ post-Vietnam War-era habit of not holding jobs for soldiers who’ve returned from valiantly serving their nation. “Many are living with their parents or roommates. They’ve postponed weddings because no job means no money and no place to live.

“I was shocked to find out how many military personnel couldn’t get married,” Anthony said. “Some have run to courthouses to get married before being re-deployed, so in case they died in action their spouses would at least get some benefits.”

While on dialysis four hours a day, three days a week, he began to compile a detailed list of what was needed for a beautiful wedding. He then contacted people who could respond to those needs. The overwhelming willingness by so many led to the next step: contact Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy officials to get the word out to needy couples.

Bette Gill of the Ontario Airport Hilton Hotel said the hotel would donate the venue, her services as wedding coordinator, numerous employees to help wherever needed and a Sunday morning brunch for the bridal couples and 400 guests.

Bob Cable of Upland’s Cable Airport would arrange for private pilots to do parade and wedding flyovers in antique World War II military planes. Briguglio would work with Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario civic officials about the parade processional. Financial consultant Bill Cortus of Thrivent Financial would help with the parade, arrangements for reception and wedding entertainment.

Jody Gmeiner, executive director of the Pomona Valley Habitat for Humanity and an executive officer for the Jack Meade New World International Wine Competition, promised to secure wine, champagne and cakes. Darlene Tarnoski, program director for the nonprofit Women Against Child Trafficking, assumed the responsibility of working with the brides, grooms and wedding parties, bridal and hair salons, makeup artists and florists.

The Rev. Tim Evans, the former Loma Linda Children’s Hospital chaplain who founded and directs The Unforgettables Foundation which provides free burials to murdered and abandoned children, took over the search for ministers to officiate.

Photographer Sherrie Moore convinced her professional peers to photograph the weddings. La Verne Chamber of Commerce president/chief executive officer Brian McNerney agreed to find World War II veterans – and their wives – to serve as escorts for the brides and grooms as well as examples of long-term wedded bliss.

“The response has been simply amazing,” Anthony said. “Although obviously everyone cannot attend the weddings, we really want area residents to come out and cheer these couples along on the route of the parade processional.”

Bill and Ingrid Anthony act as general coordinators of the Operation Community Cupid volunteer committee. Members include Briguglio, Cable, Steve Chiang, Cortus, Carl Dameron, June Davidson, Michael Downer, Evans, Gill, Gmeiner, Fred Latuperissa, McNerney, Dennis Michael, Moore, Joanie Morrell, Robbie Motter, Ryan and Jim Orr, Vince Perez, Victoria Seitz, Carl Sola, Tarnoski and Xavier Perez.

Motter, Carmelita Rood, John and Nicole Farrell, Nayely Esquivel, Sheila Caruso, Virydiana Esquivel and Crystal, Hannah and Isaiah Henderson – all students from Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino and other Inland Empire colleges – will attend to volunteer wherever and whenever needed for the day of the weddings.

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