County’s inaugural ‘free wedding’ event begins a new Valentine’s Day tradition

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Left to right: Claire Engelschjon, Bo Dean and Phillip Garwood. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — Love was in the air at the New Hanover Country Register of Deeds office on Valentine’s Day.

On the sixth floor of the county’s renovated building at 320 Chestnut St., Phillip Garwood and Claire Engelschjon sat nervously while another couple finished up their wedding ceremony. Garwood and Engelschjon were the 13th couple of the Register of Deeds’ inaugural ‘Love is in the Air,’ event, which offered free photography, flowers, cake and a little non-alcoholic bubbly.

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“I almost lost it,” said an emotional Garwood moments later. “I’m so happy, but whew, I was nervous.” (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Garwood, an award-winning professor of geology at Cape Fear Community College known “Dr. Rocks” to his students, said he and Engelschjon had been dating for quite some time.

“We got together in 1995,” Garwood said. “I guess we really put it off a long time.”

Englenschjon added that they had never wanted – or even thought about — a big ceremony.

“We’re very simple people,” Engelschjon said. “We finally decided to register and have the basic ceremony in front of the justice of the peace at some point.

“We came down here just to register and the next thing we’re talking about the actual ceremony,” Garwood said. “I mean, talking about doing it the next day. I felt a knot in my stomach, and I got lightheaded. Like, ‘oh boy, here we really go.’”

Engelschjon said she is normally a very shy person, but could not resist being part of Beasley’s inaugural event.

“It’s just something so special,” she said. “How we could not? We are very honored to be a part of something like this.”

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Couples enjoyed their first (non-alcoholic) drink as a couple. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

After the ceremony, Garwood said he was glad he done it.

“It’s not something I would have done, but Tammy did such a great job. It was really great.”

Garwood meant Tammy Beasley, New Hanover County Register of Deeds, who organized the event.

Beasley told Port City Daily, “I get newsletters and I keep up with what other counties do. When I heard this idea, I knew it was something I really wanted to do here. But I also I knew I’d be running around like crazy.”

Beasley said she’s had the idea for about a year, and thanked her staff and the community for their help.

“Apple Annie’s donated the cake, we had photography donated [by Shannon Zickefoose Studio] and my staff took care of the roses. We spent less than $300 of our budget.”

Bo Dean, who works in human resources for New Hanover County, said he was more than happy to donate his services to the event.

“Tammy’s a force of nature, but she didn’t have to work me over too hard,” Dean said. “I mean, this is perfect. It’s been a perfect day. Love, that’s what it’s all about.”

Beasley said that 14 couples were married during the Valentine’s Day event. Given the success of the day, Beasley said she was already planning similar events for July and Christmas.