Couples renew vows in adieu to center
Winter Park resident Dawn Peterson remembers marveling at the black and white balloon design resembling piano keys on a wall of the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center as she walked into her wedding reception 23 years ago with her husband, Jeff.
The May 1995 event was a musically themed wedding — her dad and grandfather created music notes for centerpieces on the tables and their cake was a baby grand piano set on a stage.
“Let the music of this day, join our hearts as one,” she said, reciting the phrase written in cursive on a wall decorated with heartshaped balloons.
The Petersons will join about 30 other couples who signed up to renew their wedding vows today in a public ceremony to mark the closing of the civic center, at Morse Boulevard and Harper Street, which is scheduled to be demolished in the fall.
In its place will be a state-ofthe-art, $30 million-plus Winter Park Public Library and events center in 2020. The massive cam-
pus, recently named “Canopy,” will be built on the site of the civic center near Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
The city has tapped renowned architect David Adjaye, whose portfolio spans several notable works on multiple continents, to design the blueprint.
The new events center, at 13,456 square feet, will dwarf the current 5,800square-foot venue, which sits by Lake Mendsen, seats up to 200 people and features a ballroom with a teak cathedral ceiling.
The center has hosted hundreds of events during the last 32 years, including charity fundraisers, political watch parties, quinceañeras, bar/bat mitzvahs and of course, weddings.
When the Petersons tied the knot, smartphones with digital cameras didn’t exist. There were no wedding hashtags to post with pictures on social media. Instead, the Petersons asked their guests to document special moments with the disposable cameras set on every table.
“Ours was what I would consider a traditional reception,” said Dawn Peterson, now 45. “It was all about that moment, in that reception hall.”
Lifelong Winter Park residents Courtney Poppell and her husband Andrew, both 32, also will renew their vows. They met in the fourth grade, started dating in high school and married in December 2007.
For Courtney Poppell, the gathering of loved ones who knew the childhood sweethearts all their lives was “joyful,” she said.
Every year on their anniversary, the couple watches their wedding day DVD and giggle at the simplicity of the affair.
“We got married before the whole Pinterest age,” she said with a laugh. “Now, everybody has magazine and television quality stuff and we didn’t, but in some ways, that’s a part of treasuring those memories.
Poppell said she was already considering renewing her vows today before she discovered her dad, Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight, will be officiating the ceremony.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I have to do this!’ ” she said.
The farewell event is from 10 a.m. to noon and also will feature music, children’s activities and “sweet bites and sparkly sips from the civic center’s devoted caterers,” city officials said.
A wedding wishing well is available for monetary gifts that will go toward the new library and events center. Couples are welcome to attend the ceremony at the last minute, but city officials warned they may run out of complimentary bouquets and boutonnieres.
Despite the excitement of what’s to come in Winter Park, Peterson said it’s bittersweet that the civic center will be gone soon.
Today, she and Jeff, now 48, will pledge their love again while their daughter Abigail, 9, captures the moment on video.
“I thought that would be a perfect way to remember our time there,” Peterson said. “We’re still here, we still love each other and this has been an awesome journey.”
Dawn and Jeff Peterson, left, toast their May 1995 wedding at the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center in Winter Park. Above, Andrew and Courtney Poppell exit the center after their December 2007 reception.