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Jo-Ann Raia, Huntington Town clerk, takes marriage to heart on ‘love’s holiday’

Delin and Henjy Jean-Baptist, of Huntington, laugh while

Delin and Henjy Jean-Baptist, of Huntington, laugh while being married as Huntington Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia conducts her annual Valentine's Day Marriage Marathon held at Huntington Town Hall, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

Huntington Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia can get a bit emotional on Valentine’s Day.

It’s been 21 years since she organized the town’s first Valentine’s Day Marriage Marathon, and by now Raia has learned to always keep tissues in her vow book — for herself as much as for the couples she weds.

“Sometimes I bring myself to tears,” she said Sunday, in between the 10 marriages and two vow renewals she presided over.

Raia came up with the idea for the marathon more than two decades ago, out of a desire to celebrate what she calls “love’s greatest holiday.”

“It’s so rewarding to see the expressions on the couples’ faces,” Raia said.

For Stan Reichlin, 45, and Stacy Mower, 44, the day ended nearly 30 years of waiting.

“We should have been married 28 years ago,” Reichlin said after the couple completed their vows.

The East Northport couple had a summer romance as teenagers in 1986 before losing touch for nearly three decades. They found each other on Facebook two years ago and fell back in love.

“I never forgot him, and he never forgot me,” Mower said.

They learned of the marathon while applying for a marriage license, and decided to join the Valentine’s Day festivities.

“We were just looking for something simple,” Reichlin said, adding that the spontaneity of the idea appealed to the couple.

Each year, Raia and her staff transform Town Hall’s main meeting room to make the event special for couples like Reichlin and Mower. The room is draped in flowers and shiny garlands, with paper hearts and Cupid silhouettes adorning the walls.

Raia finds local merchants to donate all of the decorations, food, gifts and services, at no cost to the town. Bakeries, florists, supermarkets, pharmacies and photographers contribute, and Raia buys anything that isn’t covered by donations.

The tradition has grown over the years, with 30 businesses donating this year to make the day special, Raia said.

The couples are given gift bags and a mini-reception, including a cake-cutting. The ceremony is free for the couples, and their guests are invited to the reception.

Candace and Joel Feliciano of Huntington already knew they wanted a Valentine’s Day wedding because it was the anniversary of their first date. But after Joel, 35, proposed in December, they thought they would have to wait until 2017 to have enough time to plan a wedding.

The marathon was the perfect solution, she said.

“I didn’t expect it to be so great,” Candace Feliciano, 28, said. “It felt like a real wedding — not just ‘I do’ and ‘I do.’ ”


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