If you think planning one wedding is stressful, then just imagine what it might be like to plan 42 weddings that will all happen on the same day, in two hours. That's what James and Becky Byous are doing as a way to thank some military families, present and future, on Veteran's Day this year.
Local wedding professionals who run An Affair to Remember, the Byouses formed the Savannah Wedding and Tourism Council earlier this summer. They decided that giving back to the community was something that would be an important part of the organization's bylaws.
"With the military, we wanted to thank them for what they're doing," says James Byous. "We decided we'd do a few weddings."
What started out as a plan to do a half dozen weddings for a couple of local military families quickly grew to more than 40 once word started to spread and interest, both from local businesses and service members, started pouring in.
"When it hit, it took off like wild fire to use a cliche," he says. "People wanted to help so quickly and so much that it really took on a life of its own."
Although initial plans were to recruit a few businesses from the community to help with supplies, the definition of "community" soon spread out to include most of the Southeast.
Now, in addition to contributions from numerous local florists, bakers, tour companies and photographers, there are volunteers and contributions coming from Florida, North and South Carolina, north Georgia, and as far away as Washington D.C.
Even the City of Savannah got involved, and waived fees for the use of Forsyth Park and Monterey and Madison Squares, the three sites where the weddings will all take place. There will be 11 stations set up at the three locations, and there will be a wedding every 30 minutes for two hours - the only way they could accommodate all the couples in time.
"It's gonna have to come off like clockwork, but I think it will," says Byous.
After the weddings, the couples will all be shuttled down to the river front for a reception, first dance and to cut cakes - each couple will have their own individual cake, thanks to Rum Runners - and then they will all go out on a riverboat cruise, where they will start what Byous hopes will become a new tradition: Each bride will pull the petals off a rose and scatter them from the boat as it departs.
"They'll throw the roses toward the dock," he explains. "Some will go in the water and some will go on the dock, and that signifies air, land and sea, the branches of the military and all the petals represent the spouses of all the military from now back through history."
It wasn't just the ladies who took interest in tying the knot or renewing their vows on Veteran's Day this year. Byous was pleasantly surprised that there were a few romantics hiding behind the tough military exteriors.
"You'd think the women, with the weddings, would be the ones who wanted to do this," says Byous. "Most of the men who are getting deployed, the majority, have called and set this up for their wives and families."
Even though it's taken a lot of work - so much that while I'm talking to James, he explains that his wife is working on logistics in the hospital, where their daughter just had a baby - what they are sure about is that the hard work is appreciated, and they are on the verge of pulling off a truly one-of-a-kind event.
"This has never been done before," he says. "As far as we can tell, no one has ever put together something of this size by a city or by the businesses and individuals of a city."
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.