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Her Name Is Hope

Guest List for Wedding Stretches from Express Lane to Country Club

Her name is Hope, and she stopped the rain.

Or so it seemed to the wedding guests who crowded under umbrellas at the Fairfax Hunt Club Sunday to form a gallery of people.

They watched their spiritual icon, ever-smiling Thom Kiah, exchange vows with the barefoot bride he met just eight months ago in Santa Fe. Their outdoor wedding was dampened by soft raindrops and decorated with purple flowers.

Kiah is the “celebrity checker” at the Safeway, the man in a red apron with a bottomless bag of Dum-Dums who often seems to be the only nonjudgmental adult in all the land.

Over the years, he has encouraged thousands of children hundreds of times with a smile, an inquiry, and one fast minute of genuine caring and concern, something that can be rare in a fast-paced world populated with Type A adults.

In Great Falls, Kiah is Mr. Rogers, Mr. Greenjeans and Barney all in one person. Last Sunday, he got married.

It would have been the same if it had been Mr. Rogers, Mr. Greenjeans or Barney getting married.

Any scriptwriter would, of course, name the bride Hope, and she would be barefoot.

She would wear a flowery dress and the same inexhaustible smile of acceptance that defines Thom.

She would carry a big bouquet of spring flowers with pink and lavender the predominant colors. She would wear a picture hat.

At the wedding, her relatives would read unsophisticated, rhyming poems they had written themselves, describing their initial curiosity about Thom, the man who came to Santa Fe and made Hope smile.

Hope would be, like Thom, an adult who somehow seems free. She would do something cool, like design Web pages. They would write their own vows, and the minister would let them.

Their friends and families would be indistinguishable and would group together in ribboned-off queues on a grassy hillside and beam at them. They would never mind the rain.

They would eye each other curiously, as if to say, “If you love him [her]. and [s]he loves her [him], then you must love me, too.”

That is just how it happened on May 25 at the Fairfax Hunt Club when Thom Kiah married Hope Ostheimer.

LIKE ANY FAMILY celebrating a wedding, people who hadn’t previously thought of each other as family smiled uncontrollably.

They formed a gallery that sliced through the steep economic strata of eclectic Great Falls.

A toddler scooped up rose petals from the wet grass after they were sprinkled by flower girl Akeira Parker. Family friend Harry Burney sang love songs that were, somehow, not treacly.

The people themselves came together like a PAC for goodhearted people who believe in a universal form of kindness that had elected Thom Kiah the “unofficial mayor” of Great Falls.

They were the kind of people who shrug away stress, disregard life’s annoyances, and smile all the time.

Kari Miller, a member of the Great Falls Ecumenical Council, said it was Kiah who drew them together.

“I know what we think of Thom,” she said. “He was so kind to our children for years. But I am always surprised that everyone else feels that way, too.”

“These were the real people. They were people from different factions of Great Falls,” Miller said.

“It was like we were his family, just like his blood family.”

"Safeway really does bring us together. "Otherwise we don’t have a commonality,” Miller said. “The staff is the only reason we go in there.”

Professional pet sitter Eleanor Anderson, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association, an inveterate lover of pets, said “It was just so sweet. It was just a wonderful event.

“When I got the [e-mailed] invitation, I said, ‘Thank you for lifting all our spirits.’

“It was a wonderful thing to contemplate their wedding and how joyful it was going to be,” Anderson said. “For him to meet this lovely lady, it was just so wonderful.”

“Thom changed the express checkout into a receiving line,” said John Adams of McLean, the president of the Georgetown Pike Association and the person who prompted its preservation as Virginia’s first scenic byway. “He always has a question, and he engages you in animated conversation,” Adams said. The Great Falls Safeway is the only grocery on the Pike.

Safeway customer Charlotte Edwards watched; she became friends with Thom when she was a competitive runner and would drop by the store for frozen yogurt when she was in training. He came to her events to cheer her on.

When Kari Miller attempted a triathlon, Kiah helped teach her to ride a bike in competition.

The wedding, in an outdoor setting, was itself a community creation.

“People feel so close to Thom, they were offering their help” on Saturday before the wedding, Miller said. “They would just stop by [the Hunt Club] and pull it together.”

Pat Budwig of Starshine Theater, who writes and directs children’s productions with singing and dancing, created a processional aisle on a hillside at the Fairfax Hunt Club, decorating it with lavender ribbons and purple gladioluses.

Kari Miller, Kim Chase and others added flowers to an arbor that was designed and built by Hong Lee.

More flowers were arranged by Anne Bentz, Lisa Donagan, Cicily Orlando and Jean Shea.

Mike Kearney of Brogue Charities was outside parking cars.

Richard Keller, pastor of Great Falls United Methodist Church, performed the wedding.

“It was a real community event,” he said, commenting on the “outpouring of community love and good wishes for Thom and Hope.

“It was a beautiful thing to see. You don’t see that a lot with weddings in general,” Keller said. “They are often geared more toward the couple and the family.”

Don McCoy of Stonegate Farm, an amateur photographer, stood behind the flowered arbor to take photos. So did many other guests who dropped their disposable cameras in a basket for the bride and groom.

It was almost like a script for “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

At the end, you know what any scriptwriter would do.

After making it rain during the wedding, after the vows, the rain would stop.

Just as it did at the Fairfax Hunt Club on Sunday, at the real-life wedding of Hope and Thom.