RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Teresa James got a divorce after 16 years of marriage, but that personal experience prompts her to encourage couples to stay together for life.
"Have you ever been through a divorce?" she said. "It's not only the couple who splits, it's the children, the families and friends and everyone surrounding them."
The owner of Ringgold Wedding Chapel, Mrs. James is honoring the marriages that took place there by establishing a Gold Medal Couple Hall of Fame. She plans to recognize the longest-married couple, the oldest couple, the couple with the best love story and the couple who traveled the greatest distance to be married.
She is asking couples to mail their stories, including the date of their marriage, to the chapel by Wednesday . The winners will be honored at 3 p.m. Feb. 28, she said. She also invites couples to renew their vows Feb. 27.
On Feb. 16, 23-year-old Stephen Ables and 22-year-old Whitney Skyles exchanged vows at the chapel. The newlyweds said they may come back and share their story on Feb. 28.
Before marrying, the couple wrote to each other on MySpace and dated for about a year.
"I love her," said Mr. Ables. "You have somebody who loves you and who is going to be there for you. That's why I married."
The Ableses live in Chickamauga, but some couples have come to the chapel from as far away as South America and Australia, said Mrs. James.
"They call this 'Little Vegas' because so many marriages happen here," she said.
About 1,500 weddings took place at the Ringgold Wedding Chapel in the last year, she said. She's owned the building since 2008, she said.
Mrs. James said she began planning the Feb. 28 Hall of Fame service after reading Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's proclamation concerning marriage earlier this month.
The proclamation declares Feb. 7-14 as Marriage Week and says, "God ordained the sanctity of marriage as a holy and sacred union between two people who promise to love, honor and respect each other and to give themselves faithfully to each other for as long as they both shall live."
The proclamation matches her hope for herself and all people who are married, she said.
Couples who got married at the Ringgold Wedding Chapel and are still together are encouraged to mail their love stories to Teresa James. She will honor couples who have been married the longest, the oldest couple in age, the couple with the best love story and the couple who traveled the longest distance to be married at the chapel.
Send stories to the Ringgold Wedding Chapel, 7682 Nashville St. Ringgold, GA 30736. Or call 706-935-8199.
Mrs. James' second marriage has endured for 24 years, she said.
"The ceremony is only the beginning (of marriage)," she said. "The goal is until death do you part."
Couples who get married at her chapel also get her telephone number and encouragement to call if they want to talk about marital problems.