In honor of Valentine’s Day, we tell of when sparks first flew for local couples:
KIRBY AND TINA WHITE—OWNERS, HOMESKILLET RESTAURANT
They met in in October 1999 in Antarctica, cooking for 1,200 or so scientists and support staff at research facility McMurdo Station. Kirby, now 53, was a galley cook. Tina, the same age, was his boss, the sous chef. As she welcomed him, Tina slipped and face-planted into a snow drift. “I meant to do that,” she said. They quickly became friends over the next two months, working in the kitchen and spending their time off together. “I fell for him like a ton of bricks the first time I saw him cook,” Tina says now. On Christmas 1999, they held hands for the first time and kissed that night. Eight months later, Kirby proposed while camping in temperatures 100 below zero F. Nearly two years later, they married in Takaka, New Zealand.
“The first five years were great. The next five were better; the following five better yet,” Kirby says. “Sorry to say, we are on our way to the best five.” After settling in Bellingham, the pair opened popular Bellingham breakfast spot, Homeskillet, in 2012.
CHUCK AND DEE ROBINSON—FOUNDERS, VILLAGE BOOKS
Chuck says he fell for Dee, literally and figuratively, during an ice-skating party while both were freshmen at South Dakota’s Sioux Falls College (now the University of Sioux Falls) in the mid-1960s.
They started to see each other frequently because of mutual friends. Then they started dating, eventually getting engaged on Dee’s birthday in sophomore year. They married the winter of junior year. The Robinsons opened Village Books in Bellingham in June 1980, where it was the cornerstone to the eventual development of the now-bustling Fairhaven district. The couple sold the store to three employees in 2017. Today, Chuck and Dee are quietly living in Lynden where, in December, the two just celebrated their 51st anniversary.
MARIAH AND SEZAYI ERKEN, ANACORTES
At a dinner party 10 years ago in Istanbul, Turkey, Mariah Bennett was describing the qualities she wanted in a husband. One guest, Sezayi Erken, piped up. “That sounds like me. When should we get married?” Mariah played along: “In three years.” Sezayi said, “No. In a year.” To settle things, they arm-wrestled (of course!). Sezayi won. Later that evening, they decided that if they were going to have children, they should probably get married. Then, they had their first kiss. Five months later they were married. Currently, Mariah works as a manager at Pelican Bay Books. The two have had an adventurous 10 years of marriage, including one son.
BRENDA AND BRIAN KOTEWA, DISABILITY ADVOCATES
When Brenda Kotewa was a college freshman in Minnesota, she was in a relationship that wasn’t working. The two were not compatible, but she stuck it out, thinking that it was her only chance at love as a young person who is a wheelchair user. Soon after their engagement, however, she decided that being alone and happy was the better option.
Shortly after, she moved to Idaho, where she met cultural anthropologist Brian Kotewa through mutual friends. Brian and his two sisters were disability rights advocates, and he spent summers aiding people with disabilities in and out of boats as they navigated the Snake River rapids in Idaho. “After turning him down for dates several times, he won my heart and we got married in 1998,” Brenda says.
Brenda, an accommodations counselor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, has dedicated her career to disability advocacy. Brian has worked with the Northwest Americans with Disability Act Center and related organizations. “I have fun when we get the occasional opportunity to be a superhero duo when it comes to social justice,” Brenda says.
JERRY HRUSKA AND VIVIAN MAZZOLA, SWEET ART
In their candy shop and art gallery on downtown Bellingham’s Railroad Avenue, Jerry, often seen in a floppy chef’s hat, serves up elaborate stories alongside his candy. In 1976, he was in Laguna Beach, Calif., making chocolate turtles and other treats for a living. While he was taking a sculpture class at the local art institute, a model named Vivian caught his eye. Jerry started making daily trips to the upscale art store where she worked. He’d buy a single pencil, a different color each day. “They were only a dollar, and I was just buying them because it gave me an excuse to go in the art store,” he says with a sly smile. Eventually the two began drawing together. More than four decades later, he makes chocolate and she makes paintings that adorn the shop’s walls.
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