FERTILE, Minn. – A shot at a nice apartment – and a lull in a busy bowling schedule – led Lowell and Dorothy Roof to take the leap and get married on Leap Day in 1964.
"I'll tell you, we found an apartment not far from where I worked," Lowell said. "And of course, back in them days, you didn't just move in with whoever you were running around with, you know.
"And, Dorothy was quite a bowler. And she was always having bowling tournaments. Well, the 29th of February, she didn't have a bowling tournament. And that's basically why we picked that date."
Dorothy's version differs a bit. There were tournaments going on and she was a scorekeeper.
"But it was basically because of bowling," she said. (And that revamped apartment in Fargo.)
She was 22 and working at Dayton Warehousing, and he was 24 and working at Russ Buick, where the Sons of Norway Lodge now sits, when they decided to tie the knot and lock into that sweet lease.
"We actually had our wedding date set for the 2nd of April, until we found this apartment," Dorothy said. "They were laying new carpet in it and everything for us. So then, what the heck, we just moved it up. And we took the first date, and that (Feb. 29) happened to be it."
Lowell got himself some fancy new duds.
"I spent damn near $50 for a new suit!" he said, which back then was a nifty sum.
"That's when we used to pay a quarter for a quart of milk!" Dorothy said.
She stuck with practical. "I wore a suit; I didn't wear a wedding dress."
And they got hitched at the house of a United Church of Christ minister in Moorhead.
Now, they're coming up on their 52nd anniversary – or 13th anniversary, if you only count Leap Days.
The pair, who have lived in the Fertile area since 1992, don't go overboard with their Leap Day anniversaries.
"We usually just go out for supper," Dorothy said. "If the kids happen to be around, they join us."
The secret to staying married for 52 years is that "you have to respect one another; give each other their own space," Dorothy said.
"And if your wife tells you to do something, to do it," Lowell deadpanned.
"That's a joke," he added.
On the road again
For Sharon and Gene Nayes, their Leap Day 2004 nuptials in Las Vegas were emblematic of their married life exploring the country together: Not quite accidental. Not quite planned.
"It all came together in less than a week. But we had already been engaged for more than a year. I just didn't want to plan a wedding," Sharon said. "The unplanned wedding was the best plan for us."
A woman who lived in the same apartment building needed to get her car to Las Vegas, Gene said. They agreed to help, and the idea of a Vegas wedding took hold.
"We were just discussing different dates (for a wedding)," he said. "And we were looking at the calendar and said, why not Leap (Day)?"
They got into Vegas late at night and headed to the Clark County Courthouse. At the time, the courthouse was still processing marriage licenses 24 hours a day for couples with an itch to get hitched, Gene said.
They spent the next day scoping out wedding chapels. The day after that, they got married, Sharon said, though Elvis did not officiate.
"As soon as we were married, we changed into our shorts and T-shirts and got comfortable, I guess," Sharon said. "We went out gambling and got something to eat."
By mutual agreement, this will be just the third big anniversary celebration, Sharon said. Gene's birthday is March 1, so the couple restrict the big wedding remembrances to the quadrennial Feb. 29.
This year, the Moorhead couple will celebrate in San Francisco, a city they fell in love with three years ago.
"We haven't chosen what we're going to do, but I'm assuming it will be kind of cool," Gene said. "We like to do things that are a little different. Last time we were there, we went on a sunset cruise on a windjammer."
"I want it to be something better than dinner out," Sharon said. "We're going to have a dinner out, but it's not going to be Fargo or Moorhead."
On Tuesday, the pair pulled into Monterey, Calif. They planned to be in San Francisco today.
They've been on the road since Dec. 31. They were in Colorado for 2½ weeks, Las Vegas for five days, a week in Palm Springs, Calif., and 10 days in San Diego.
"We thought about Hawaii this year, but neither of us seems excited to fly," Sharon said. "We like to drive. We've seen so much beautiful country, and we've met so many amazing people. We stay off the highways. We take the backroads."
Gene is 68, though his odometer rolls over to 69 on Tuesday. He used to work at the paint shop at North Dakota State University and later for LTM, a restaurant management firm.
Sharon just turned 66 last month. She had also worked a few years at LTM.
It's the second marriage for both, and they have five children and nine grandchildren between them.
"We're at an age when birthdays don't mean a thing," Sharon said. You kind of forget them."
And an anniversary every four years?
"It kinds of sneaks up on us," Sharon said.
Humor. Trust. And Aruba
John Grimm jokes that when his wife, Julie, put him in charge of choosing their wedding day, he picked Feb. 29, 2004, "so I only have to buy her a gift every four years."
"She told me that if I picked that date, I'd have to sit on a piece of coal so she would get a diamond," John said.
Humor and trust are the keys to a solid marriage, the Ellendale, N.D., couple said.
"You've got to be a smart ass to stay with me," John added.
Julie said that's no problem.
"I can get him to smile once in awhile," she said.
Julie is 53 and John is 50. Between them, they have eight children from previous marriages and 14 grandchildren.
"It's a Brady Bunch type deal," Julie said.
When they started dating, she was Julie Munter and he was John Broome.
But when they wed, they took Julie's maiden name, Grimm, as their married name.
"I liked her family a lot more than I liked mine," John said.
Julie said her husband really liked and respected her father.
"He went old school and asked (my father) if he could marry me, and he also asked if he could take his name," Julie said.
This year, the truck-driving pair will celebrate their third "Leap" anniversary by riding motorcycles and tanning on a beach on the Caribbean island of Aruba.
It's a trip they planned to keep secret until they were ready to hand their boarding passes to the TSA.
"We usually just celebrate my birthday" on March 1, Julie said Thursday. "None of my family knows we're going to Aruba. We're going on Saturday."
John said they told everyone they were going to "chill out" in a more Nordic sense.
"We had just told them that we were just going to go for a drive. Though Minnesota, Canada," he said.
"We're going to rent Harleys and go for rides" for this anniversary, Julie said.
"And sit on the beach," said John.
"And do nothing!" Julie chimed back.