By NATALIE WEBER, Tampa Bay Times
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Clad in a purple dress shirt, black slacks and a mask, wedding officiant Nan Klater stood near the water on Harbour Island in Tampa and faced the brides on a balmy January afternoon.
Before her were Tiffany Velazquez and Yaribilisa Colon, who were preparing to commit their lives to each other in front of their families and friends.
“By the power and authority vested in me by the state of Florida, I now pronounce you wife and wife and spouses for life,” Klater declared to the young couple.
It was one of more than 2,000 ceremonies Klater has presided over, many of them for same-sex couples. For over 25 years, the 63-year-old has officiated weddings across Tampa Bay. Since 2010, many of those have been held in her South Tampa “wedding hall-gym,” where mats, fitness balls and weights are hidden behind a red divider and swapped for chairs and wedding decor.
“I always say I’m in the commitment business,” she said. “I’ll commit you to your husband and wife or I’ll commit you to yourself for your fitness goals.”
The beginnings of two businesses
Though she was born in Pittsburgh, Klater has spent much of her life in Florida. When she was 10, her mother died of heart issues. Her father later remarried and the family moved to the Sunshine State.
Growing up in households filled with love, Klater said her own view of marriage was shaped by her parents.
“I felt like I was born of two loving people and then when Dad remarried, I saw the second version of two loving people,” Klater said. “They showed me how to have a relationship. They showed me how to have a marriage.”
As an adult, Klater ran a cellphone and pager business, notarizing documents as an add-on to her services. She befriended the owners of a tattoo parlor nearby and the couple asked her to marry them. So Klater researched how to become a wedding officiant and was certified in the state of Florida.
As beepers faded out of style, Klater sought a new business model. She still helped couples tie the knot from time to time and wondered if she could pivot to the wedding business.
But Klater herself could not legally be married. In 2004, she and her wife, Gabrielle Barry, exchanged vows in Tampa’s Ballast Point Park in a private ceremony with just the two of them and their dog. It would be another 11 years before Florida would recognize marriages between same-sex couples.
“I grew up thinking that I would probably never be legally married,” Klater said. “So to us, the commitment ceremony was a ceremony of the heart.”
Klater and Barry each wrote down their vision for the relationship — what they needed and wanted from each other as they spent the rest of their lives together. And they promised they would stick together no matter what.
They drew up wills, filled out health care surrogate forms and granted each other power of attorney, the only legal options they had.
Throughout the years, Klater continued to officiate for other same-sex couples.
There was no question that Klater would officiate for Sherry Trunzo and Kim Ann Callan when they decided to commit their lives to each other in 2005.
Callan knew Klater through a women’s professional network. Klater helped Callan when she moved to Lakeland and often attended art showings that Callan and other friends organized. Later, Callan would introduce Trunzo to Klater.
“That we knew her and she was gay — it meant a lot more to be having her do it because it’s kind of like we were all in solidarity together,” Trunzo, now 59, said. “It wasn’t like somebody that was just doing it because we were paying them to do it.”
Around the same time, Klater began developing her fitness business. In 2005, she started seeing a personal trainer, but didn’t like his style. So she began to research how to become a fitness trainer and eventually started volunteering to teach classes at a city of Tampa gym she attended. In 2010, she purchased the studio in a strip mall on S Dale Mabry Highway where she now operates her two businesses, Ceremonies by Nan and Fitness Fun by Nan.
A ‘grand community of love’
After California legalized same-sex marriages, Klater and Barry traveled to San Diego to officially tie the knot in 2013. To Klater, love means her wife and the life they share. But it’s also bigger than that.
“We also have this grand community of love,” she said.
That community includes the couples she weds.
“I’m their best friend, sometimes for a year, sometimes for just that day,” Klater said.
Many years later, Callan and Trunzo still keep in touch with Klater.
“She’s one of those people that if you don’t see her for a year, it doesn’t matter,” said Callan, 63. “You pick up right where you left off.”
Even with couples she’s only known briefly, Klater tries to make the process easy to understand.
“She pretty much explains everything in detail,” said Colon, 26, whose marriage to Velazquez, 25, on Harbour Island was officiated by Klater.
For Brooks Wilkins, 56, and Suzanne Snyder, 57, Klater’s willingness to work with them, as well as her ability to operate out of her own studio, stood out to them when they decided to get married.
The couple exchanged vows in Klater’s wedding hall on Jan. 19. Before they walked into the studio, Klater started a playlist, with Bruno Mars’ Marry You first on the list. As Klater helped them say their vows, she stood under an arch wrapped in white tulle and golden Christmas lights against a pink wall.
Wilkins and Snyder exchanged a kiss. One of the reasons they chose Klater was because she seemed to be someone who exuded “peace, love and harmony.”
“We got that vibe from Nan,” Snyder said.
Klater also strives to care for her fitness class of seniors.
When the pandemic began, she moved her classes online so the group could continue to meet safely. During one December workout, Klater and Barry led their students through squats, planks and meditation as they broadcast from a room in their home, decorated with a menorah, Christmas tree and a Santa Snoopy.
The classes provide more than a simple workout. After one member, Peter Arizu, underwent surgery, members of the group brought him cookies and Klater visited the 77-year-old.
“We really appreciate each other immensely and contribute to each other’s well-being,” Arizu said. “And there’s so much compassion in this group.”
Between her two businesses, Klater is busy, as her wife can attest. But Barry said the couple has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever really retire,” Barry said, “because people need us and we need them.”
When they’re not working, Klater and Barry like to spend time with their godchildren.
Christina Hoggard met Klater as a child. Now, Klater and Barry are godparents to Hoggard’s children, Kaly Mabe, who turns 14 Saturday, and Cooper Anderson, 10. Klater helps take care of the kids from time to time, picking them up after school and taking them to extracurricular activities.
“She will do anything for anybody,” Hoggard said. “She will just go to the ends of the earth to make sure that you’re well taken care of.”
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