Dr. Ellen Panzer and Alan Schwartz were married May 19 in the parking lot of the Monroe Township Municipal Courthouse in Monroe, N.J. But as the bride noted, “In our minds we were already married, we just needed to make it official.”
Dr. Panzer, 59, a sports physician for New York City high school sports based in Forest Hills, Queens, and Mr. Schwartz, 63, who owns a business refurbishing automobile interiors, maintained a safe distance from a wedding party that included George Boyd, a municipal judge in Monroe, and their two witnesses, Susan Panzer, the bride’s sister, and Barry Schwartz, the groom’s brother.
The bride’s parents, Barbara Panzer and Morty Panzer of Floral Park, Queens, were unable to attend because of threats posed by the coronavirus. But they had a chance to congratulate the newlyweds at a Zoom after party created by the bride’s three daughters, Leah Herz, Rachel Herz, and Rebecca Herz
“We were meant to be together,” said Mr. Schwartz, whose relationship status with Dr. Panzer has changed numerous times since they were first neighbors, then friends, growing up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. She lived on East 104th Street and he on East 87th.
The years sailed by and they became really good friends who married other people, though Mr. Schwartz did maintain a patient-doctor relationship that included Mr. Schwartz’s wife and his daughter, Tamara.
In the late 1990s, Dr. Panzer left Canarsie for Hewett, N.Y., but she and Mr. Schwartz, who eventually moved to New Jersey, kept in touch.
Their unplanned journey to each other then went through some painful places. In 2013, Dr. Panzer, who had been married for 20 years, got divorced.
Three years ago, Mr. Schwartz, who lives in Monroe, became a widower.
“I’ve gone through a lot over the years and I have realized that you just have to live your life,” Mr. Schwartz said. “You cannot let things you have no control over dictate how you’re going to live. You have to deal with it and move on.”
Mr. Schwartz remained friends with Dr. Panzer — they are both outdoors enthusiasts — and about two years ago, they turned a serious corner.
“We both knew we wanted to get married again, and to each other,” Dr. Panzer said.
“When we first reached out to Monroe Township in late March to inquire about marriage licenses, their office was closed,” she said. “But a real nice woman there named Patty said, ‘We will put you on the list.’”
Dr. Panzer thanked her and received another call from Monroe Township a few days later telling her that she and Mr. Schwartz would indeed be the first couple to get married in Monroe Township since its city clerk’s office began holding civil services again (though only on Tuesdays).
“I have 2,500 friends on Facebook,” Dr. Panzer said. “I’m very involved in community stuff, so the minute we posted the wedding, we had over a thousand people wishing us well. And then it hit television news about an hour and a half later, and we were deluged with many, many more calls from people telling us that at a time when all they keep hearing is bad things, our story was very uplifting to them.”