KEALAKEKUA — Casually dressed and holding three purple orchids, Leigh Mitchell walked into the District Courtroom, Tuesday, with her husband Randy of the 36 years to get married.
As they waited briefly by the courtroom door Randy and Leigh, now both 60 years old, were all smiles and laughs as they told curious onlookers the short version of their story. Two years ago, the couple learned their marriage license was never filed with the courts when they were married in California on Feb. 14, 1982. As a result, they were there that Tuesday to officially record their nuptials.
“At first I thought it was kind of funny because we thought we were married for so long,” Leigh said Wednesday.
While they knew they needed to get it taken care of two years ago, Leigh said, it was something that fell onto the back burner.
“Our daughter is now a lawyer and she insisted that we take care of this piece of business,” Leigh added.
So, Randy picked Leigh up from Hongwanji Mission school where she teaches preschool and during her lunch break they drove to the Kealakekua courthouse to make things official, by documentation standards. Leigh said they recited their vows they spoke to each other at their first wedding, which made the simple ceremony special.
“We know the first one was valid. It was valid for us,” Leigh said of their first ceremony in 1982.
Their daughter, Katelynn, said, her concerns came from a practical viewpoint and the consequences that come along with no official documentation of their marriage. Things like life insurance and taxes.
Katelynn said she took her parents to the Governor’s Liaison Office in Kealakekua about a month ago and got them a license to get married. She instructed them to do it before the license expired, which was at the end of August.
“I was just kind of urging them to get it done,” she said. “They weren’t in a rush. It didn’t change a single thing that it wasn’t official on paper.”
When she went back to Hongwanji after the courtroom marriage, Leigh said, a friend had made her a haku lei with a bridal veil that she wore the rest of the day. On Wednesday, Leigh added she had a smile on her face all day.
“It was more than I thought it would be,” Leigh said of the courtroom ceremony.
So how did the paperwork oversight happen in the first place? The answer may never be certainly known, but Randy and Leigh have a few ideas.
A Unitarian minister married the couple in Huntington Beach, California, in front of nearly 100 people. Randy said the document of their marriage either got lost in the mail or wasn’t recorded by the court.
“We had in our possession a pretty legal document and a copy of what she signed,” Randy said of their 1982 marriage certificate. “We went home and lived as husband and wife.”
As the years rolled on, Randy and Leigh continued to build a life together. They worked together in the education and human services field in California for several years. They had their daughter Katelynn in 1992 and moved to the Big Island in 1995.
Their names are on IRS forms and contracts. The validity of marriage didn’t come into question until Leigh needed to renew her driver’s license two years ago and show their marriage license as a legal form of a name change from her maiden name.
When Leigh brought the document to the DMV, she learned their marriage certificate was the souvenir copy and that she would have to request the original document from Orange County.
“They looked back as far as 1889 and there was no record of a wedding,” Randy said of Orange County workers. “We realized we were not married. And that was unpleasant initially.”
It took the couple a while to sort out how to handle the situation as they didn’t want to have legal issues.
“It’s been hanging over our heads for a while and now we can relax,” Randy said of the courtroom ceremony. “It really is a big relief.”
Randy and Leigh have known each other since they were 14 years old. Their parents were good friends, involved together in church and politics.
“I fell head over heels for her the minute I saw her,” Randy said as he recalled his first interactions with Leigh.
Leigh said her feelings for Randy in those early years of courtship were just as strong.
“It’s cool that he felt the same way. We’ve been real blessed,” she said.
The couple started dating at 16 years old when they went off to college together to United States International University. During spring semester, Leigh went to the school’s campus on Maui.
They lived in Maui together when they were 17 or 18 years old and lived there for a couple years. That introduction to the Hawaiian Islands eventually brought the pair to the Big Island years later.
Randy and Leigh lived together for seven years before they tied the knot in California of 1982.
Despite the lack of official documentation of their 36 years of marriage, Randy and Leigh have never felt anything but husband and wife for those three decades.
“I couldn’t see myself in a life without him,” Leigh said. “I didn’t want to wonder ‘what if.’”
Katelynn thinks her parents and their relationship are cute.
“It’s kind of heartwarming as their daughter,” she said.
Katelynn added 36 years is a long time to be married.
“It’s cute to see what they’ve done to adapt to those years,” she added.
Whether it’s driving into work together, taking weekend trips up north.
“My dad always has dinner ready for mom when she gets home for work,” Katelynn said.
On top of that, Leigh said, they read their original wedding vows to each other on their anniversary.
This new anniversary was simple but still celebrated.
“We got our favorite pizza and beer went to the Honaunau rodeo grounds and watched the sunset,” Randy said.