In honor of Valentine’s Day, you’re invited to enjoy three (very different!) love stories as told by people in your neighborhood. Get comfy and grab a cup of something warm– we hope you enjoy these tales as much as we did.
PETER AND BRENT
Peter Wagner is a journalist and Brent Bode is a college admissions counselor. They are residents of Ferndale and were married in July of 2021.
How they met After connecting online, the couple spent their first date playing Jeopardy.
“I thought this was going to be a chance to win,” Wagner says. “And I got my ass kicked very profoundly, very quickly, which I think endeared me to you a little bit.”
For their second date, the pair attended a fiddle show at the Mount Baker Theatre. Wagner notes that they both sent pictures of them together to their parents, which he admits is an unusual thing to do on a second date, but they had an intuition that things would continue to go well.
“There was just something about that second time,” Wagner says. “I just thought, you know, this is somebody that I think will be staying around for a long time.”
Life in Whatcom County Wagner has lived in Whatcom County for two decades, whereas Bode has been in the area since 2009.
“I feel like our entire relationship was born here and has lived its entire life here,” Wagner says. “And I feel like it’s just an inseparable part of the background hum of our lives.”
Weddings in the time of COVID Wagner and Bode’s wedding was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, but the couple were forced to postpone due to the pandemic.
“There was a point where we thought, are we even going to do this? Is this even practical? Again? To try to hold a wedding?” Wagner says. “But we’d also agreed that July 31, hell or high water, we’re going to get married– whether it’s just the two of us and his sister, who was the officiant on Zoom, or if it was everybody who could be there.”
The big day After months of scrambling to organize a COVID-safe wedding that still felt meaningful, the guest list was pared down from 50 to 18 people. However, many of their closest family members and friends were still able to attend. Bode and Wagner were finally married on July 31, 2021, surrounded by loved ones.
What they admire about each other Above all, Bode and Wagner share a mutual appreciation for each other’s empathy. Wagner also notes that Bode is the most pragmatic, reasonable, and thoughtful person he has ever met.
Both men have service-based careers, and Wagner admires Bode’s dedication to helping students attend college– particularly those from marginalized groups. Bode points out that Wagner’s work as a journalist is evidence of his compassion towards people and communities.
“Making sure that the information is out, and that we can all be together in the way that we really need to be, is an important core part of who he is,” Bode says. “And I see that every day; I see it in the way that he treats other people.”
JULIE-ANNE AND MIKE
Julie-Anne Butschli is the Family Service Center Coordinator for the Blaine School District, and Mike Butschli is the general manager of a luxury linens company. They have been married for 34 years.
How they met Julie and Mike were both born in Canada and moved to Washington with their families as children. Julie grew up in Bellingham, Mike was raised in Fife, and both attended Western Washington University in the late ‘80s.
“That’s where I met Julie,” Mike says. “I saw her going down the hallway and Mathes Hall and had to figure out who she was.”
Life now As evidenced by Julie’s line of work and Mike’s many years as a soccer coach, both have a natural ability to connect with young people.[Text Wrapping Break] “I work with kids who have had a lot of the experiences that I had growing up,” Julie says. “I now work for the Blaine School District, and up until about a year ago, I was the behavior specialist. And then the opportunity came to be the coordinator for the Family Service Center, so I’m directly working with families who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, kids who are in foster care. It’s a perfect fit.”
Julie and Mike share two sons together, and the pair are also close to Mike’s daughter from a previous relationship.
The importance of family (blood and otherwise) “Through the course of all of this, we have extra children,” Julie says. “I think it’s obviously a huge part of who we are as family– family of the heart and family by blood.”
Many of these “unofficial” kids came to the couple via their biological sons. Julie recalls one friend who stayed with the pair for nearly a year while struggling with school and his own home life. In another example, one of their son’s middle school classmates stayed with the family for ten months after serving time in juvenile detention.
Both of the Butschlis’ sons are grown and living in Seattle. However, Friday nights are still reserved for dinner at Paso del Norte with their “family of the heart.”
“They know they can come and talk to us about their challenges, their issues,” Mike says. “They are very, very important to us. And they know that and it’s evident to them. And as a result, we’re pretty important to them.”
What they admire about each other Mike describes Julie as beautiful inside and out and loves her nurturing and compassionate nature. In addition, Julie admires Mike’s intelligence, kindness, and steadiness.
“He’s a rock, he’s loyal,” Julie says. “We’re both kind of stubborn, but I think we’ve learned a lot about each other and how to push through when we need to push through. We know that this is a choice. It’s a commitment– and it’s absolutely worth fighting for because we built a pretty amazing life together.”
ALMA AND DECK
Alma Alexander is a writer based in Sudden Valley. Her husband and fellow writer, Deck Deckert, passed away in January of 2021 from a series of heart-related medical complications.
How they met In the time before internet romances became commonplace, Alexander met Deckert in an online writer’s group.
“We took it to email over a political argument, which both of us slowly won,” Alexander says. “It had to do with a butter knife, and we actually framed the butter knife and hung it in our kitchen until the end of our days.”
On writing Deckert was always Alexander’s first reader, editor, and the first person to see anything she ever wrote.
“The best thing that could happen was him looking up from whatever he was reading and saying quietly, ‘I hate you,’” Alexander says. “Because that meant I hit it– I hit the spot, I hit something he responded to viscerally.”
Alexander explains that Deckert’s use of “I hate you” meant the “exact opposite of the uttered words.” Rather, it was a way of expressing his sheer disbelief at Alexander’s ability to dream up well-written first drafts in record time. He was his wife’s number one fan from the very beginning, even telling Alexander early on that she should continue her writing and he’d take care of the rest. He kept that promise for the rest of his life.
Life in Whatcom County The pair were married in 2000, and though Deckert was a generation older than Alexander, she says it never mattered.
“I essentially asked him what he wanted and he said, ‘Whatever it takes– I just want to be somewhere close to you,’” Alexander recalls.
The pair lived in Florida for the first three years of their marriage before relocating to Sudden Valley in 2003.
Unbirthday The first time Deckert suffered from a serious medical issue was June 20, 2003 at precisely 3:15 a.m. With a pained voice, he woke Alexander up to tell her he was having a stroke– and it was a bad one. After a stint in the ICU, Deckert spent that summer in a series of medical institutions and finally came home in September.
“They sent him home in a wheelchair and he never sat in it again,” Alexander says. “We celebrated what I called his unbirthday, and I gave him an unbirthday card every June 20. This year I had a card waiting if he would have made it– he would have been 18.”
On skydiving Alexander says that, in his salad days, Deckert was an avid skydiver.
“The stories that he told me were hysterical– I couldn’t figure out whether God loved him too much or too little!” Alexander says. “At one point he came down, landed squarely on top of a watermelon, and then wore it all the way back to base with a cloud of bees following.”
When Deckert’s ashes came home, Alexander knew what to do with them. She contacted a skydiving group in Snohomish County to take him up for one last jump.
“Now every day I look up into the blue sky… that’s the last thing I could do for him,” she says. “He just belonged up there.”
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