How they met: He rode into her life and rode off with her heart

News-DemocratFebruary 9, 2014 

Rena Frangenberg gave up on guys until she met James Hopper on Oct. 8, 2010. Both pulled into a Super 8 Motel in Savanna, near Galena, about the same time.

"I get off my motorcycle," said Rena, 54. "I was tired, crabby, hungry, dry. I wanted a drink."

Rena and a girlfriend were on a girls trip to see fall colors. The weather was especially warm. Her interest in men was especially cool.

"I had denounced men in the driveway (of her home in Mitchellville, near Des Moines) before I left," she said. "I thought the Lord wanted to use me as a single woman. I had accepted that."

No sooner had she hopped off her Harley than a big guy walked her way.

"I thought, 'What is he going to say that I haven't heard?' I don't want to deal with this."

But she's glad she did.

James Hopper, 54, of Belleville, was riding with his brother Jude and friends. He noticed her right away.

"My brother said, 'Don't even go there.' I said, 'Jude, watch this.'"

James started off with, "Hi, how are you doing?"

Rena noticed his cologne. He thinks it was Dolce and Gabbana.

"I don't know what it was, but it really woke me up," she said. "He smelled good. I forgot what I kind of like. He had manners. He was polite."

He wanted to get together. She told him maybe if they were lucky, they'd run into each other -- which they did that night.

Rena, who sometimes goes by "Bunny," agreed to show James the quiet chapel-like room upstairs at the Iron Horse Social Club.

"This man wants to talk," she said. "I am 50-some years old. He's telling me his feelings, what he wants in life. He's more in-depth than the average man."

She learns he's a physician's assistant, is divorced, has three children and a grandchild.

He learns she is an independent insurance agent and has a grown daughter, Sophia.

"All of a sudden, he comes over and kisses me. I am like, what? My lipstick is going to be gone. People will wonder, 'What were they doing up there?'"

They met up the next evening.

"I was interested," said Rena, "even though I had denounced men and I had red flags all over the place."

Her family and her life were in Iowa.

"I am thinking, there's no way this can work. I live 600 miles from this person."

They kept in contact. Within a couple weeks, she came to Belleville. They met each other's families. He proposed on Valentine's Day 2011 at St. Clare Catholic Church in O'Fallon. She told him all she wanted was a plain gold band. She got the band -- and a diamond.

He wanted a big wedding. She didn't.

"We both had been married before," said Rena, who at the time was waiting for an annulment. "I didn't want a big show."

They married Oct. 8, 2011, in the candlelit church with 30 family members and friends looking on.

"It was the best wedding I have been to," said Rena. "I put my dress on, came out. I felt like I was at the Oscars."

Next order of business: A house.

They found one in The Orchards with just about everything they wanted.

"We walk in," said Rena. "There's a double oven. It's a ranch. It has a swimming pool and a lake. It's a beautiful 20-year-old home. I am not into new. I like vintage and antiques. If the roof is good and it has the right pillows thrown on the couch, it's home."

That's where they sat on a recent Friday night.

Pillows brightened the brown leather couch that faced a fireplace. The pictures of Lincoln on the wall? Rena and Abe share a birthday.

She had ribeyes marinating, potatoes baking and a scotch ready when James got home. He works in hospital emergency rooms in Granite City and McLeansboro.

"Everything I llke, she likes," said James. "I hunt and fish and ride. We do it together. We are a good team. She likes biking. She dresses up nice. She's a master cook. She's beautiful. Everything I always wanted."

They cherish their time together. They entertain, play golf and walk Leo, their rescue dog. She has even allowed James to chop cabbage for her cole slaw.

"He's got pretty big shoulders," she said. "I have to move him to the other counter. My passion is to feed the world."

Both are involved with their church's social justice programs.

"I am for the underdog," she said. "I was raised as an underdog. I grew up in a town of 170 in northwest Iowa. I've been working since I was 5 when I was selling greeting cards. Here I am living in this grand house.

"I want to share our blessing."

She's never met anyone like James.

"He's my biggest cheerleader. He's loving, kind, never raises his voice. opens my door. He's the same man I met in 2010. No change. He's consistent on everything he has brought to the table. ... I can tell him anything, even things he doesn't want to hear. "

She was OK with her life in Iowa, but is thrilled with the life she has now.

"As soon as you announce it out loud, the Lord has a plan for you. He will bring you a knight in shining leather."

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