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Impromptu wedding vows, in a driveway, for two on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight

Winthrop nurse Kelly Donohue and Nassau Police Officer Andrew Schuerlein were married Sunday in their North Merrick driveway. Their wedding was scheduled for June, but they decided it couldn't wait, as she is working with COVID-19 patients and he works on an ambulance. After the ceremony, family and friends celebrated from their cars. Credit: Peter Donohue

She met him when they worked as lifeguards down at Point Lookout, the two of them assigned to a chair together, all day, every day, for something like a week straight, just him and her.

They became friends — and one day, joking around, he slipped a hollowed-out ice cube onto her finger, asking if she’d marry him.

“It fit perfectly,” she recalled this week, so she said yes.

But they were young and it was all just fooling around.

Now, Kelly Donohue and Andrew Schuerlein are so thankful for the small graces that have befallen them that they ditched their plans for a June 5 walk down the aisle at Sacred Heart, and a reception for 250 friends and family at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, and on Sunday took a walk down her parents’ driveway in North Merrick and had a reception on the lawn instead.

Kelly's father, Peter Donohue, escorted her down the driveway. Andrew's father, Richard Schuerlein, married them; he'd become an ordained minister online just for the cause.

Kelly is a maternity ward nurse at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, pressed into duty this week dealing only with COVID-19 patients. Andrew is a Nassau County police officer and is in daily contact with coronavirus patients, too.

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“You know what?” Kelly said Tuesday in a phone interview as she prepared for her 7 p.m.-to-7:30 a.m. shift at Winthrop. “I’ve been so overwhelmed with everything going on at work, right now, I just wanted to get married. We both knew our jobs were about to change this week and we were both going to get a lot more exposed to the coronavirus … We’re both not divas. We really just love our families. We just wanted to dance with everyone and have a good time.”

So what was supposed to be a long-scheduled bridal shower for Kelly turned into an impromptu driveway wedding.

As the bride’s mother, Kerri Donohue, explained it, her daughter and her new son-in-law had a marriage license that was to expire and they didn’t know how, with all that’s going on, they’d be able to get it renewed. And it seemed more likely by the day that social distancing protocols would still be in effect in early June, making a traditional church wedding — and a large reception — all but impossible.

So Saturday night, Kerri Donohue said, her daughter decided, Why not just get married? “I called all my friends and family and asked them to do a drive-by parade after the ceremony,” Kerri said. 

Making it happen

The real bridal gown is still at Macy’s. Kelly, 27, had gotten a backup on Amazon, as well as a bridal bouquet. And she and Andrew, 29, already had built an apartment in her parents’ basement, planning to live there while saving for a house.

Kerri Donohue baked a Betty Crocker yellow cake with chocolate icing, all she had on hand. Andrew's side of the family supplied some gluten-free peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, his favorite.

Kelly is one of six children, the only girl. Two brothers — Kyle, who lives in Oregon, and Brendan, who lives in Los Angeles — couldn’t make it, though brother Gavin came from Brooklyn, and twins Liam and Nolan, both 17, who live at home, were there, too.

Andrew’s sister, Jackie, just had a baby girl, and she and her family watched from a car parked curbside. His brother, Stephen, was the best man. The groom’s mom, Alison, watched from a lawn chair.

Neighbors all watched from their lawns, up and down the block, and later applauded the new couple.

“The only downside,” Kelly said, “was no one could hug.”

'We need each other now'

Kelly and Andrew went to different high schools. Both were swimmers and knew of each other, though she was dating someone else back then. Later, they both met as lifeguards at Point Lookout.

If the ice cube ring was a hint, it wasn’t hard for her to say yes when Andrew proposed for real, on vacation in Mexico, in March of last year.

Another nice thing about Sunday, Kelly said, was that her grandparents, Lois and John McDonald, live next door and were able to dance at the wedding while keeping their distance as well.

The reality of just how fortunate the new couple is became most evident Monday, Kelly said, when she did her first-ever non-maternity ward shift at Winthrop.

“It’s awful, what you’re seeing, realizing every single person on the floor you're working is hooked up to oxygen, so sick, with dozens of people going on a ventilator every single night. It’s sad. And, at times like this, you realize how much we need each other now.”

Kelly said there’s something in her new husband’s family called “The Schuerlein Exaggeration,” where, as she explained it, “Half their stories all seem ridiculous and fake; there’s always a ridiculous situation in them.”

There was "Love in the Time of Cholera," and this is Marriage in the Time of COVID-19. 

“I guess we’ll have stories to tell our kids,” Kelly said.

There'll be no exaggeration.

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