Del Ackerman turns his wedding into a fundraiser

Del Ackerman didn't announce from the altar his special of two dozen bait shrimp free with a $25 grocery order, but just barely.

Once a promoter, always a promoter, and Ackerman is a showman extraordinaire. So it was second nature for him, on the occasion of his wedding to Theresa Parent on Oct. 24, to "go big." Longtime area retailer Ackerman is the proprietor of Del's 24 Hour Store on Thomasson Drive, along with an empire of establishments that have included additional convenience stores, paint stores, laundromats and the pawnshop across from the Naples Municipal Airport entrance on Airport Road.

If you flipped over the Del's 24-HR Store sale flyer that came in your Naples Daily News, there was your wedding invitation. The whole town, or for that matter the whole world, was invited to join the couple's nuptials as they sealed their union.

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"The 24 Hour Del is getting married to Theresa Parent," read the glossy sheet, and "all wedding gifts (donations) will go to the Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ," located on County Barn Road.

"It's a $50,000 wedding, and we don't want any gifts — we just want to help the church," said Ackerman, 79, before the ceremony. "It's just a simple way of saying thank you."

He walked up the aisle, resplendent in a white suit with red vest that he will be able to wear again on Christmas and Valentine's Day, but then sat before the altar, in deference to health issues, and waited.

And waited. The theme song for Parent might have been "Get Me to the Church On Time." She exercised a woman's prerogative to be just a little bit late for the 4 p.m. ceremony, always a good strategy to build anticipation. A large contingent, hundreds of family, friends, business associates and well-wishers filled the church, and once the bride made her entrance, in an off-the-shoulder, sequined white gown, with matching red sash, Pastor Alan Coe got a laugh from the brief hitch in the proceedings.

"Del was just a little nervous," said Coe. "If it went till 4:30 we were going to have an auction, and auction him off. God has a sense of humor."

The reception, which also was open to all comers, was held at Erin's Isles Restaurant and Irish Pub following the ceremony.

The couple has known each other for about eight years after meeting at Iberiabank, where Parent works.

Ackerman said he remembers going to the bank one day, but he was having trouble with his back. She came up to him, and he said to her, "I'm tired, I'm lonely and have money." He said she smiled a sweet smile and said she'd help him.

The two began dating around Christmas of last year, and have been planning the wedding for about a month. Parent, who was born in New Jersey, but grew up in Tampa, said they've been together ever since they began dating.

"He was by himself for almost three years, and I was by myself for almost three years," Parent said. "And actually, he prayed the same thing I prayed," she said, adding that she had prayed to find someone to love. Del's former wife Nancy died of cancer three years ago.

Now, she said, "We pray together every night and go to church every Sunday. I am truly blessed."

Jori and Allen Richardson, whose children call Ackerman "Uncle Del," beamed as the girls, cute as buttons, threw their arms around him for a hug after the wedding.

"A man with a heart that big deserves nothing but happiness," said Jori.

Pastor Coe seconded that emotion.

"Faith means a lot to him. This was a way for him to give back to the church, and to introduce people to the church," he said. "I haven't heard of anyone doing this before — saying, 'I don't want any gifts, give it to the church.'"

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