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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Love Story: Awkward ice breakers didn’t deter romance

dchval@juno.com

The way to win a woman’s heart doesn’t usually start with a series of questions including, “Do you have a tattoo?” and “Do you chew tobacco?” But 20 years ago Steve Craig asked those questions of a woman he’d never met.

Steve, then 33, was a widower with two young children. He’d been out of the dating scene for a long time so his brothers offered to help him by providing a checklist.

“It was an ice-breaker,” he said. “But the ice was thick.”

Julie Craig, the recipient of that phone call, was 26 and not sure what to make of his opening gambit. However, since she didn’t have a tattoo and didn’t chew tobacco she decided to continue the conversation. After all, she’d broken up with her fiance for a chance to learn more about Steve.

Actually, she’d had several fiances – four to be exact.

She shrugged. “I always said yes too fast.”

Julie was living in Portland when her cousin called. The cousin was married to Steve’s brother and thought he’d be a good match for Julie.

Though she’d recently gotten engaged, she told her cousin she had lots of single friends and said she’d like to hear more about Steve – for the benefit of those single ladies.

What she heard intrigued her.

Steve had married his college sweetheart, Alicia. While studying pre-med at Brigham Young University, she gave birth to their daughter. Shortly afterward she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, leaving her bedridden much of the time.

In 1989, she gave birth to their son. However, her conditioned worsened following the birth and Steve juggled medical school with caring for his wife and children.

“I went days without sleeping,” he said.

Things only got worse. While Steve was completing his residency in dermatology in Wake Forest, North Carolina, Alicia was diagnosed with leukemia. She died in 1995, 18 months after her diagnosis.

It was a devastating loss.

Though lonely, as a single dad, Steve didn’t have much time to date, but when his brother told him about Julie, he decided to call on New Year’s Eve.

The photo his sister-in-law provided had increased his interest.

Steve grinned. “I said, ‘Wow!’”

After his opening ice-breaker gaffe, conversation flowed more smoothly – in fact they talked for hours.

“He oozes charm,” said Julie, grinning. “I knew he was the one.”

She also knew she had to meet him in person to see if the chemistry was there.

“My dad was so impressed with him he gave me a first-class ticket voucher and said, ‘I want you to go to North Carolina and meet the good doctor.’”

She replied, “That’s not playing hard-to-get.”

But her dad convinced her that a widowed doctor with two little kids didn’t have time to chase her.

Julie flew to Greensboro, North Carolina, two weeks later and planned to stay five days. However, an ice storm in North Carolina kept planes grounded and then an ice storm in Portland prevented her return, so she stayed for two weeks, bunking with a woman from Steve’s church.

“I enjoyed his children and loved seeing how they interacted as a family,” Julie said. “I seemed to fit right into their hearts. I was struck by how gentle he was. He was sad, but not bitter, about the difficult experiences he’d had.”

And the chemistry? Their first kiss removed all doubts. In their Liberty Lake home, they looked at each other and grinned.

“It was a good kiss,” said Julie, and they both laughed.

Within a month she visited again.

“I waited impatiently for the next few months for Steve to fall madly in love with me,” Julie said.

But mindful of his children and his upcoming move to Spokane, Steve took his time. He even mentioned that perhaps he should date a bit more.

Julie’s response?

“I’ve been out in the dating world and I’m telling you, you’re not going to find anything better than me.”

Then Steve introduced her to Alicia’s family.

“My mother-in-law told me, ‘That woman loves you. What are you going to do about it?’” Steve recalled.

In April, Steve called her father and asked permission to marry Julie. With her father’s blessing, he finally proposed and they married on July 5, 1996, in Logan, Utah.

Both are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wanted to be married in a temple, Julie said. The one in Logan “ was the only one available,” Julie said.

Becoming part of a ready-made family wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“Six months after we married, I cried myself to sleep,” Julie said. “I was functioning as Kristen and Andrew’s mom, but I had no memories of them as babies.”

Fairy tales featuring wicked stepmothers didn’t help the bonding process.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” she said.

But their love for each other solidified and expanded to include two more children – Ben, 17, and Hannah, 15.

Ben’s birth was especially bonding for the family.

“He was the first thing that belonged to all of us,” Julie said.

Together they launched Steve’s thriving practice, North Idaho Dermatology with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Moscow and Liberty Lake.

“We’re a good team,” said Steve. “She’s my best friend.”

Julie smiled. “There has been a lot of love in our home over the last 19 years, and it just keeps getting better.”

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