13 CARES: The Marrying Judge
After thirty four years on the bench, Judge Joel Novak has seen it all. He’s presided over everything from murder cases to the franchise fee dispute. “You can’t find anything real happy about taking someone’s freedom away or dissolving a family,” he says of his job.
That’s why he spends so much of his free time creating families. He’s lost count of how marriages he’s done over the past three decades but it’s enough that a lot of people call him “The Marryin’ Judge of Polk County”!
Liliana and Albert Cruz picked Judge Novak for their wedding because he speaks Spanish and, because he’s funny.
It’s also why four employees at the Iowa Dental Group chose him. “He’s one of those patients that’s kind of part of our office family,” says Joni Embree-Meinders. She always knew he was funny, but she found out, he’s also very kind.
He made a point of spending time with her kids months before the wedding. During one meeting Joni asked her son if he knew what a judge does. His answer was, “You save the world!” Judge Novak’s response was to grab a Superman costume out of his coat closet and explain that he used it when he was saving the world. To say he made an impression is an understatement.
“He’s one of those guys that the first time you meet him you feel like you’ve known him for years,” Dr. Brett Barber says with a laugh. He and his wife Kimberly exchanged their vows in the dental office waiting room. “He brought me to tears,” Kimberly remembers, “just some of the things he said were so touching, they touched my heart.”
What he says is touching and what he does is, too. If couples don’t have rings he refuses to let them pay him. For Judge Novak, the ring is a symbol and a reminder. “It’s kinda nice,” he says, “you have a ring and you sit there and you think, I wonder what she’s doing today?”
He’s been married to Kay longer than he’s been on the bench. “I happen to think she’s drop dead gorgeous. She’s the nicest, kindest, most caring person I’ve ever met in my life and she does it from her heart without any expectations of anything in return.”
When you have a marriage that good you want to bring others together. “That’s another reason I like doing weddings, when I’m done it recharges my batteries and I say to myself, when’s the last time you went home and told Kay you love her?”
The hope is that the days turn into months, then years, and eventually decades.