Couple recalls ‘eventful’ Camellia City wedding
Sixty-two years ago in the Camellia City, a radiant bride in white satin and Chantilly lace married her handsome beau in what one could call a truly “Eventful” wedding.
The ceremony, which was promised by organizers to be “a beautiful . . . and joyful yet dignified event” was the climax of a three-day celebration sponsored by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s Retail Committee: “Eventful Days of Progress.” On Thursday a big parade downtown featuring the Greenville High School Band kicked things off, followed by a guinea fowl race at the high school. Friday brought a musical contest featuring everything from fiddlers and accordion players to pianists in the old Oak Hotel lot behind City Hall.
But the best of those “Eventful Days,” you might say, was saved for last. Just ask Lottie and Lloyd E. “Bo” Lewis, Jr. and their family.
‘Flipping out’ for his bride
A Greenville native and 1952 graduate of Greenville High School, Lottie Griffin worked for the local telephone exchange. In late 1954, this pretty blue-eyed brunette was introduced to a young man from the McWilliams community in Wilcox County, a young engineer with an infectious grin who went by the nickname of “Bo.”
“The night I met her I decided I was going to marry her,” Bo says.“I had another blind date I was supposed to meet that same night and I stood her up to go out on a date with Lottie.”
And Bo was smitten from the start.
“My dad told me when he met Mother, ‘I flipped out when I saw her and I’ve been flipping ever since,’” says the couple’s daughter, Angie Lewis of Fairhope.
And at the intersection of Highway 31 and Halso Mill Road a mere 16 weeks after that first meeting, he popped the question.
Why that intersection? “I had the ring almost burning a hole in my pocket and it seemed a good place to stop and ask her,” Bo recalls with a grin.
When the Chamber’s Eventful Days of Progress were announced, a “casting call” of sorts went out for spring brides who wanted the chance to win an all-expense-paid wedding.
“My mother’s co-workers at the telephone company urged her to enter and she did. The rest is part of our family’s history,” says Angie.
A change of venue
While Lottie and Bo were originally set to wed at Greenville’s First Baptist Church on June 6, winning the prize meant a change in plans. The date had to be pushed up in order to meet the “Spring Bride” requirements of the contest and allow it to close out Greenville’s “Eventful” celebration.
Unfortunately, FBC was actually undergoing construction in March, so the wedding could not be held there.
So where else could a large crowd assemble for these nuptials?
The solution: the Greenville High School Gymnasium/Auditorium. It is believed to be the first and only wedding ever held in what is affectionately known as “the old gym,” the site of countless dances, assemblies, pep rallies, basketball games, band concerts, high school plays and musical productions over the years. Lottie herself recalls playing basketball there as a student.
“I remember one of the grandchildren looking at the old wedding photos and wondering why there were lines painted on the floor . . . and then they realized it was a basketball court!” Angie laughs.
You might say the “Spring Bride” sponsorship covered the whole nine yards—and something pretty close to the kitchen sink.
Lottie’s classic princess-cut wedding dress and veil came courtesy of Belk-Hudson and her going-away suit in wool and orlon, from Planter’s Mercantile. Her cake, flowers, the bridal attendants’ dresses, groom’s and groomsmen’s tuxes, the reception, even an assortment of gifts including lingerie, luggage, a waffle iron, $500 worth of furniture (equal to over $4,400 in today’s dollars), a cookware set, movie theater tickets and more, were all provided free of charge to the newlyweds.
Dozens of local merchants ended up donating in some way to the “elaborate wedding” regularly touted in the pages of The Greenville Advocate in the weeks leading up to March 5, 1955.
A day to remember
Finally the big day arrived and it proved quite the occasion for the entire Camellia City.
“From the photos I have seen, the auditorium was pretty full . . . there were not only lots of family and friends, but a number of local officials because it was a Chamber event,” says Angie.
That serviceable old gym/auditorium had been transformed by florist Elizabeth Wilson with the assistance of a group of GHS students led by Carolyn White. Bountiful bouquets of white gladiolus, asters, iris and statice graced the space, along with seven-branched candelabrum and banks of smilax and magnolia, to provide a classic southern wedding theme. Peggy Thompson of Pineapple was the pianist, with soloist Wesley Diamond performing “Because,” “Always” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Billy Calhoun of Calhoun Studios served as the photographer for the 2:30 p.m. service.
