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Sweepstakes winners’ cold feet almost leave clerk waiting at Valentine’s altar

Leticia Vargas, 72, and Jose Raygoza, 69, didn't mind stepping in when the original winners of the Cook County clerk's Valentine's Day sweepstakes decided not to get married Thursday. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Plastic flutes fizzing with champagne, pink balloons, a heart-shaped pizza and even a faux English country backdrop — all for a young West Side couple who wanted to marry on Valentine’s Day.

Then, a hitch.

“We’re going to have to wait for a little bit,” Jim Scalzitti, a Cook County deputy clerk, said through clenched teeth. “Our original couple got cold feet. They’ve changed their minds.”

But as the bubbles popped and the pizza cooled in the basement of 50 W. Washington St., Scalzitti and the rest of Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s team went into action Thursday to try to save her first “Valentine’s Day Marriage Sweepstakes” from being a disaster.

Up stepped Leticia Vargas, 72, and Jose Raygoza, 69, of the Brighton Park neighborhood. They’d picked up a marriage license earlier Thursday, hoping to be wed the same day — but left disappointed, not realizing Illinois law required them to wait a day.

The couple — who have lived together for 26 years — were strolling through Millennium Park when they got a call from the clerk’s office. Could they return to the office? Right now?

Video by Stefano Esposito | Leticia Vargas, 72, and Jose Raygoza, 69, exchanged wedding vows Thursday at 50 West Washington.

The couple — stopping frequently to kiss — arrived a few minutes later, to the delight of the entire office, many of whom were dressed in red.

Perhaps no one was more thrilled — or relieved — than Yarbrough, whose staff had quickly obtained a judge’s permission to waive the one-day rule.

“I’m really happy you’re here,” Yarbrough said, as she conducted the ceremony. “I was looking to marry somebody today and, actually, they got cold feet. It happens.”

Vargas and Raygoza also received a bouquet, dinner for two at Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, tickets to a Laugh Factory comedy show and a tour and wine tasting at City Winery — all gifts the original couple had to pass up.

The newlyweds didn’t seem to be the least bit disappointed at being fill-ins.

“I waited for a long time, and I’m glad it finally (happened),” Vargas said. “I was very patient.”

Asked why it took almost three decades to tie the knot, Raygoza replied, “To be sure.”

Leticia Vargas, 72, and Jose Raygoza, 69, thought they’d have to wait another day to bet married. But another couple’s decision to put things off was a lucky break for them. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times
Leticia Vargas, 72, and Jose Raygoza, 69, thought they’d have to wait another day to bet married. But another couple’s decision to put things off was a lucky break for them. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times