IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Christian Guntert was lying on his back, gluing seeds to the bottom of a giant faux pizza for a Rose Paradefloat when a teenager made a casual comment about his wife.
When the 58-year-old Guntert told the girl that he and his longtime girlfriend actually weren’t married, she screamed: “You’re not married?!”
The shocked question reverberated in the 80,000-square-foot California warehouse last December, where teams of volunteers were building a dozen floats for the annual, nationally televised parade in Pasadena.
Soon, volunteers had surrounded Guntert and his girlfriend of 17 years, 56-year-old Susan Brown, offering their various skills to make a wedding happen right then and there on the float. One said he was an ordained minister and could perform the ceremony, another offered to sing during the wedding, and a photographer said she could snap photos.
“Susan kind of looked at herself and at me, we were all dirty and covered in glue and flower parts,” Guntert said. “Susan said, ‘You know, I’d really like to have a pretty dress.’”
So the couple decided to postpone the wedding for a year. Now Brown has a pretty dress, they have a perfectly good float, and the same team of volunteers will help make the ceremony happen on Saturday, two days before the 128th annual parade.
The couple will say “I do” on top of a float to be ridden by the parade’s queen and her court. The float will be festooned with thousands of flowers beneath a giant gold crown, which will serve as a makeshift altar for the ceremony.
The unique setting is appropriate for Guntert and Brown, who have spent the past decade volunteering to decorate Rose Parade floats — an endeavor that has them working 12-hour days between Christmas and New Year’s on what would be vacation time from their jobs as government workers in San Bernardino County.
Over the years, the couple has formed what they call their “float family,” people they’ve grown close to but only see once a year for the annual decorating. The entire group will be at the ceremony, along with family members and other friends.
The wedding will come 17 years after the couple first struck up a conversation online, when internet dating was in its infancy. Though neither was looking for romance, their conversations grew into a friendship and not long after, love.
Guntert was living in Northern California at the time, and Brown and her then 6-year-old daughter were a six-hour drive south in Victorville, about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert.
After a three-year long-distance relationship, Guntert relocated to Victorville. The pair talked about marriage over the years but Guntert never quite got around to getting down on one knee and proposing — one of Brown’s few requirements.
It took their Rose Parade “float family” and their near-impromptu wedding last year to spur Guntert into action. On Valentine’s Day morning this year, he brought a cup of coffee and a ring to Brown and formally proposed marriage.
“He put a ring on it,” Brown said. “It made me cry.”
Though the wedding setting on the queen’s float carries a great deal of meaning for the couple, Guntert said the location doesn’t make too much difference.
“I’ve been waiting for this a lot of years and I couldn’t be happier,” he said, his arm around his soon-to-be bride. “So long as she’s next to me, nothing else matters.”