Couple weds at Old Deery Inn while here as Hurricane Florence evacuees

J. H. Osborne • Sep 15, 2018 at 8:30 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — When Tess Milczark and Kenneth Bass III heeded a mandatory evacuation order as Hurricane Florence’s path was projected to strike South Carolina, they headed to Northeast Tennessee. They live in Charleston, but have family in Sullivan County. They arrived as an engaged couple, seeking refuge from a storm. When they return to Charleston, they’ll be newlyweds who had a storybook, though spontaneous, wedding.

They were married Friday afternoon in the gardens of the historic Old Deery Inn. Sullivan County Commissioner John Gardner officiated. The couple had contacted Gardner after hearing he often officiates weddings, and it was he who suggested the Old Deery Inn’s gardens as a wedding spot. When the couple, accompanied by the groom’s parents, arrived at the inn, they were delighted to find a sign out front prominently featuring the phrase “Refuge in the Storm.” 

It seemed like fate.

“We came up here to get away from the storm and they decided to get married,” said Bass’ father, Kenneth Jr., who also lives in Charleston.

Bass’ mother, Lori Bass, lives in Mount Airy, N.C., and made the trip to Blountville just to witness the wedding.

“We had no clue this was going to happen,” Lori said.

“Neither did we,” Tess said.

“It just happened,” Lori said.”So I told my boss I had to take today off and come to Tennessee.” 

“We were planning on getting married next summer but then we came up here and we decided ...” the groom said.

 “While we’re here, let’s just do it,” the bride finished.

They searched online for “how to get a marriage license in Sullivan County Tennessee” and that led them to the county clerk’s office.

“(Gardner) suggested this place. We figured we’d just be getting married at the courthouse or something,” Kenneth said. “And we saw that (the sign) and thought, ‘It’s perfect!’ ”

Gardner said he is honored and humbled to be involved in couples’ “forever day” and was especially happy to have officiated at the Bass wedding Friday because he’d always feel he was a part of their journey.

Gardner started performing weddings about two years into his first four-year term as a county commissioner. Prior to that, it had never entered his head.

“I never thought I’d be officiating weddings,” Gardner said. “That first wedding I did, I felt like that was the highest achievement I’d ever done in my life. I really don’t deserve that good of a thing. It means a lot to me to do this.”

Between 2012 and 2014, Gardner officiated at nine weddings, he said.

As of Friday, he was nearing 650 and has a half-dozen scheduled over the next couple of weeks.