Katy Caldwell and her fiancé Stephen Mertz told their wedding officiant that they didn’t want a “cookie cutter wedding,” then asked, “Is that OK with you?”
“I love it,” replied Michael McCracken, a retired alcohol and drug prevention counselor at Analy High School.
And what’s not to love? About 200 guests gathered June 13 at the Friedman Center to watch as roller derby queen Lady Sparks wed Mertz, a tattoo artist who describes his own flesh as pretty much covered with ink from the waist up.
Although their vows were traditional, the event was anything but, from the Rockabilly theme to the “Living Dead” wedding cake topper.
The couple met five years ago when Caldwell went looking for a gift certificate to offer as a roller derby team raffle prize. She stopped at Von Konig Tattoo & Piercing in Santa Rosa (formerly Evolution) and left with more than just a gift certificate.
They saw each other occasionally for two years, until Caldwell asked him to attend a roller derby bout.
“We were both shy,” Mertz said. “We had our first date at The Zoo nightclub in Santa Rosa after the game. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
“She just seemed honest. She was herself, her own person, and she had a great smile.”
Caldwell said, “He has old school ways about him and good morals and values, like my dad.”
Mertz proposed on June 6, 2014, at the Rockabilly Roller Derby Circus at Santa Rosa’s Arlene Francis Center. It’s the first marriage for both.
“We were both single for a long time until we made that genuine connection,” Mertz said.
“It pays to wait,” they said in unison.
Caldwell, 37, has an 11-year-old daughter Estrella, and Mertz, 45, has daughters Elizabeth, 20, and Natalie, 18. The couple and their children live and raise pigs at the Sebastopol farm that once belonged to Caldwell’s grandfather, but that’s where the Norman Rockwell similarity ends.
Mertz fabricates stone sinks and vanities in Petaluma, and Caldwell sews and creates art decorations for Santa Rosa’s Rose Parade floats. Both also enjoy making stone and metal sculptures on their farm.
“Katy works and paints in her skates,” Mertz added.
So, of course, she skated down the aisle to the Johnny Cash anthem, “Rose of My Heart,” on the arm of her father, Larry Caldwell, and decked out in a vintage off-white wedding gown with a black lace bodice and red petticoat. She spent the rest of the evening skating between guests, her family, the buffet table and the dance floor.
The bridesmaids, wearing red dresses with white polka dots, also skated to the altar, where they met the groom, his chihuahua Lupe and groomsmen outfitted in tuxedos, red sneakers and black ball caps. Best man Joel Silva Jr., 7, stood in for his late father Joel, a longtime friend of the groom.
And during the ceremony, Caldwell promised Mertz, “I will always skate beside you.”
The groom’s father is deceased, but his mother, Ursula Mertz of Santa Rosa, was there to see her son tie the (shoelace) knot. Guests included a robust number of skaters from the Sonoma County Roller Derby League, Resurrection Roller Girls League and other North Bay teams in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, some of whom also wore skates.
Laura Aramendia, whose derby name is Pain, said she has been skating with Caldwell for six years. “She transformed the whole roller derby community. We have 25 girls on the Sonoma County team, and we’re always recruiting.”
Lee Gregorio, aka Leethal, met Caldwell three years ago as she walking down Santa Rosa’s Mendocino Avenue. “She came by on her skates and said, ‘You look like you want to be a roller girl.’
“I’ve never had anything mean so much to me until I found roller derby. Sparks is the poster girl. We’re here because she means so much to us, and Stephen is a soft-spoken derby man.”
Resurrection Roller Girls League members skate at Cal Skate in Rohnert Park on teams named Cinderollas, Combustin’ Betties and Fallin’ Angels. Between late January or early February and November, they travel to compete along the west coast and participate in charitable fundraising events.
Men serve as referees and scorekeepers. A Men’s Roller Derby Association has been operating for about three years, Pain said, but men who don’t skate are referred to as “derby widows.”
“There are 30 people just helping with the game,” said Monique Evans of Cloverdale, aka Miss Kitty MaulHER. “We have to set up and tear down at each bout. Derby is a sport where you are at home wherever you go.”
After the wedding, Caldwell and Mertz headed to San Francisco for a brief honeymoon.
“They like being close to home,” said Linda Caldwell, who served as her daughter’s event planner.
They commissioned Sacramento sculptor Tamra Kohl to make “Night of the Living Dead” bride, groom and chihuahua wedding toppers, and ordered a Rockabilly aisle runner from the UK, but stuck close to home for most of the wedding services:
— Veejay Jessie filled the hall with songs;
— Friedman Event Center staff prepare enchiladas, carnitas, Parmesan chicken, Spanish rice and green salad for the buffet;
— Former roller derby skater Tiffany Birnard, who now works in the Safeway bakery, made the three-layer white on white wedding cake;
— The bride’s dress came from Starlet in Montgomery Village, and her make-up was done by Veronica Sjoen of San Francisco;
— Angela Pelikan of Hairspray Beauty Lounge in Santa Rosa did pin-up hairdos for all the women in the bridal party;
— Roller derby photographers Phillip Pavlinger and Chi Chi took photos, along with photographer and event coordinator Kathleen McCallum, a family friend.
“It’s my fairytale wedding,” the bride said after the ceremony. “It was perfect right down to the temperature.”
Contact Towns Correspondent James Lanaras at WindsorTownNews@gmail.com.
Editor’s Note: The name of the hairstylist and her business have been updated in this version of the story.