When love hit, these Northland couples knew it

On this day for lovers and sweethearts, we asked some local couples to share the stories of how they met and when they realized that they had been the target of Cupid's arrows.

Nancy and Mark Rubin
Nancy and Mark Rubin of Duluth have been married for 36 years. They met in their teen years and have been together since. Mark is the St. Louis County attorney while Nancy is a full-time grandmother. (Clint Austin /

On this day for lovers and sweethearts, we asked some local couples to share the stories of how they met and when they realized that they had been the target of Cupid's arrows.

St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin and Nancy Rubin

A flip of a coin helped lead to the Rubins' marriage -- 36 years and counting.

The summer after graduating from Morgan Park High School, Mark Rubin and a friend were driving on Grand Avenue after playing in a softball game when they saw a car with two girls in it.

"I was 17 and figured, 'Well, they must want us to follow them,' " he said. So the boys did.


The girls quickly noticed the tail.

"My friend and I were driving down Grand Avenue and she said, 'Nancy, there's a car following us. There's two boys in it,' " Nancy said.

"Go down some different streets," Nancy told her. "She did, and sure enough, they were following us. Then she turned down one other street and they didn't. So she put out her arm and waved, like, 'Follow us.' "

The boys followed the girls to a drive-in near Denfeld.

"As we followed them to the drive-in, we flipped a quarter to see who would get a chance to meet the blonde-haired passenger, and I won," Mark said.

Visiting at the drive-in, the girls said they were on their way to see the movie "The Graduate" at the old Skyline Drive-in. What a coincidence, the boys -- dressed in softball uniforms -- said. So are we.

"We've been together ever since," Mark said. "I'm a very lucky guy. She is an incredible person; she's beautiful."

The couple agrees on the moment they realized they were meant to be together. It was a night on Skyline Parkway, the lights of the city below.


"It just felt like that was our sign it was meant to be," said Nancy, a certified massage therapist who says she's a stay-at-home grandmother. "It was almost 41 years ago we met."

Singers Bill and Kate Isles

Bill and Kate Isles have been making beautiful music together for several years.

The singer-songwriters met in 2001, when Kate attended a CD release concert for Bill's 2001 album "Weightless." She bought the CD and signed up for his e-mail list.

"We exchanged e-mails for a few weeks and then got together," Bill said.

Bill said he might have known Kate was the one for him the first time they sang together.

"We had coffee a few times; we had lunch. Then she came over to my apartment and we sang a Neil Young song together and it was like magic; our voices really blended well together," he said.

Oddly enough, the song they sang was "Losing End," about a failed relationship.


"It's so hard to make love pay when you're on the losing end," it goes.

That hasn't been Bill and Kate's fate. The two married in 2004. Together they tour the nation, putting on 140 or more shows a year.

"We love being together; we travel well together," Bill said.

"I tell you, he is exactly as he appears," Kate said. "He's very easygoing, very patient, very kind, very giving -- just a wonderful human being."

Kate also remembers that first song together.

"When I was in grade school and junior high I used to sing with my best friend," she said. "We would play guitar and make up songs. So when Bill and I did that for the first time, I joked with him and said: 'You remind me of my best friend, Lisa Brown.' Then I said to him, 'I'm so glad I found my Lisa Brown.' "

Mushers Blake and Jennifer Freking

The Frekings' relationship isn't puppy love, though dogs have definitely played a huge role in it. In fact, it was a dog that brought the Finland couple together.

It was 1997 and Jennifer was working as a dog handler in Alaska. Blake -- then into skijoring -- found Jennifer's website and e-mailed her, looking for a new lead dog. By chance, she had one available.

So Blake went to her parents' place in Cambridge, Minn., to pick the dog up.

Her mother had a strange feeling the first time she saw Blake, Jen said. "She had this feeling that this person will be significant in your life. She never told me that until after we were dating."

The next year, Blake went to the same kennel in Alaska and helped train the dogs Jen had raised. Eventually, he ran them in his first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

"That was fun," Jen said. "They weren't our dogs, but they felt like ours."

Jen knew that Blake was the one the first time she saw him. They've been married seven years now.

And dogs continue to be a large part of their life. They own Manitou Crossing Kennels and continue to compete in races.

In 2008 they traveled to Alaska to fulfill a dream -- running the 1,000-plus-mile Iditarod. The couple spent just over 11 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes on the trail, with Jen crossing the finish line nine seconds ahead of her husband.

"It is so amazing to share similar passions," Jen said. "For us, whether it's mushing or camping or hiking the North Shore or kayaking. It's awesome to share the outdoors together."

Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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