100 Weddings and Counting
Dr. Bill Huntley officiates at the wedding of Dr. Lillian Larsen and Steve Klein.
It’s a promise that Dr. Bill Huntley has been making for years: if you pass his class, he’ll officiate at your wedding free of charge, whenever the day comes.
Several students—and even some faculty—have taken Huntley up on his offer.
“It’s a standing invitation,” Huntley, a professor of religion, said. “Weddings can be expensive, I don’t have to rent a costume, and they don’t have to give me flowers.”
Huntley performed his first ceremony in 1964 while serving as chaplain to Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.
“Ron Naylor came to me and said, ‘I want you to do my wedding,’” Huntley said. “I told him, ‘I may be gone in the summer,’ and he said, ‘I’m talking about on Saturday.’ We had it in my living room in the house that I built, and it was fun.”
Since then, Huntley has conducted dozens of weddings for friends, students who met in his classes, friends he introduced to each other, and multiple generations of family members. While he prefers to conduct weddings in Redlands, he has officiated in locations around the world, including Greece.
“If I had been the only one there it would have been illegal, so they had a Greek mayor there to sign the document,” he said. “He was drunk, so I had to translate the Greek ceremony into English. The mother of the girl was from Ireland, and she said, ‘You made the ceremony respectable.’”
In 2008, Huntley was one of three people to preside over the wedding of Dr. Lillian Larsen, associate professor of religion at the University of Redlands, and her husband, Steve. It was a Redlands affair, held at Prospect Park with all members of the religious studies department in attendance.
“When Bill heard that Steve and I were planning a wedding, he so enthusiastically offered his services that we could not refuse,” Larsen said. “In the end, the marriage was performed by three priests: Bill representing our new life together here in California, and two other colleagues, Allison Lufkin and Storm Swain, both priests in the Anglican Church, and respectively dear friends from prior eras in our lives.”
“The ceremony was a little more elaborate because she also is a scholar of scripture, and we share a rather similar background in graduate school,” Huntley said. “I was on the search committee and wrote the job description for her position. She was like a niece to me, now in the office I used for 20 years. When her husband’s parents brought her belongings to her, her husband’s father said to me, ‘Take care of this woman, because my son’s going to marry her.’ We all love her, and at the wedding, the entire department was present.”
In 2010, Huntley decided it was time to put pen to paper and write a book about his experiences.
“It was a way to gather together the pictures and memories that I had, perhaps to read in my declining years,” he said.
“Annotating an Album: 50 Years, 100 Weddings, and Still Counting…” was compiled by Huntley using his own recollections and those of the people he has married over the past several decades.
“Most were positive in their responses—the only negative one was from a guy I barely knew, whose wife I had in class twice when she was a freshman,” Huntley said. “He said the reason he didn’t respond sooner was she left him for another person, and burned all the photos. I had hoped that most remember their own wedding; a few forgot I did it, but I didn’t forget them.”
While not every couple he married has made it—in fact, one broke up during the reception—Huntley continues to have faith in the bonds of matrimony.
“I believe in marriage as much as ever,” he said. “Ninety percent of these people have made a commitment and stuck with it, as opposed to 45 or 50 percent of America. Each wedding was different and special, and not like any other. It’s a fun day to celebrate.”
Posted: Feb. 12, 2014
Written by: Catherine Garcia