Couples tie the knot on Valentine’s Day at Hamden Government Center

Jessica Vespoli and William Leonardo pose for photographs after being married at the Hamden Government Center during the 20th Annual Valentine's Day Ceremonies on Feb. 14.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

Love bloomed for longtime sweethearts on Valentine’s Day Wednesday as two couples said “I do” at the Government Center.

Bride and groom Jessica Vespoli and William Leonardo have known each other since elementary school and started dating when Vespoli was in eighth-grade and Leonardo was a freshman in high school. Both are from Hamden.

Leonardo and Vespoli exchanged the vows they had written, in front of friends, family and, most importantly, their 4-year-old son, William.

“I’m glad our son can say his family is complete,” she said. Vespoli’s grandmother, sister, father and cousin attended the ceremony, along with Leonardo’s brother, mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and father. Justice of the Peace Sharon Drumm performed the marriage.

“It felt like it’s the holiday of lovers and I love her and she loves me,” Leonardo said of why they chose Valentine’s Day to mark their wedding.

“What’s better than showing your love on Valentine’s Day and marrying the love of your life?” Vespoli said, adding she was grateful the town put the ceremony together “It’s such a generous idea.”

The justices of the peace waived their nuptial fee and the marriage license fee was waived by Town Clerk Vera Morrison. This is the 20th year the town has held Valentine’s Day wedding ceremonies since Morrison started the tradition.

“What better way to reach out to the community than to offer free Valentine’s Day weddings?” she said. As the tradition continued, more and more people wanted to donate items such as cakes, decorations and flowers. For the weddings Wednesday, Cakeworks Etc. donated cakes; General Rental gave the heart-shaped arch under which the couples stood; Mt. Carmel Wine & Spirit supplied wine; and two Whitney Avenue Walgreen’s employees personally donated candy hearts, punch supplies and picture frames for both couples.

“I love it. I wish I could perform it,” Morrison said.

Another couple to tie the knot on Valentine’s Day were Ilona Daniels and Napoleon Perry, who have known each other since she was in third and he was in fourth grade, but they weren’t sweethearts just yet.

“He was liking me,” Daniels said. “He tried to date me but I wanted to take a couple steps back.” But they remained close friends for more than 30 years even as they saw other people, she said.

“I never gave up,” Perry said. Eventually, they began dating and on Daniels’ birthday in 2016 Perry proposed in Washington, D.C.

“I had to wear her down,” he said. They both live in Hamden and were married by Justice of the Peace Gaynell Martin in front of their best friends and closest family members.

“Our main goal was our children,” Daniels said. “Even if nobody else could take off of work, as long as our children were here.” Her three children and Perry’s two daughters celebrated with their parents, along with Perry’s aunt and Daniels’ co-workers and best friends.

“It’s special, so we won’t forget our anniversary,” Perry said, explaining why they chose Valentine’s Day to get married. They were deciding between either of their birthdays or Valentine’s Day to have their wedding because they wanted it to fall on a special day, adding that the ceremony was a “long time overdue.” They will be going on a cruise for their honeymoon in July.

Morrison said one of her favorite moments of the ceremonies happens when the bride pins the boutonniere on the groom because “they’re usually all thumbs,” but also after the ceremonies when the family and friends attending gather under the arch.

“It’s a great family event,” Morrison said. “The town clerk’s office is kind of the heart of town hall. We have so many responsibilities that we have to do with the vital records and why not provide this service to the community. People come to us when they’re buying a house. They come to use when somebody’s passed on. They come to us when there’s the birth of a child, so why not have them come to us on the joining of a couple. It’s a special day and we have the ability to do something very special for the community.”