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Wedding's best man was man's best friend

Published Oct. 9, 2005

A best man has a lot of responsibilities. He has to throw a bachelor party, hold the ring and not bark during the ceremony.

In the case of Cody, a black Labrador who served as Jim Lockhart's best man Friday night, one out of three isn't bad.

In a wedding that could have come out of the headlines of the National Enquirer, Lockhart and Ronna Kessel said "I do" in the back yard of Central Park Lodge, a nursing home in Pinellas Park.

Lockhart, a mechanic at Bob Lee's Garage in Clearwater, said he wanted "anything but the average ordinary wedding." So his best man was his dog, Cody. The maid of honor was 91-year-old nursing home resident Camille O'Brien. The first three rows of guests rolled in in their wheelchairs before the ceremony.

Even Lockart's proposal to Ms. Kessel, 30, was a little offbeat. While motoring down a Georgia road in her Chevrolet Lumina van in February, he asked her if she wanted to get married. "She just wanted me to ask it to make it official," said Lockhart, 26.

For Ms. Kessel, a licensed practical nurse at the nursing home, getting married in the back yard of Central Park Lodge was natural because most of the people whom she considers her friends and family live and work there.

Wendy Hoy, the administrator of the nursing home and the notary who married the couple, said that Ms. Kessel asked to have the wedding at the home because "she feels really close to the residents."

Deborah Afasano, the director of nursing, said it was like watching teenagers getting ready for the prom as many of the residents were helped into their dresses.

Afasano said the wedding was really for the residents. "It's like watching their granddaughter get married."

In Room 310, Dorothy Grondin, Mrs. O'Brien's nursing aide and Ms. Kessel's friend, was applying blush to the maid of honor's cheeks.

"Maybe I better wait till Ronna gets here to get the right color (of lipstick)," Grondin said.

"I don't want green," Mrs. O'Brien said.

"Ronna knows more about her than anybody," Grondin said. Ms. Kessel even bought Mrs. O'Brien a new dress to wear to the wedding.

Outside Mrs. O'Brien's window, Cody also was getting ready for the wedding. Cody's formal wear was his black coat and a red and black paisley bow tie that matched the groom's.

Lockhart said that his two human friends who were in the running for Cody's job were a bit disgruntled at his choice of Cody over them.

During the ceremony, Ms. Kessel held Mrs. O'Brien's hand and Lockhart held Cody's leash.