ATLANTIC CITY — Exactly 58 years ago Monday, Miriam and Elmer McNamara said ‘I do’ for the first time. The then 18- and 21-year-olds were nervous to tie the knot in a 2 p.m. ceremony in 1953. This time, there were no butterflies, just love.

“As long as we’re fortunate to still be here, we’re going to do it,” Miriam McNamara said of their fourth vow renewal.

The McNamaras, of Cherry Hill, were one of 115 couples registered to participate in the fourth annual Group Wedding, Civil Union and Vow Renewal Ceremony on Valentine’s Day at Boardwalk Hall.

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The ceremony began a little after 2 p.m. as couples young and old gathered to pledge their love to one another.

Miriam McNamara said she was fortunate to have had such a loving and stable marriage with her husband — whom she met when she was only 15 years old and wrote to when he was stationed in Korea.

“So many people use marriage as a revolving door,” she said before the ceremony kicked off with each couple walking down the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon in D major, a popular wedding song.

While the McNamaras were renewing their vows, others were looking for recognition of their union.

Karen Fillmore and Judy Smith, of Harrisburg, Pa., said after six and a half years together they wanted to make their union legal somewhere.

“Pennsylvania doesn’t allow it,” Fillmore, outfitted in a formal tux with satin gray bow tie, said as the couple checked in.

She said the couple knew their union would not be honored in their home state, but it was still important for them to be part of the ceremony.

“In our hearts it’s legal,” she said.

Smith said while she was excited for the big day, she had been so nervous leading up to the ceremony that she couldn’t get a good night’s sleep.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Smith said. “It’s been so long and coming.”

Smith was one of many brides who wore full wedding gowns. Hers was complete with rhinestones and a matching tiara.

As the event is free and open to the public, only pre-registration is required. Event organizers said the event has grown each year it has been organized.

Karen Miller, Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority publicist, said people who participate in the event come for different reasons.

“Some people just like to do it as a group,” Miller said. “For kicks.”

Last year a couple participated in the ceremony wearing pajamas. However, this year it was all wedding dresses or other formal wear.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Miller said the event is also attractive because people can still have a formal wedding without the price tag that comes with planning one.

“The economy is tight right now,” she said, adding each couple could invite up to 10 guests.

After the ceremony there was a first dance, champagne toast and plenty of photographs.

Kecia Hutchinson and Daryl Whited, both of Lakewood, said after eight years together and raising three boys, it was time to make their relationship official.

Before the ceremony, she said she was excited to have a lifetime with Whited and he said what they had was true love. The free ceremony finally allowed them to have their dream wedding.

“It’s like a little Las Vegas wedding for free,” Hutchinson said.

Contact Caitlin Dineen:

609-463-6710

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