MIAMI — Like other businesses, Lavern’s Wedding Chapel in Miami has felt the pinch of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most people don’t like to travel to Claremore or Tulsa to get a marriage license — they just say they will wait until the courthouse opens,” said chapel owner Patricia Jones.
The Ottawa County Courthouse has been closed since mid-March. It can reopen May 15 as part of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s three-phase plan to get things going again.
“March 18th was our last couple,” said Jones, who has owned the chapel — located at 15 B SE — since 2008.
“Vinita had been issuing licenses, but now they have to go to Claremore or Tulsa,” she said.
Lavern’s traces back to 1954, when a walk-in marriage parlor was opened by Justice of the Peace J.J. Swetnam in what had been a courtroom.
The office of justice of the peace was abolished by the Oklahoma legislature and replaced by the district attorney system in the late 1960s.
Lavern Harris, who had been Swetnam’s secretary, took over the business from Swetnam, who died in 1973.
She died in 2008, with Jones (her daughter) taking over.
Swetnam — who married more than 21,000 couples according to Jones — officiated when Lavern married Carl Harris about a year after the chapel opened. Carl died in 1997.
Weddings now are officiated by a local Baptist minister.
“It’s not as busy as we used to be,” Jones said, noting that about seven weddings are performed a week. “I started there in ’77 and we had 200 a week. In 2004, it really started dropping off after they did away with the blood tests.”
The chapel is a Route 66 icon.
“We've had charter buses come in and had a couple that got married who came all the way from England or someplace just to do Route 66,” Jones said.
Lavern’s is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment on evenings, weekends and legal holidays after obtaining an Oklahoma marriage license.
To be married, the couple must be at least 18, have a valid ID and have no divorce pending.
During normal business hours, weddings cost $60 and on weekends and holidays, $80.
More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/lavernsweddingchapel/ or by calling 918-542-4806.