Want to make that Valentines date official? On a budget?
Borough mayors in suburban Philadelphia have been helping people get hitched for decades without splurging on a big wedding.
William Smyrl says anyone can be ordained, but the power invested in him comes from the voters. “If you are an elected mayor and you don’t choose to run again you are considered Mayor emeritus, you may still marry people. But if you lose the election, you’ve lost,” he said chuckling.
Smyrl, now 92 year old, was mayor of East Lansdowne from 1962 to 1985. Then he officiated at the Yerkes Wedding Salon on weekends. When he retired, he bought the business which has been tying knots since 1912.
Today, three borough mayors rotate weekend shifts at Yerkes. Upland mayor Mike Ciach says weddings are a great way to meet your neighbors.
“A lot of the groups that may have originally lived in Philadelphia have grown out into Delaware and Montgomery County,” Ciach said. “There isn’t a cultural group that I haven’t had the pleasure of performing a service for. Sometimes the language barrier is challenging, but fun. Everyone understands the language of love.”
Smyrl says the crowds aren’t as big now.
“I remember 1980, Thursday Friday Saturday, Thursday was Valentines Day and I did 52 weddings alone. But it’s not like that anymore,” he said.
Melissa and Richard Rice, chose to have Smyrl marry them recently at Yerkes for convenience.
“We’re actually looking to buy a house and we already have the baby. It’s just a really nice symbol,” Melissa said. “He’s going to work tonight, so we’ll celebrate for a little bit.”
For Smyrl, officiating weddings has been a labor of love.
“Over all the years, adding everything up, about 17,000 [weddings],” he remarked. “It’s interesting, the people that come and have been here before say ‘Oh I remember you married us 15 years ago.’ Even though you don’t know these people, it’s a special day. And I like to treat it that way, I’m a sentimental slob at heart.”