FULDA — With three mutual loves — faith, farming and each other — Ron and Cheryl Janssen have been a dedicated team since 1979.
“It’s something of a joke because my family’s farm is only about a mile away,” said Cheryl, 63, the daughter of the late Walter and Minnie Ruesch.
“I’m the fourth generation on this farm (eight miles southwest of Fulda),” said Ron, 69, son of the late Walter and Florence Janssen — and yes, the pair’s fathers bore the same first name.
“My great-grandpa moved here around 1898 or 1899 and I’ve been here all my life. Our ‘Janssen’ is German, but my dad always said we’d be Danish without the double ’s.’”
The couple married in 1979, when Cheryl was a youthful “20.5,” as she puts it, while Ron was 26.
But despite their proximity in childhood — their families attended Immanuel American Lutheran/the Pfingsten Church, and they even rode the same school bus — it wasn’t until Ron returned to the area after completing his degree in animal science at South Dakota State University that the two truly connected.
“There’s enough of an age difference between us that we didn’t really know each other when we were growing up,” said Cheryl.
Teased Ron, “She doesn’t even remember me from back then; I really impressed her.”
They clicked, however, when both were part of a group of young friends attending movies, dances and area events together.
Following a wedding at their mutual home church, the two were set for their personal happily ever after.
Farming and family
Nevertheless, Cheryl and Ron are quick to say that even successful marriages bear little resemblance to fairy tales.
“We’ve been at it for 42 years — and we just stay at it,” said Ron.
“It’s not that we always agree,” said Cheryl. “It’s that we just don’t give up, and when it comes to the farming things, it helps that overall we both had a similar background.
“We have different personalities, so there are disagreements at times.”
Ron added, “But we balance each other out with our opposite tendencies.”
“That, and our faith in God makes it work,” said Cheryl.
The two remind themselves that neither one is perfect, yet each brings unique gifts and talents to their mutual life.
“We look at ourselves and realize we have quirks too, and not just the other person,” said Ron.
“Cheryl is real good with finances and brings that area into perspective.”
“And Ron has a gentle, caring nature and an ability to track things,” said Cheryl. “He’s not a rash decision-maker, nor is he so analytical that nothing ever happens.”
“Together we can do it all better than either one could alone,” agreed Ron.
Prior to their marriage, Ron bought a farm adjacent to his family’s land; he lived on that acreage beginning in 1975, and Cheryl joined him there after they married.
When Ron’s dad retired from farming in 1986 and moved into Fulda, the couple relocated to “the home place” and have been there ever since.
“We have 504 acres in corn and beans,” said Ron, mentioning those acres include a portion of Cheryl’s family’s Century Farm. “The ’80s were tough for farmers, and the Fulda bank even closed in those years.
“We didn’t get a write-off, but we made it through.”
With his animal science background, Ron enjoyed farrowing pigs and incorporated them into their operation for some time.
“But in 1999 the prices were so low that we got out of that,” said Ron.
“We didn’t choose to expand our facilities at that point,” added Cheryl, with Ron chiming in that going bigger was never their priority.
“I wanted time with my family, not just more work, so my heart wasn’t in thousands of acres,” said Ron. “I put more time into family and community.”
Even so, farming has been a cooperative effort for the Janssens from the start.
“I run the combine, the digger and the plow, I mow and I drive wagons and tractors — but I don’t plant,” laughed Cheryl.
And Ron credits Cheryl with being the family’s primary cook.
“She’s good at keeping us healthy — she makes a kale salad that’s a favorite — and she always makes some rhubarb sauce or crisp each spring,” he said.
“Cheryl has a big garden and does a lot of canning and freezing, too.”
Other than a few years in the early 2000s when Cheryl worked as a rural mail carrier, the two have remained largely focused on their farm and family.
Their two adult sons, Chris and Eric, have strayed further from home than either of their parents did. Both are married, employed in information technology jobs and live in the Twin Cities area.
“We have four grandsons and one granddaughter between the ages of one and a half and 11 and a half,” said Cheryl.
“Our oldest grandson likes doing things on the farm and helping out with house projects, but I think he’s beginning to realize how far away the farm is from anything.”
The community-minded couple — Ron has been Seward Township’s clerk for 19 years and Cheryl is on the supervisory committee of the Fulda Area Credit Union — share a love of music, which translates into lots of music ministry.
“For 27 years, I directed the Fulda Community Choir that performed every year during the Wood Duck Festival (and also in Worthington and Slayton),” said Ron.
Ron formerly played the organ at the Pfingsten church of his youth; today, he heads the worship music ministry at Grace Community Church, Worthington.
“I’ve been involved in church music all my life and I just love contemporary worship music,” said Ron, who plays keyboard and piano.
Cheryl, meanwhile, learned to play bass guitar a few years ago and also sings as part of Grace Community’s worship team.
“And I take care of the audio-visual things at church,” said Cheryl.
Their two daughters-in-law have music education degrees, so the whole family has been known to offer praise together on the worship team when “the kids” are visiting.
In addition, Cheryl leads a women’s Bible study group.
“If I ever slow down enough, I like to read,” said Cheryl. “But I like to work, and that can be a bad thing.”
Together, the Janssens aim to be good stewards of the land they farm.
“We’re trying to take care of the soil and keep it healthier,” said Ron, noting they are a non-GMO farming operation.
“I got connected with a group of people in several other states who farm that way, and I think it’s important, both for our personal health and for others’ health.”
That attitude — farming and investing in a community while being mindful of others and their needs — typifies the Janssens’ unified approach.
“It’s good to have a balance in life and not just focus on the farm,” said Ron.
Added Cheryl, “No matter what the season, you shouldn’t neglect your faith or the care of others.”
“You get a deeper satisfaction when you’re reaching out and thinking about those around you,” summarized Ron.
“We’re trusting that God will provide, that He’ll lead us day by day. We try to follow God’s plan.”