By Jane Bartnett
Love was finally in the air again on Siesta Beach.
The annual Say “I Do” Again ceremony, hosted by Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, made its festive return on Valentine’s Day after a two-year absence, due to the pandemic.
A Siesta Key tradition, the sunset ceremony has been held on Siesta Beach for more than three decades. This year’s event brought out more than 200 couples who came to publicly proclaim their love for each other and renew their marriage vows.
There were kissing booths and beautifully decorated photo locations on the beach. Some couples brought family and friends along to celebrate their big day and a general feeling of joy and happiness filled the air, along with love-themed songs.
A little flower girl dressed in a fairy tale outfit posed for pictures with her proud grandparents and parents. Many brides came to the beach with pink and white roses that were distributed by county staff as part of the $15 early-registration package that couples paid to take part in the service. Brides and grooms and their guests also enjoyed cupcakes decorated with pink and red icing.
Although it was a brisk winter day, the sun was out and the sky put on quite a show. As the afternoon turned into early evening, a brilliantly colored rainbow peeked out between a few clouds as bright streaks of yellow, blue and pink lit up the sky.
For Siesta Key residents Bob and Catherine Luckner, who married on Valentine’s Day and celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this year, the event is an occasion that they never miss.
“It’s a very special day for us,” said Catherine Luckner, who serves as president of the non-profit Siesta Key Association. “This is one of the largest and best Say ‘I Do’ Again ceremonies that I can remember.”
Several couples came to the beach dressed in their finest Valentine’s Day attire. Andrew and Luz Hereth of Sarasota, who have been married for 15 years, dressed up for the occasion. She wore a brilliant white bridal veil and a black velvet outfit. He wore a bow tie, white shirt and white fedora.
“We come every year,” Andrew Hereth said.
Added Luz Hereth, “We’re so happy that this event is back again.”
Married in Reno, the Hereths have made Sarasota their home since 2015.
Another Sarasota couple, Don and Tammie Gursky, came to celebrate 45 years of marriage. Tammie wore the same lace Juliet cap and wedding veil that she wore when the couple first said “I do” at their Pennsylvania wedding.
For some couples it was their first visit for the ceremony, but certainly not their last.
“We’ll be back again,” said Adrienne Ramos of North Port, who with her husband, Ron, is celebrating eight years of marriage. “We just love Siesta Key.”
Many couples were visiting the Key on vacation and when they heard about the event, they decided to join in.
As the sun began to set, Judge Debra Johnes Riva, of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, took the podium and welcomed the couples to the ceremony. Riva then instructed the couples to face each other and to repeat their renewal vows as she read them aloud.
She closed out the event by quoting the moving words of A.A. Milne, author of The Complete Tales of Winnie-the- Pooh, instructing the couples to consider these words of love: “lf you live to be a hundred, I want to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”
Amidst more than a few tears and hugs, the couples sealed their vows with a kiss.