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NC couple jump into marriage in Bland County

NC couple jump into marriage in Bland County

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You could say Tommy Thompson and Zinnia Landreth simply glided into marriage over the July 4 weekend.

The two dated for more than two years and been engaged for more than half of that time. Covid took a bite out of their wedding plans, so they decided just to wait for a better time. They’d know when the time was right, they figured.

And that time was Friday, July 2, as they prepared to travel to Bland County so that Tommy could hang glide off of Big Walker Mountain. He’s a veteran hang glider pilot who has jumped off of hills, dunes and mountains for five decades.

So, as they loaded up their van, Tommy called the Bland County Courthouse to see how much a marriage license would cost. He was told $30, but to arrive before 4 p.m. to leave time to fill out the paperwork. No sweat, he thought.

Then, he and Zinnia hit the road. The traffic that holiday weekend was horrendous. They ended up taking back roads for as long as they could, but eventually had to get on I-77 and head for the Big Walker Tunnel. Traffic was at a near stand-still, moving a piddling 10 miles per hour. But they finally made it to the courthouse with 10 minutes to spare.

But on Saturday, Zinnia got sick with a stomach bug, so Tommy headed over to Trent’s Grocery to get her some Sprite to settle her stomach. Inside was Randy Kiser.

“I told him my fiancée was sick and asked if he knew anybody who could marry us, that we bought a license and would like to get married,” Tommy said.

He picked a good person to ask, Randy and his wife, Goldie, probably know everyone in Bland County. They sent out a call on Facebook – but it was a holiday weekend, and no one could help. So, Tommy and Zinnia decided to go back down the mountain to their home near Pilot Mountain in North Carolina.

They were home less than half an hour when wedding officiant Todd A. Gray from Princeton, West Virginia, called to say he would be happy to marry them. So, on July 4, the couple returned to Jim Bogle’s farm on Big Walker to tie the knot.

Hang gliding 3

“In the face of all of your problems, or obstacles, when you least expect anything to turn around, then Bam – all of a sudden it works out,” Tommy said. “So the next day, we took a Jeep to the top of the mountain. The wind was blowing in, it was nice and cool. Just perfect weather … we had a beautiful ceremony.”

They honeymooned at Kure Beach in North Carolina.

A Vietnam War veteran and paratrooper who flew with the 82nd Airbone Division, Thompson wanted to get married on Independence Day for a reason.

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“It’s easy to remember, plus, I’m very patriotic and really wanted a July 4 wedding. I love our civil liberties and our freedoms, and I really appreciate what people have done for our country in the past,” he said.

Tommy and Zinnia agreed – it was a lovely wedding in a beautiful spot.

“Nothing was planned,” Tommy said. “We just went with the roll – it was pretty awesome.”

Hang gliding 4

The couple met more than two years ago when widower Tommy searched for cabinet and door hinges to match those in his 1965 house. A random conversation led him to an antiques store in King, North Carolina, where he met the owner's daughter - Zinnia. A few dinners later, they were an item.

Tommy, who is also a licensed private airplane pilot, has hang glided at 60 different sites in places like Canada, California, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia, New York and North Carolina, where he is a member of Grandfather Mountain’s Order of the Raven – an honor bestowed to only 200 hang gliders back in the 1970s.

“You had to hang glide for more than an hour,” he said. “They actually timed it, and if you missed it by a minute, you didn’t get it. It took them seven years to give out all of the awards because of the ruggedness of the mountains and the crudeness of the wings at the time. We were flying Volkswagens back then; now we’ve got Porches.”

Zinnia leaves the hang gliding to Tommy. One of her favorite hobbies is gardening and tending to their 16 flower beds. Together, the couple enjoys paddling kayaks and riding mountain bikes.

Tommy’s longest ride lasted 8 hours and 35 minutes at Sauratown Mountains in Stokes County, North Carolina. Tommy knows his hang gliding spots and says that Big Walker Mountain is one of the best places east of the Mississippi River. His favorite launch site – and where he and Zinnia married - is at the crest of Route 738 going over into the Little Walker Valley.

“It’s some of the best flying you can do,” he said. “I’m telling you, it’s got a reputation that you have to be a pretty good pilot to go there; it’s not a place you come to play.”

Tommy and Zinnia are both retired. He worked at RJ Reynolds for 37 years. Zinnia helped her dad and worked as a YMCA personal trainer. He’s 66 and she’s 50.

Tommy recalled their first meeting: “I said, you’ve never been married? You’ve been hiding under a rock then. And you are hiding real well.”

 “I was just waiting for the right man,” his wife said Monday.

To see Tommy in action, visit his YouTube Channel: Thomas Thompson.

To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 276-228-6611, ext. 573, or email

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