- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - Dave and Vesta Sterenchock are quite familiar with unconventional love.

The couple met in a spiritual chat room while living on opposite sides of the country. They were online friends for years. When they both parted ways with significant others, they decided to meet in person.

The first time they laid eyes on each other was in an airport in Philadelphia.

“She was going to be my house-mate to help with the bills so I could keep my house. And we hit it off,” Dave said. “We lived together for six years and then got married. And we’ve been really happy.”

The couple now resides in Coeur d’Alene and is prepared to share appreciation and acceptance of unconventional love with the community.

They are in the process of opening a wedding chapel that will welcome ceremonies for all types of couples and alternative lifestyles including heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. They will also offer fun themes and handfasting betrothal ceremonies. The name they chose for the venue, located in a small storefront downtown on Fourth Street, is The Heart of It All.

“What we’re trying to convey is that everybody should be able to love and get married,” Vesta said. “To me, that’s the heart of it all.”

“A catch-phrase that I’ve been working on is, ‘How can love be wrong?’” Dave said.

The Sterenchocks were motivated to implement a new kind of wedding chapel because of a number of things. One of them was their experience planning their own wedding.

“We wanted a traditional Celtic wedding, and to find information, help, services, anything - it became impossible, so I ended up having to do the whole thing myself. And it turned out great, if I do say so myself,” Vesta said with a grin. “That set me on this course, that I want to be able to help people that don’t fit into the traditional box to have the wedding of their dreams, and it doesn’t have to be expensive to do it that way.”

Both Vesta and Dave are ordained ministers through the Unitarian Universal Church. They are open to serve people from all beliefs.

“Whatever your religion is, we’ll honor that. Like I said, it’s not going to change who I am, and we’ll be happy to honor who you are, and what you want,” Vesta said.

Another reason the couple wants to open The Heart of It All is to provide a place for couples to get married when they may be denied at other locations, like the Hitching Post. That Lake City wedding chapel made national headlines when its owners sued the city of Coeur d’Alene, claiming they were being forced to marry same-sex couples under the city’s anti-discrimination law.

“It did help motivate me to move forward on this, because I think there’s a need,” Vesta said. “With that need, I stepped in and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ I just get frustrated at the prejudices that are around. How you are and what you believe does not affect me; it doesn’t change me in the least. I see absolutely no reason why you should not have a place to get married. So that was a big motivation. And I just like love, I guess. I want to be able to spread that around, and not to be judged for who you are.”

However, she and Dave agreed that they don’t want to view other wedding chapels such as the Hitching Post as competition.

“We’re just our own entity doing our own thing,” Vesta said. “Maybe some of the (ceremonies) they don’t want to do, they could just send over this way, that’d be great. And anybody that fits into their box, that’d be great for them to do it. I’m not really here to drum anybody out of business, it’s just I’m doing my own thing.”

Vesta said reactions to opening The Heart of It All have been positive and excited. While opposition may be inevitable, Dave said if other venues or people mount protests, “it’s just going to be more free publicity.”

“We also believe in what we’re doing,” Vesta said. “To me, if you do want to have a problem with it, it’s just showing your prejudice, which we’re trying to get away from. It’s what we believe in, so that’s what we’re doing … I think I just have to stand tall in what I believe. I believe this not only for me, I believe it for the community as a whole that there is a need for it. So I’ll just stand tall in what I’m doing.”

The couple shares skills in carpentry, baking, art, music and event planning and has big plans for the space, which will hold an estimated 30 people. Vesta plans to paint a mural on the long hall leading into the main room. Dave is working on building false walls to create a reception area and lounge space in the front and they will both be rolling up their sleeves to beautify the rear of the building for moonlight and garden ceremonies. But they have found that it is going to be a long, pricey venture - they have plenty of cleaning, building and paperwork to file before they can open by their hoped-for starting date in early April.

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Information from: Coeur d’Alene Press, https://www.cdapress.com


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