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And then there were 10: Marriage derby heats up

Suitors show up in Southbridge

SOUTHBRIDGE -- The suitors arrived on Donna and Peter Wood's freshly mowed front lawn one by one yesterday morning, passing a horde of curious neighbors and a row of television cameras as they stepped into dating history.

Some wore hip sunglasses; some carried roses; one guy even brought his mother. Among the candidates: a Coast Guard officer, a cable installer, and a few truck drivers. But no doctors or lawyers.

The turnout wasn't quite what the Woods or their 22-year-old daughter, Kimberly Devlin, had expected.

In the past two weeks, newspapers, television stations, and radio stations have chronicled Donna Wood's plan to find a husband for her daughter by accepting applications from men ages 21 to 30 and then holding open auditions at her home. Wood has expressed dissatisfaction with her daughter's taste in men.

Given such publicity, and signs reading "Who Wants to Marry Our Daughter" posted on the front lawn, more than 100 potential suitors have inquired about Devlin, who has a 4-year-old daughter.

But in the end, only 10 brave souls were willing to put their hearts -- and egos -- on the line.

"If it doesn't work out, then it just wasn't meant for me," said Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Mike Goguen, 30, of Boston, one of the first suitors to arrive. "But if it does, what a great story."

Each bachelor introduced himself to Wood and handed her a photograph and an essay on why he would be Devlin's perfect mate. (Peter Wood, Devlin's stepfather, was in bed with the flu.) The suitors each then took a seat on one of the chairs spread across the lawn, waiting to be called, as neighbors looked on with smiles or frowns on their faces.

At about 10:15 a.m., Wood assembled her judges. Drawing from a list of 25 questions, she, friends Brenda and Mike Nardone, and Devlin's best friend, Beth Lavine, called the bachelors one-by-one to their table and asked them everything from their favorite movie to how they would handle a screaming child in a restaurant.

"What would you do," Lavine asked bachelor Bill Carr, 23, a truck driver from Southbridge, "if Kim borrowed your brand new car to go get cigarettes and totaled it?"

"Well," Carr said, choosing his words carefully, "as long as she was all right, it wouldn't matter."

"Seriously?" piped in Wood. "Now my husband, if I came home with even a scratch on the car, he'd strangle me."

"Would you help her raise the children?" Brenda Nardone asked the next bachelor, Bill Fassett, 24, a sheet metal worker from Worcester.

"The children would be my No. 1 priority," said Fassett.

"I like that answer," Nardone said. "I like that answer."

Most suitors said they had come to the tryout because they had grown tired of the bar and club scene.

"I knew more about her before I showed up today than I'd know about any girl I meet in a bar," said Rick Clancy, 30, a computer technician from Ware. "I know her height, her weight, what she likes, and who her family is."

Others professed an immediate attraction after seeing photos of Devlin, who wore a flattering top, a jean skirt, and platform sandals as she took notes during the interviews and talked on her cellphone.

Still, few bachelors were prepared for television cameras recording their every word, or for their answers being broadcast on a sound system so the whole neighborhood could hear.

"I never thought it would be like this," said one overwhelmed suitor. "I think I might have to vote myself off the island, you know what I mean?"

There was also the agony of watching a competitor hit it off with the judges, or with Devlin.

"What was your first thought upon arriving here?" asked Brenda Nardone. "Go home! Run!" joked Goguen, inspiring laughter and a wink from the bachelorette.

The suitors will all be invited back next weekend, Wood said, with a few being eliminated each week until just one is left.

Declaring herself thrilled with the results of her scheme thus far, Wood said the suitors represent a far better crop than the men her daughter usually brings home.

"I think it turned out very well," she said. "I think her soul mate is in that bunch of guys right here."

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