Lottie’s father, MC Griffin, a local minister who pastored at East Greenville Baptist Church and several other smaller area churches, officiated at the wedding ceremony, with her brother Raymond giving Lottie away.
Attending the bride in their ballerina-length dresses in a rainbow of pastel hues were Jewel Moore; Lena Mel Winters Speir, sister of the groom; Lela Myrick; Lena Smith; Mary Parmer; Virginia Griffin Russell, the bride’s sister and her maid of honor, and flower girls Melba Griffin Brock and Bettie Griffin Croley, both younger sisters of the bride. The groomsmen, looking very smart in double-breasted tuxes, were Best Man Paul Winters; Raymond Harvey Griffin, the bride’s uncle; Emerson Smith; George Till, Jr.; John Laurie Dale and Jim Black.
A reception with a color scheme of green and white was held for the couple at the Community House (located in the former Greenville Library building downtown), with members of Lottie’s graduating class at GHS serving the guests.
Lottie and Bo’s wedding cake, a four-tiered design with pale green and white embossing, decorated with tiny wedding bells, bride’s roses and lilies of the valley, was created by Mrs. Rush Childs of Childs’ Bakery with the ingredients furnished by the Retail Grocers’ Assocation.
“That cake was so gorgeous. I had them copy the design for my own wedding,” Angie says. “And the flowers were beautiful—really, everything was just so nice. The Chamber did an amazing job.”
After their honeymoon in Chattanooga, the couple returned to Greenville where Lottie continued working for the telephone exchange. Bo’s employment with the Army Corps of Civil Engineers later led the Griffins to Eufaula. The family moved to Fairhope in 1962, and it’s still the place Lottie and Bo are happy to call home.
When memories call
While they’d made a number of trips back to Greenville to visit
Lottie’s family over the years, the couple had never returned to the “old gym” until last December. Some members of the original wedding party also came, along with Angie, brother Herb from Atlanta and his two children, Beau, 18 and Hannah, 16.
A flood of memories washed over Lottie, now an elegant silver-haired lady of 82, when she walked through those gymnasium doors for the first time in more than 50 years.
“It thrilled me to walk in and see it and remember the crowd of people that gathered. To remember all that the Chamber of Commerce did for us by sponsoring the wedding. It was a beautiful day,” Lottie recalls.
Bo’s bespectacled blue eyes lit up as he looked around the gym, the 89-year-old gentleman remembering the sight of his radiant dark-haired bride in her satin and lace.
There are also tangible reminders of their special wedding beyond their album of black and white photographs taken by Calhoun. Lottie still has some pieces of the cookware given to her by Dunklin Hardware, and several articles of furniture the couple received are now proudly displayed in both Angie’s and Herb’s homes.
“Making the visit to Greenville to the gym has stirred up so many happy recollections for both my parents. They’ve been talking about it ever since,” says Angie. “It’s been something so wonderful to share with the family.”
‘The love of my life’
Almost 62 years after their “Eventful” wedding, the couple still thoroughly enjoys their time together, their daughter says.
“They are both very active in the First Baptist Church in Fairhope. Mom and dad like to go fishing. You wouldn’t look at her and think she’d want to bait a hook, but she loves it,” Angie laughs.
“They have done some traveling but they also like simply puttering around in the yard and enjoying their friends and family. Mom has had some health issues these days and Daddy is very much her caretaker.”
It’s simple. “She’s the love of my life,” says Bo.
As for Lottie, she admits she doesn’t know what she would do without her Bo.
“He’s always worked so hard to provide for us and our family, I just love and appreciate him so much,” she says.
Sometimes whirlwind courtships don’t work out; sometimes, they definitely do.
“I have wondered sometimes and asked my mom, ‘Were you really sure you wanted to get married after only four months of dating?’ Yet, somehow, they knew,” Angie says.
“They’ve stuck together and weathered all the storms over the years. That’s true love, that commitment to one another and that friendship they have.”
And it all started right here in an old gymnasium in the heart of the Camellia City.