It promised to be a beautiful wedding at Crescent Bay Point Park in Laguna Beach on a clear Saturday afternoon with a scenic view of the Pacific Ocean, Seal Rock and Santa Catalina Island.
The bride and bridesmaids were decked out in ivory-colored lace dresses and hats; the flower girls wore hot pink, and about 40 guests, who came from as far as Dallas and San Jose, had gathered to hear the preacher perform. . . .
Oh my gosh! Where's the preacher?
"First the bridesmaid knocked on the door. . . . It must have been about 1:30. She said the minister hadn't shown up and she wanted to use the phone," recalled Linda Farnell, who lives near the park, a frequent site of outdoor nuptials. "About a half-hour later the bride-to-be knocked on the door. She was devastated. So I started wracking my brain."
Four telephone calls later, Justice Sheila Prell Sonenshine of the state's 4th District Court of Appeal drove to the park and stepped out of her car, pink leotards showing beneath her black robe.
"I don't know about the bride and the bridegroom, but the guests were frantic," Sonenshine said. "When I got out of the car I remember they were shouting: 'Here comes the judge! Here comes the judge!"
Farnell and Sonenshine saved the day, not only for the prospective newlyweds who had knocked on Farnell's door, but for another couple who also showed up at the park to be married by the same preacher.
The missing minister, whom the two couples had contacted through an advertisement in a local newspaper, could not be reached, either by the newlyweds or The Times.
Farnell said the first couple had reasons to be panic-stricken at the preacher's absence. The bride's parents had flown in from Texas; a lavish reception was planned, and the couple had tickets on a 5 p.m. honeymoon flight to Victoria, British Colombia.
"There was no choice," Farnell said. "She had to find somebody."
Farnell first called two ministers. One could not be reached and another begged off, claiming he couldn't get to the park on time.
While Farnell was making her calls and dishing out water to the waiting wedding guests, a friend consoled the bride. "She (the bride) kept saying, 'You know, everything was going so smoothly, something had to go wrong."
Farnell, her friend and the wedding guests were debating whether to get a ship's captain to perform the ceremonies when Farnell thought of Sonenshine, a friend and neighbor.
"If anyone would do it, she would," Farnell said. "She's got such a good heart."
Sonenshine said she had finished aerobics exercises and was helping her 12-year-old son, Danny, with a charitable project for his upcoming bar mitzvah when she got the call from Farnell. She hurriedly touched up her hair, snatched her robe, kicked off her sneakers, slipped on a pair of black heels and drove to the park with son in tow.
By 2:30 the two couples were wed. But things were so hectic that neither Sonenshine nor Farnell were able to recall the names of the brides and grooms.
Sonenshine, who normally restricts her marriage performances to friends and relatives, didn't charge a fee. Instead, she asked the couples to contribute to her son's charity, the Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times, which provides summer camp for children with cancer.
"I thought it was an honor," Sonenshine said. "It's the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and it's wonderful to have the opportunity to do something positive to start the year off."