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Frank & Babe: Seven decades together

It’s been 70 years of fun for Frank and Babe (Frances) Johnson, of Hector, Minn., as they celebrate their marriage in March. They were married on March 15, 1944, by pastor Burkhardt at the Osceola Church of Hope located about 12 miles northwest of Hector, not too far from the farm where Babe’s parents lived when they came to Minnesota. Their wedding attendants were Frank’s cousins, John Anderson, as best man, and Virgil Hammer; the maid of honor was Babe’s sister Dolores Vander Voort Broderius and Frank’s sister Vivian Johnson Drabenstott. After living 62 years on the farm the Johnsons moved into The Pines in Hutchinson about eight months ago.

The fun part of their marriage was living on a farm and raising three children who gave them eight grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. The 18th great-grandchild is due in April. They also hosted a foreign exchange student, Richard Lindgren, from Sweden from 1966-67. He currently lives in Delhi, India, and is the former ambassador to India for Sweden and is now the chairman of Saab-India. His four children call the Johnsons grandpa and grandma.

The three children of Frank and Babe are Larry, Wayne and Vicki. Larry, and his wife, Kathy live near the home farm, while their son, Deron has taken over management of Johnson Farms. Wayne is in the insurance business and lives in Litchfield. Vicki does interior design work and lives in Georgia with her husband, Bill Decker.

Babe, her maiden name is Vander Voort, came from a family of 10, six girls and four boys, from Platte, S.D. She was the youngest of the 10 children, and after she graduated from Platte High School, they moved to Minnesota to a farm north of Hector.  The reason the Vander Voorts left South Dakota was because farming was difficult with the drought and poor crops.

Babe’s sister, Dolores, and her husband lived on a farm south of Hector next to Frank’s father’s farm. “We used to work together thrashing the crops,” Frank said. “So I got to know them and eat with them. Never thought much of it. We visited back and forth,” Frank remembered.

Frank was the oldest of five boys and one girl. He has been farming since he was 10 years old and enjoyed working on the farm. He graduated from Hector High School in 1938 and then went on to Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis to study engineering for two years. To get back and forth from Minneapolis to Hector he would hitchhike. Hitchhiking was legal back then but is not permitted now. “I bought my first car when I was 21,” Frank said. “It cost me $300.”

The Johnsons and Vander Voorts, besides helping each other with farm chores, entertained themselves by playing games, such as kitten ball, softball, football, ride ponies, etc. “There was no other entertainment than what we made ourselves,” Frank said.

Frank doesn’t recall proposing to Babe. He thought it was mutual. Babe laughed, and said, “He had to or I wouldn’t have married him.”

“After we got married we partnered with my dad on the farm, and we did that for eight years,” said Frank. “We moved north of Hector in 1951. We bought a farm six or seven miles north of Hector, and we lived there until the spring of 2013.”

“We really had a fun marriage with the kids and living on the farm,” Frank recalled. “When we moved north of Hector we put up a lot of buildings and had a large house, and there was a lot of neighborhood kids that our kids could play with. Nearly every Sunday they would have a ball game at our place. They loved that. It was always a lot of fun out there. I decided when I started farming I was going to have a lot of fun too. My theory is ‘if you’re not having fun, what are you doing?’ Do something else. We tried a lot of different things.”

Another example of fun things to do was build a 6-foot by 8-foot playhouse for their daughter Vicki. She was 6 years old at the time. Vicki and her friends spent a lot of time in the playhouse, and there were times they would even spend the night there. “Those things you look back to and were a lot of fun,” said Frank.

Babe likes to golf, play bridge, bingo and cards. She is learning Sheephead now because a friend of hers, Aggie Schiltz of Gibbon, loved to play Sheephead. Aggie died recently from cancer and leukemia. “So I decided to learn it in memory of her,” Babe said. “People who don’t want to play games really miss out on a lot. When I got a computer I think it helped my mind. Now I have an iPad, and I love it. Facebook is wonderful. We are able to keep up with friends.”

Frank has served on several boards, including being involved with the beet industry, and he helped build a new plant near Renville in 1975. He is one of the founding members of the Southern Minnesota Sugar Coop and served as its chairman and president for its first seven years and served on the board for 15 years. “It was almost a full-time job,” he said. He also was an advocate for farmers when several pipelines came through from Canada to Chicago, including the one that came through Hutchinson.

Worship is very important to the Johnsons. “It has always been a very important part of our marriage and our life,” said Babe. “Bringing up our kids that way. When Sunday came, the question didn’t come up ‘are we going to church’ it was understood we were going to church. We were supposed to trust the Lord.”

Frank summed up their 70 years of marriage by saying “basically we have had a lot of fun. I feel sorry for those people who don’t have time to laugh or have fun. Sure we all have problems but call it a challenge not a problem. That’s been kind of our motto.”

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