FARGO — Every relationship has a love story, but not all start on a romantic first date.
The Forum sought out locals who found love at work, and wow, did you deliver.
Readers told us about finding a special someone while working at a no-longer-standing McDonald's restaurant — an encounter that created a 20-year marriage. There was a story about Sears workers who have been together for 32 years, and even a sugar beet grower and operator of an elevator who've been married for several years now.
Emails told the tale of young love found while working in gas stations, bait shops and more. For all of these people, love was found in the place where many of us spend 30 percent of our lives — work.
Out of the dozens of emails and hundreds of Facebook comments we received, we chose three couples to profile: Emily and Thomas, who have been dating for several years; Steph and Tim, engaged and now planning a wedding in September; and Alyssa and Steven, who got married last year.
Here are their stories.
Thomas Schroeder and his "beautiful" girlfriend, Emily Hill, started working together at the former West Central Ag Services in Harwood, N.D., when Schroeder was a high school senior.
"It's a small town so I knew everyone, but when she started working there, I had no idea who she was," he says. "I was shocked by her beauty and scared to talk to her."
Schroeder says he and Hill would spend time talking when their shifts overlapped, getting to know each other, and Schroeder helped with her jobs during her shift.
"At times, I thought I was foolish for doing (her tasks), but it just felt right helping out someone I liked," he says.
Shortly after they started dating, Schroeder took a job that took him all over the Upper Midwest, limiting the time the couple was able to talk, let alone see each other. Texting became their go-to way to stay in touch, and Schroeder says he would send her three texts each day — and they, of course, said 'I love you.'
Schroeder took a job back in his hometown to be closer to Hill, and the couple has built a life together through attending church, going on "normal" dates and playing sports.
"Growing up with a single mom always made me think love wasn't a thing," Schroeder says in an email to The Forum. "Being surrounded by the thought that love was only in fairy tales and was never going to happen, finally happened to me. Growing up in a small town and finding this wonderful woman changed my life. Every morning I wake up to jump on my phone before anything to tell her good morning and knowing I have a kind, caring woman in my life is incredible."
A good team
For Tim Bullock and Steph Mondry, it all started with a simple job search
"I was working in an office in West Fargo, at Goldmark for a couple of years," Bullock says. "Steph had just moved to town and was looking for a new job and she just kind of walked in the door. I was technically the assistant manager and she was the new assistant manager, so I was showing her the ropes and we were talking a lot."
And then came a note.
"I actually wrote Steph a letter and left it on her desk," Bullock says. "I was too nervous to be in the room when she opened it, so I went to deliver notices."
He thought his first letter went over well, so he brought out his secret weapon: another note.
"(The first note) was kind of gauging the room," he says. "Then I sent another one that actually detailed asking her out to sushi downtown. That was our first date-date."
"I have both letters still," Mondry says. "They're going to be framed and put on our wall."
She says she didn't really know what to think when she got the first letter.
"As I'm reading it, I was like, 'Oh my goodness, this is describing me,'" she says, recalling. "So it was like, 'Whoa, he does have feelings for me.'"
After the second note, Bullock asked her out — and Mondry says she agreed because she, too, was starting to have feelings for her co-worker.
"That he expressed it and was so bold with it, it showed me that we should take that step and started dating," she says.
Bullock and Mondry still work at the same company, but they say they see each other less now that they were dating. The couple's wedding is later this year.
"(We're) a good support team for each other," Mondry says.
I love you, but...
Alyssa-Brown Tomanek was new to Discovery Benefits when her now-husband, Steven Tomanek, reached out to her via Skype.
"He's like, 'What are you doing right now? It's generating paperwork, employers are calling in.' And I read it like he was yelling at me and I panicked because I was new," she says. "I was like, 'I don't know what I'm doing! Who's this Steven Tomahawk guy and why is he messaging me?' That was our first encounter."
They began working alongside each other, and she realized that "Steven Tomahawk guy" wasn't so scary after all.
"I added him on Facebook and he made me breakfast: french toast, homemade whipped topping and strawberries," she says. "The rest is history."
That first breakfast date nearly four years ago sparked a love that's lasted through countless adventures ranging from camping to foraging for food — and even an unconventional proposal.
"A year before we got married, I actually proposed to him," Brown-Tomanek says. "I'm the one that's not a good cook. I made him lasagna that didn't set and cookies that were burnt. I strung up lights and I got down on my knee and handed him the first of five silicon rings and asked him if he would marry me. He just laughed and I go, 'How about this one? Will you marry me for this ring?' and he goes, 'Stop, or I'm going to say no.' We got married in September 2019."
They've since advanced to different roles within their company, him working in information technology and her working from her office at home.
"It's kind of nice," Tomanek says. "She works at home, I go to the office. If she has a computer problem I can help her, but that's the most interaction we have."
The couple is OK with this arrangement, though.
"I don't think it would be fun to be on the same team," she says.
"No, that'd be too much," he says, chuckling. "I mean, I love you, but that's a lot."
Their relationship hasn't changed much since the days of "Steven Tomahawk," but they have as individuals. She says she's found a new level of responsibility that she didn't even know existed.
"He's always encouraged me to go for my goals," Brown-Tomanek says. "We bought a house together, I raised my credit score nearly 100 points, I was promoted, I bought a new car — I could have maybe done these things without him, but doing it while someone encouraged me and sharing that joy with them made it so much better."