Derek Bebeau was just looking to find some summer friends in Bemidji when he downloaded Tinder in 2015.
Instead, within a few weeks, he met his future wife.
Derek was a 20-year-old college student when he matched with 22-year-old Alle Bowman, who was back in her hometown after graduating from the University of Minnesota, Morris.
“What I noticed first was her amazing smile and her beautiful blue eyes,” Derek said.
The two chatted for a couple weeks before Alle suggested they meet in person. They planned a date at Buffalo Wild Wings, and, though they were both nervous, they were drawn to each other right away.
“I remember he was wearing plaid board shorts,” Alle said. “Something about those shorts, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s a nerd. This is going to be good because that’s my type.’”
And Derek was struck by Alle’s smile.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m outkicking my coverage here. She is really beautiful,’ and then my nerves went skyrocketing,” he said.
Nerves taking over, Derek wasn’t sure how to greet the smiling, blue-eyed woman in front of him. But -- in a move Alle said confirmed for her his status as a nerd -- he stuck out his arm for a generous handshake.
From that first encounter, it didn’t take long for their relationship to progress.
“It was never casual with him,” Alle said. “It was always potential serious relationship material.”
By their fourth date, Derek was meeting Alle’s entire extended family at the Bowmans’ biannual fish fry. Their relationship was so new, Derek remembers asking Alle how she pronounced her last name on the drive up. Once he got there, though, he clicked with her family right away.
“I felt like part of the family really early on, and a lot of that is due to just how welcoming they are,” he said.
The couple hit their first big roadblock in 2018 when both had opportunities to move out of Bemidji. Alle was going to Mankato for graduate school, and Derek had accepted a student teaching job in Brainerd. The then-inseparable couple suddenly found themselves nearly 200 miles apart.
They made an effort to visit each other when they could, but when that wasn’t possible, they had to rely on calls, texts and letters to connect. Alle wrote letters frequently, and Derek saved every single one.
In some of them, she shared dreams of places they’d see together, music they’d listen to and food they’d eat. Others shared day-to-day musings or what she was doing at a given moment in time. But in her letters, her affection for Derek was clear. In one, she thanked him for a chair he gave her, adding, “but really, I’d sit on the bare floor every day if the trade-off meant being nearer to you.”
“I don’t know if it’s true that distance makes the heart grow fonder or not,” Alle said, “but for us it definitely made us more active partners in keeping our relationship alive.”
After two years of being apart, Alle and Derek found a way to be in the same town again. Derek accepted a job teaching music in Redwood Falls, the school district he grew up in, and Alle moved in with him in late 2020.
With the light at the end of the tunnel in their time miles apart, Derek knew it was time to start planning for the rest of their lives.
He proposed on Dec. 4, 2020, while Alle was helping him decorate his Christmas tree with her favorite song, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” playing in the background. She turned from hanging ornaments to find Derek on one knee.
“My stomach just dropped,” Alle said. She thought to herself, “Oh, this is it.”
She doesn’t remember all of the sweet, romantic things he said. In her excitement it became a blur, but when he asked, “So, what do you say,” she responded: “Let’s get this party started.”
They plan to wed August 7, 2021 at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji, the church Alle’s parents attend. The reception will follow at the Hampton Inn, a hotel familiar to Derek’s family from their many trips to Bemidji to see his college concerts.
Derek and Alle say their relationship works because they both complement and challenge each other. She pushes him to try new adventures, and he inspires her to stay grounded in their shared faith. Their love is based on honest, open communication and never missing a chance to say, “I love you.”
“Derek is a passionate, thoughtful and gifted person, and I am amazed at how lucky I am to have found someone like him to support me in life,” Alle said. “He’s my best friend.”
As they look to the future, both Derek and Alle say they’re excited to adventure together and grow together, but, knowing how difficult it was to be apart, they’re excited to simply be together.
“Buying a house, having a family, getting a dog -- all of that stuff gets me excited,” Derek said. “But I think what really makes me happy, and I’ve been the happiest I’ve been in a long time in the last couple of weeks since she’s been here, … is just her being here every day.”