Yesterday I blogged about Mike and Rose’s marriage.
Today it was in the paper. Here’s what The Herald had to say about this incredible day.
After 22 years ‘for poorer,’ friends help homeless couple wed
After dating for 22 years, Michael Gonteski and Rose Marie Grant had pretty much given up their hopes for a wedding. Bad breaks and financial trouble put that too far out of reach.
But last fall, the promise of a job brought them 600 miles from New Jersey to Rock Hill where a community would come together and change all of that.
Rose was 17 when she met Michael, then 20, at a roller skating rink.
“I’ve been in love with her since the first month,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave her side. I rode my bicycle six hours from Riverside (N.J.) to her house in Chatsworth.”
Money was tight. Michael worked in construction, roofing and fixing cars, work that was often temporary. Amid the recession, jobs dried up.
Michael took up an offer from an acquaintance to work as a mechanic in Rock Hill. The couple arrived in September to find that the job and housing arrangements fell through. They were among the more than 500 people in York County considered homeless.
They spent the winter in separate, temporary “warming shelters” intended to keep people off the streets on freezing nights. When those closed for the year, the couple moved to longer-term shelters. Michael went to The Haven Men’s Shelter off Archive Street, while Rose found a place at Pilgrims’ Inn women’s shelter off Main Street two miles away.
“As soon as he opened his eyes in the morning he would walk here to be with her,” Pilgrims’ Inn Director Susan Dean said. “He’s so devoted to her.”
“So far, it’s virtually impossible (here) for a couple without children to be housed together.
“From the get, Michael was in here asking us ‘Can I help you out? Can I carry that for you? Can I clean anything?'”
Dean’s staff helped the couple craft a plan for the future and got them into one of the shelter’s transitional apartments, where people can stay for up to two years while they work toward independence.
Touched by Michael’s and Rose’s commitment to each other, the staff began making calls to friends and local businesses.
Donations poured in: a suit for the groom, a wedding dress, rings for each, a cake, food and drinks for the reception, wedding gifts, an engagement ring.
The congregation at Church180, where Michael and Rose had started attending, volunteered to host. Meantime, the couple got good news.
On a day when Michael joined church members replacing the roof at Pilgrims’ Inn, a volunteer who works for a Charlotte construction company noticed Michael’s skills and told his boss. Michael was offered a temporary job that could become permanent.
“I absolutely see Michael and Rose as an example,” Dean said. “We work very hard to help all of our clients stabilize, but not all of them do … I’m quite sure they’re going to achieve independence and stability.”
On Saturday afternoon church members along with staff from Pilgrims’ Inn and United Way gathered in Church180’s auditorium. Pastor Paul Peterson’s 3-year-old daughter was the flower girl. Church member Taft Floyd’s son held the rings. Virgil Dey, a member of the church’s pastoral team, walked the bride down the aisle.
Michael and Rose locked eyes, said their vows then kissed for the first time as a married couple.
They were driven to the reception at Pilgrims’ Inn in a car adorned with white ribbons and dragging soda cans. On the back windshield someone had written “Just Married.”
“I feel real good,” Michael said after the reception. “They helped us out so much I can’t tell you how much they helped us.”
“It’s still overwhelming,” Rose said. “It won’t sink in for a couple days.”
They left for their honeymoon, a gift from an anonymous donor who booked a night at the Hilton Garden Inn with movie tickets and dinner at Chili’s.