There is a sweet symmetry in Marc Munfa and Liz Burger’s relationship.
The two first met surrounded by the tents of Krzyzewskiville in 2003 when Munfa, a sophomore, and Burger, a freshman, were waiting in line for the Duke-Carolina game. And last month they tented for one more milestone—a Chapel wedding.
Munfa and his future mother-in-law, Trustee Paula Burger, Political Science ‘74, meticulously ran through their paperwork one more time to secure the ideal wedding date: June 22, 2013 at 6 p.m. Munfa, Trinity ‘06, and Burger, serving as a proxy for her daughter who could not be present, were one of six couples whose tents, air mattresses and lawn chairs lined about 30 feet down the Chapel cloisters.
As is the case nearly every Spring, all of these eager couples are vying for precious wedding real estate: the opportunity to be married under the Chapel arches - a commodity clearly worth waiting for. March through June are the most in-demand months for couples, and in the soon-to-be Munfas’ case, the location was nonnegotiable.
“It was a great four years of my life, and it’s where we met,” said Munfa, who proposed to Liz last Fall. “For both of us, family means a lot and Duke makes you feel like you’re part of a family.” The first-ever Chapel wedding was indeed a family affair and took place April 8, 1933—less than a year after construction was complete—between John Sessums and Marion Lyon, Washington Duke’s great-granddaughter. The University has since held more than 5,000 weddings.
By the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Chapel was increasing in popularity as a wedding destination. Although limited to Duke alums and employees, as well as their children and grandchildren, couples looking to wed at the Chapel typically have to book about a year in advance—the dates for a particular month opening up at 8:30 a.m. on the first of the same month a year beforehand, closing six weeks before the wedding date.
Legacy runs strong in Munfa and Burger’s case, as well. Paula Burger married her husband Dr. Peter Burger, who was at the time a resident at Duke Hospital, at the Chapel June 26, 1977. Paula, former dean of the Woman’s College in 1970 and a former assistant dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, is ecstatic to watch her daughter marry Munfa, almost 37 years after her own wedding in the same church.
“The one thing [Marc and Liz] knew they wanted, knowing there could be flexibility in date and time and everything else, they knew they wanted to get married in the Chapel, in a place that was meaningful for them,” Paula said. “And that my husband and I were married in the Chapel, that made it extra special.”
The road to Chapel-wedded bliss, however, is not always without competition and the occasional inconvenience. The most recent round of tenting lasted from May 29 until June 1, the day when the Chapel began taking wedding reservations on a first-come, first-serve basis. When couples reserve a date, they are doing so for the same month the following year. Munfa had planned to claim his spot in line May 29, but travel delays meant he had to arrange for a family friend to wait in his place until he and his mother-in-law arrived.
Despite their early planning, Munfa and Burger found they were not the first couple in line, which can sometimes bump a couple from their desired date. In fact, the couple preceding them was also considering June 22.
Each month, there are typically three wedding slots on any given Saturday, barring University or ministry functions. In May—one of the most popular months for a Chapel wedding—there are just about six slots available because of graduation festivities, said Chapel wedding coordinator Sara Blaine, Divinity ‘09. Chapel wedding services, which include a 2.5-hour reservation and the Chapel organist, cost slightly more than $3,000.
Luckily for Munfa and Burger, a better slot for the other couple opened up, and June 22, 2013 was successfully reserved. The Duke connection has always been central to their relationship, which meant the Chapel was a no-brainer wedding destination. The couple said they are excited to bring many of their fellow Blue Devils back to Durham, as well as show their post-graduation friends how much this school means to them.
“The Chapel evokes spirit and happiness because so many of our friends who will be there are from Duke,” Liz said. “It’s a destination, but it’s a relevant destination.”
Sleeping on concrete is nothing new for many of the wedding-tenters. Munfa noted that it was nice to spend a few spring days at his alma mater, reminiscing about his college experiences while drinking Cookout milkshakes with a friend still living in the area.
The students who first coined the now-legendary K-ville for the Duke-Carolina game in 1986 started an iconic Duke tradition that is in many ways a rite of passage. And in the late ‘90s, some steadfast Blue Devils decided to keep the tradition alive beyond graduation by tenting outside of the Chapel for their wedding.
“I remember seeing tents here when I was a student,” said Anne Jackson, who graduated from the Pratt School of Engineering in 2000 and tented this April for a May wedding. She camped out in K-ville all four years as an undergraduate.
