LEWISBURG — Rene Colley nudged her husband of one day in his left side and slid onto a hospital bed next to him Thursday afternoon, a celebratory mylar balloon floating above their heads as they smiled for a photo.
“OK, Skippy, make some room,” she told Skip Winters.
After 31 years together, Morene “Rene” Colley and Ammon “Skip” Winters Jr. of Watsontown are husband and wife.
The couple married at 11:45 a.m. Aug. 4 inside a hospital room at Evangelical Community Hospital.
Skip, 70, is a cancer patient. He’s been in and out of the hospital for weeks following a surgery to remove tumors, though surgeons couldn’t get them all.
Rene, 66, said doctors believe Skip’s cancer to be incurable. She’s hopeful Skip will be discharged and can begin treatment.
Given the circumstances, the couple figured they better not wait any longer to be wed.
“It was exciting. It was really nice. I didn’t think it was going to happen but they got it all pulled together,” Skip said of Evangelical Hospital staff. “We were always going to get married. I don’t know. We just kept putting it off.”
“I told him he was stuck with me,” Rene said.
Their family told the hospital the couple is “better than a comedy show. They love people and they have unconditional love for one another.”
Dr. Christopher Motto alerted Niki Weber, director of patient experience, of the couple’s wish. Multiple hospital workers, medical and non-medical alike, got to work Tuesday.
Planning the wedding, especially within one day, was no small feat.
For starters, Skip’s medical team was reluctant to allow him to go to the Union County Courthouse in person. Chaplain Jackie Heitmann said they were reluctant even to visit the hospital’s chapel.
After phoning several regional courthouses, Lycoming County’s Register and Recorder David Huffman agreed to make the trip to Lewisburg to complete the necessary paperwork for a wedding license.
“(Rene) grabbed my hand and I said, ‘we’re going to have a wedding here. You’re going to get married.’ There were all these incredible moments where you saw the mighty hand of God,” Heitmann said.
Angie Owens, who runs the hospital gift shop, sent flameless candles, lanterns, silk flowers and a large wooden sign that reads “Blessed” to Skip’s room. A nurse brought fresh-cut flowers from her garden. Heitmann cut flowers from her own garden and arranged a brightly colored bridal bouquet.
Woody Wolfe of Heart to Hand Ministries performed live guitar and song for the couple. Hospital staff got a wedding cake as well as sparkling grape juice and champagne flutes for a toast.
With no time to arrange for wedding rings, Heitmann wrapped the couple in a handmade quilted prayer shawl and clasped their hands together. They looked into each other’s eyes and exchanged vows.
“It had to be sacred, it had to be special, it had to be a moment that whatever he and they go through,” Heitmann said of Skip, Rene and their family, “they’ll remember this moment until their last breath and so will all the people in that room.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye,” Weber said.
Heather Hawkins, Skip’s daughter, traveled from Florida to Lewisburg with her children Derik and Riley. They weren’t able to make it in time for the ceremony but Hawkins did watch through a livestream. She teared up Thursday thinking back on the ceremony.
“Love always prevails,” Hawkins said before speaking of her relationship with Rene. “She has always been my second mom and a good friend. She is an amazing example of what a stepparent should be.”
Skip and Rene frequently expressed gratitude not simply for the care Evangelical Hospital staff continues to provide but also for the kindness and caring they showed in helping the two achieve a milestone together.
“You can’t believe what this place looked like yesterday and how everybody was just there for us. They brought all the decorations from the gift shop, they had cake, it was just a beautiful day,” Rene said.