NEWLYWEDS COUNT ON GOWN SALE.
COTTAGE GROVE - For sale: Wedding dress, size 8. Ivory, strapless with pearl beading. Worn once. Bidding starts at $300.
If they're superstitious, prospective brides might shy away from such a purchase, assuming the gown ended up on the auction block after losing its sentimental value because of a divorce.
But wait ... this isn't eBay. This is the window of a local dry cleaning business. And this dress is being auctioned off to continue a romantic relationship, not because one ended.
Drain paramedic Jim Thomas hopes that the sale of the gown will help defray costs of his new wife's immigration from Haiti - even though the auction was not his idea.
Instead, it was a collaboration by the staff and customers of Plaza Cleaners. Thomas, who married nurse Jocelene Joseph in Haiti less than two months ago, had taken her wedding dress to the north Cottage Grove business to have it cleaned before advertising it for sale.
When customer Casey Woodard noticed it hanging in the back of the shop and commented, "Wow - what a beautiful wedding dress," Plaza Cleaners employee Tina Henderson proceeded to tell him the story behind it: How Thomas took a leave from his job with the North Douglas Fire and Rescue District to join the Oregon Disaster Medical Team on a mission to Haiti in October 2002. How he befriended a beautiful young nurse he worked with at a remote clinic there. How they fell in love when he returned to the clinic with Oregon Disaster Medical Team the next year.
Thomas, 43, noticed his future wife the very first time he saw her step out of a CARE relief agency Land Cruiser in 2002.
"Her poise and confidence is what first caught my eye," he said. "The way she walked and carried herself, I thought she was some kind of CARE big shot there to look over our shoulders."
He was surprised to learn that Jocelene, now 26, had just completed three years of nurses' training and was beginning her government-required one year of social service - for an annual stipend of just $75 (U.S.) - in an area of the country lacking medical care. Her duties were more like those of a U.S. physician's assistant, however, as she diagnosed patients, sutured wounds and dispensed medications.
The attraction was mutual, and the pair spent hours conversing across a table inside the clinic. Since she didn't speak English and he didn't speak French, they "talked" by passing a note pad back and forth, along with an English-French dictionary.
Her English soon improved, and they continued their courtship by letter, telephone and e-mail until he returned to Haiti in February 2004 and proposed to her last Valentine's Day. After winning the blessing of her large family, they married in her hometown of Jeremie on Dec. 23.
"I know a lot of people will make assumptions about a marriage like ours: That I was interested in a pretty face and she was looking for a ticket to the United States," Thomas said. "But our situation is unique. For one thing, as a nurse, she'll probably make more money than I do here."
Woodward learned that the newlyweds might have to wait as long as year for Jocelene to join Jim here, because of a backlog of immigration applications. He learned that the Thomases were selling the wedding dress to cover her $900 in immigration fees and to hire an attorney to help them avoid mistakes in the application process that could cause further delays.
Now Woodward was exclaiming, "Wow - what a beautiful story!" and urging Henderson to contact the news media. Which prompted Henderson and Plaza Cleaners owners Bill and Debbie Height to cook up the auction as a way to publicize the story and help Thomas get his bride to the United States as quickly as possible.
The shop is displaying the dress - on a mannequin donated by another Cottage Grove business, Rose Bud Clothing Consignment Shop - and accepting bids now through Feb. 17.
So far, there have been several "lookers" but no offers, Debbie Height said.
Which doesn't necessarily mean the auction has been a failure, Thomas said.
"I didn't orchestrate it, but I believe everything happens for a reason," he said. "My main hope is that having the story out there in the public eye will attract the attention of someone - maybe a politician - who can expedite things."
BRIDAL GOWN AUCTION
What: Size 8 wedding gown
Where: Displayed at Plaza Cleaners, 1441 Highway 99, Cottage Grove, OR 97424
When: Written bids accepted through Feb. 17
Minimum Bid: $300; donations also accepted
Why: Proceeds go to immigration fees for nurse Jocelene Thomas
Telephone bids or information: 942-4536
Jim Thomas arranges the wedding gown he and his wife have put up for auction at the Plaza Cleaners in Cottage Grove to try and raise funds. "I didn't orchestrate it, but I believe everything happens for a reason." - JIM THOMAS, DRAIN PARAMEDIC AND NEWLYWED