There has never been a wedding at the , not once in its 40 years.
But on Thursday morning, staffers for the first time popped open bottles of Martinelli's apple cider, whooped and hollared down normally sterile hallways and blew bubbles at Jerzy Gembura, 55, and Rhonda Jackson, 60. The couple tied the knot at the center after 13 sweet years together, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Rhonda has been a resident there for two years, and Jerzy, who still lives in the couple's home, visits his love three times a day, never missing a meal.
"He comes every day to feed me," Rhonda said.
Her leukemia is in remission, so they thought, 'Why not now?'
"We decided it's time," Rhonda said, just minutes before rolling down the aisle in her bed, wearing a beautiful lavendar gown and matching eye shadow.
"The days are precious, and life is short," she said. "We want to make it count."
The two met in 1999, through the dating website Match.com.
Jerzy, an electronics engineer, said they would talk on the phone for hours about movies and family and all kinds of things. They began living together about 12 years ago.
"He means everything to me," Rhonda said. "He is so sweet and kind and loving — it's hard to describe."
And about Rhonda, Jerzy says they have similar attitudes about life.
"We never argue; she is very sweet."
She took care of him when he was sick a few years ago — took him to all his doctor appointments, and loved him. And now, he takes care of her.
On Thursday, they wanted a small affair. Something where, according to Rhonda, the chaplain could say "You want her, you have her" — it would take maybe 15 seconds.
But the staffers at the center were not having that. They'd never had a wedding there and they wanted to pull out all the stops — wedding-themed balloons, a cake, a flutist, cameras flashing at every stage and a box of tissues winding its way up and down the rows of seats.
"Once the gals here got hold of this," said Chaplain Tom Haan, "we knew it was going to be big."
"This is a pretty rare event," he said. "Most of what we do is so sad."
At 10 a.m. on the dot, the smiling groom took his seat up front.
The familiar notes of Mendelssohn's Wedding March wafted from a little blue and silver boom box. And in came Rhonda with a bouquet of purple and pink flowers. Jerzy smiled, and guests clapped.
They said their vows with strong, clear voices, and onlookers cried. Jerzy bent down to kiss his new wife. They cut the cake together, and Rhonda instructed her new husband; "OK you feed me a piece, and then I'll feed you a piece." Everyone laughed; Rhonda wears the pants in the relationship.
Linda DeGennaro, the center's receptionist for 15 years, gave the toast.
"This is our first wedding here; it's really sweet," she said. "I hope it's as beautiful as you thought it would be."
"Oh.... it is," Rhonda said.