Adventurous couple shares recipes, stories, and southern charm
By Carol Stender
Barney Simpson wanted to help with Bethel Lutheran Church’s building project in Fergus Falls, but at 88, he was limited in what he could do.
While he couldn’t carry materials or help with equipment installation, Barney knew he could serve meals to the workers. And he wouldn’t do it alone. Joining him was his wife, 76-year-old Janet.
The former Bed and Breakfast owners are a powerhouse in the kitchen. Armed with family recipes and good recipe resources, the two served meals to the workers and have used their kitchen talents for other groups at the church.
Their recipes reflect the many places they have lived in their 48 years of marriage from Washington state to Janet’s childhood home at Blair, Okla., plus a host of other states including Texas, Wisconsin and Idaho. They’ve raised mink on a Wisconsin farm, and built and remodeled churches through the central U.S.
As they prepare meals for others, their easy-going banter fills the room. While they chop vegetables, stir pots, and take periodic tastes of their dishes to make sure the seasonings are just right, they talk about their travels.
The two have an easy-going camaraderie. They tease one another, and welcome guests to the meal.
They are, as Janet says, “soulmates,” and their faith is a foundation in everything they do.
And it’s been an adventure that Barney believes was captured in a slogan he saw on a pillow.
“We have been through a lot together and most of it is your fault,” it says. Barney got the pillow. It’s a staple in their living room decor.
The stories are accentuated with their rich southern drawls. Janet hails from Arkansas. Barney is actually a Midwest boy raised in South Dakota, but he left his home state at 17 to join the Air Force. Of his 10-plus years in the military, Barney served nine of them at Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico.
Barney saw a lot of the country after his military service and, while working in Deer Park, Wash., he met Janet. The two only worked together for six months. They realized they were soulmates and didn’t want an office drama.
Their marriage was the third for Barney, he said. His first wife died after six years of marriage. His second marriage ended in divorce after 10 years. He has two sons from that union.
“I claim them and they also claim me,” Janet said.
It’s hard not to claim Janet. Her warm southern hospitality draws people in and mixes well with Minnesota nice.
A week before they wed, the two parked outside a church and watched the people go in and out of the building, Janet said. Both had been raised in the church and they knew about the Lord when they wed. When they married, they made Him their best friend.
“He has been with us ever since we committed to Him,” she said.
Soon they were regularly attending the church’s services and activities, and started a marriage enrichment class. The group met before the church service, but it seemed that group didn’t always get to the church services on time.
When the pastor asked if they could make it to the services, Barney said they’d try.
“Sometimes the Holy Spirit would move and we would start the class with prayer,” Barney said. “Sometimes that’s as far as we would get.”
The pastor and his wife also joined the group.
Soon the couple realized God had put them on the five-year-plan... Every 5 years they were moving to a new experience.
In that five-year time span in Deer Park, the couple raised 275 mink, Janet said. Their next move, to Elcho, Wisc., had them raising 7,000.
Their next move was to Eureka Springs, Ark., near Janet’s family. It brought a business opportunity for them to operate a Bed and Breakfast.
“I came home from work one day and told Barney, ‘Guess what I did?’” Janet said. “‘I bought a Bed and Breakfast.’”
Barney asked why she didn’t discuss the move with him and Janet said she was doing that right now.
He agreed to the purchase, but he had some conditions. He wouldn’t clean a unit, he said, but he would do laundry. He did a great job of starching the sheets, according to Janet.
When Janet’s mother moved to a nursing home in east Texas five years later, the couple moved as well, purchasing a 38-foot motorhome. They worked through the Assembly of God Home Missions/RV Maps program building and remodeling churches.
They traveled through much of the central U.S. for the building projects. At one place, Janet was asked if she had, in fact, operated a B and B. She was asked to cook a supper that night for 60 people.
A survey of the freezer yielded a package of what she called ‘mystery meat’ and another of turkey necks. She made cheese enchiladas for the meal.
During that church project, Janet cooked three meals a day for six months. She learned how to utilize food banks to supplement ingredients for each meal.
When they left that project, the kids said “Sister Janet, you are the best cook.”
After several years of travels and building projects, the couple decided to retire. They considered all the places they had traveled during their RV Maps trips. They liked Laura, Kan., Kerrville, Tex., and Spearfish, SD.
But they also had family, Barney’s niece, who lives in Hewitt, Minn. The couple, on a visit to Minnesota in 1982, recalled coming to Fergus Falls. They decided to make it their retirement place and moved there in 2017.
They plan to eventually live in a 55-plus apartment, but, for now, are making a two-bedroom apartment their home after moving out of a five-bedroom house. “We want to move while we can instead of when we have to,” Janet said.
Through all of their adventures, Barney said there is one thing that they’ve found has been a mainstay in their lives - God is always there.
They talk about Barney’s sons. One lives in Washington state and the other, who works for Honda, will be working in Japan for two years. The couple will probably not make a trip to visit, however.
“Our traveling days are over,” Janet said.
While they may not travel far, the two are an active couple focusing on their church activities and helping where they can.
“We are well suited for each other,” she said. “And when we are here no more, we will be at rest in the family plot near Hewitt where the inscription will read, “Off on another adventure - the very best one.”