Although some months may see no Chapel tenters, others might have around 10 participating couples. Still, the practice is not officially recognized by the Chapel. But the wedding staff understands how important it is to the couples to relive their K-ville experience, so they happily let the tradition continue without Chapel interference.
“Dukies love camping out, and they know how to camp out,” said Blaine, who has been working Chapel weddings since she was a Divinity student.
And because Chapel tenting has developed into a tradition of its own, Blaine said she gives an unofficial list of suggested rules to the campers. These recommendations include calling her to say that they plan to tent because if couples are flexible with their dates, they probably do not need to camp out.
Other than that, Blaine said the campers are left to create their own rules. Unlike K-ville, there are no line monitors checking the tents, and it does not matter who is in the tent as long as someone is there to secure the time slot on the first of the month.
And just because the rules are more relaxed does not mean these campers are any less willing to brave the conditions in the tents. When it started to rain two nights before reservation day, Blaine told the tenters that they could move into the Page Auditorium lobby. But the tenters stuck it out, huddled under the gothic awning.
But current students may have an edge, with their K-ville experiences not far behind them. Senior Stephen Clement—engaged to senior Hillary Walker—was the first tenter to set up camp in April for a May 2013 wedding. As the first to arrive, he set the rules for the other campers who followed, tacking a page-protected sign to his tent. One rule, for example, asked couples to have someone at their tent 16 hours out of the day. He said for the most part, the rules—varying between camping cycles—are pretty relaxed as long as the other campers know each other’s plans. And similar to K-ville, camaraderie developed among campers.
“None of us wanted the same date, so we all came up with something together,” Clement said. Liz Burger laughs as she reflects on how she found love in K-ville, though notes that she did not mind letting her mom take her place in line this time around.
“The tenting—it’s frustrating and a bit silly that it’s required,” she said. “I felt pretty guilty going to bed in a nice warm bed while [Marc and my mom] were in the rain in Durham.” Munfa agreed that the process was somewhat stressful but worth it, adding that at least the process is egalitarian.
Blaine noted that even men’s basketball head coach Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s daughter had to wait her turn in line for a Chapel wedding. Although she did not tent, her preferred time slot was already selected, and she had to alter her plans.
Like Burger and Munfa, many of the couples looking to get married in the Chapel no longer live in the Triangle area and have to take time off from work or school to reserve their wedding date. This can be challenging, but many solve the problem through creative scheduling and the occasional coercion of friends and family.
One couple in line for a June 2013 wedding—the same couple that beat Munfa and Burger to get the first spot—had a complex spreadsheet detailing shifts with family friends and distant acquaintances who each held the bride’s spot for hours at a time. One young woman studied diligently while she waited in line as a proxy for the bride, whose name she did not even know.
Two first-year medical students—Alex Lazarides, Trinity ‘10, and Kristen Bergathon, who are in a relationship but not engaged—sat in line for a friend while she and her fiance were caught up with work in Atlanta. The couple was continuously mistaken for a bride and groom, leading to awkward and incorrect congratulations.
“It’s funny with all the people walking by and giving us weird looks, wanting to see our rings,” Lazarides said, noting that it was a “watered-down version of the tenting experience.” To a Duke student, lining up in tents for days at a time might seem natural. But for outsiders, like Mike LaCalamito, this practice seems a bit ridiculous.
LaCalamito met his fiance Caroline Beyer, Trinity ‘09, while they were both in graduate school at Wake Forest University. But sleeping on an air mattress outside the Chapel for a June 8, 2013 wedding was his first visit to Duke’s campus. It was not until he saw the other tents that it sunk in that he would be camping out for his wedding date. He was skeptical.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this is really gonna happen,’” he said. “I was not looking forward to it that much, but it’s been great.”
LaCalamito did not initially tell his coworkers in Washington, D.C., where the couple now lives, what taking a few days off for “wedding stuff” really entailed. But they eventually teased it out of him. Mike said they thought the Duke tradition was pretty strange but worth it to make his bride happy. With the time off from work, relaxed tenting rules and the knowledge that their wedding location is almost set in stone, some couples multitask and start planning the rest of their wedding to fill the idle time. While LaCalamito got to know the Duke campus, Beyer and her mother went off to pick out bridesmaids dresses.
Munfa and his future mother-in-law took time to scope out a reception spot—the Cotton Room in downtown Durham.
Most tenters admit that no matter how large their guest lists, it is nearly impossible to fill the Chapel pews. But for these couples, getting married in the Chapel—at the University that shaped their lives through tradition, whether burning benches or sleeping outside during midterms—gives their wedding ceremonies a distinct sentiment.