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Big smiles, heavy hearts as Mall of America couple renew wedding vows

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Dave and Elizabeth
Dave and Bethy Weinlick had known each other only five minutes the first time they read their vows on the rotunda. They decided to renew them after David was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Dave Weinlick and Elizabeth Runze married at the Mall of America in 1998 in a made-for-TV wedding, after meeting that same day. It was a leap of faith into an uncertain future, but it paid off with nearly two decades of bliss.

    Now, the future is uncertain again. Weinlick is facing terminal cancer. His health is deteriorating. So, on Friday the Weinlicks returned to the mall and renewed their vows in the same spot, with many of the same guests nearby.

Weinlick steadied himself with a walking stick as he and Bethy, as she is better known, proceeded down the aisle to applause and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," one of their favorite songs. 

They held hands at the altar while looking out over rows of family and friends and curious shoppers lining the balconies in the mall's rotunda.

    There were inspiring words from officiant Tomkin Coleman, who'd married the couple 19 years ago. The pair, now 47, had "managed to fit a lifetime of love into the time they've had together," Coleman said.

Annette Runze, mother of Elizabeth "Bethy" Weinlick wipes a tear.
Annette Runze, Bethy's mother, wipes a tear from her eye as she watches her daughter and husband Dave renew their vows.
Evan Frost | MPR News

    They recited vows of renewed commitment.

    "As I have given you my hand to hold, so I give you my life to keep," Weinlick told Bethy.

  "What may come I will always be there," she replied.

    The words echoed what was said in 1998, although the circumstances were different. Back then, it was basically a blind-date wedding.

    Weinlick's buddies had decided to help find him a wife, including selection by a "democratic process" of those who'd come to the event that day.

    "We voted. We picked Bethy," Steve Fletcher, Weinlick's best friend and wedding campaign manager, recalled in a video made around the time of the couple's 10th anniversary. "They fitted her for a dress on the spot and they were married like an hour and a half later."

Mall goers watch the renewal ceremony.
Mall goers watch Dave and Bethy's renewal ceremony from the balconies of the mall's rotunda.
Evan Frost | MPR News

    She was nervous, but said she found comfort that she and Dave were the only people at the wedding who knew what the other was feeling that day.

    On Friday, Bethy Weinlick said the nerves were greater now because of Dave's illness.

    "We don't have that same sense of adventure, that same sense of hopefulness. So today was more meaningful," she said.

    Added Dave: "Well, I think there is still some sense of adventure. We still hope to get some adventures in. So hopefully is not too much different. There is certainly something less mysterious."

    Weinlick told those assembled of the grim stage four cancer diagnosis he'd received in March. It's inoperable and has started to spread. He was told by doctors he had a year to live.

    Fletcher said Weinlick has been the optimist through it all, but there was no hiding the gravity of the situation. Bethy wiped away tears as did many in the audience.

      "I think we had all kinds of thought in the back of our heads that we'd probably do something like this for the 20th anniversary," Fletcher said. "Knowing he might not be there when they get to 20 just feels terribly unfair and it's something we're all trying to come to grips with."

Elizabeth "Bethy" Weinlick watches a sand ceremony.
Bethy Weinlick watches two of her four children pour colored sand into a vase during the vow renewal ceremony.
Evan Frost | MPR News

    The renewal of their vows at the megamall doubled as a fundraiser for the Angel Foundation, which assists families under financial duress because of cancer. The Weinlicks have four children ages eight to 16 who were able to go to summer camp with the organization's help.

    While more sadness may lie ahead, Friday was about remembering happier moments.

  "Certainly there is I guess darkness on the horizon if you put it somehow. But ultimately it's still about trying to make the best of the time we have," Dave Weinlick said. "It's still a positive thing in that way. That's what I would focus on."

    "We've had 19 years of fabulous — really, really fabulous. I mean I would take 19 more years of fabulous," Bethy Weinlick said.

    "We'll see what we can do about that," her husband said. "We're still hoping."

    The couple posed for plenty of photos. They took a ride on the mall's carousel — something they didn't get to do the first time.

    There was a champagne toast, a receiving line and, of course, a first dance. Fittingly, it was to Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World."