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Rodney & Carol’s new life together

Finding love in the golden years


By Rodney & Carol Venbergof Fergus Falls


Carol: I met Jim Doyle in my first year of nursing school in Fargo. He graduated as an Electrical Engineer from North Dakota State University in 1963 and began working at the Hopkins Honeywell plant. I graduated as an RN from St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1964 and worked in surgery at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. We were married in 1965.


Rodney and Carol Venberg, Christmas 2021. Contributed photo

We came back to Fargo for one year while he obtained a Masters in Electrical Engineering and I worked in surgery at Dakota Hospital. Then we returned to our previous work in the Cities. In 1968, three days before delivery of our first child, we discovered that I was carrying twins. I had several paid positions within the school system as they were growing up, and lots of volunteer work, but didn’t go back into nursing until they were about 14. Then I worked in home care, mostly in the western suburbs of the Cities. Jim was in management at Honeywell when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at age 48. Our two sons had just completed their second year of college at Michigan Tech. At that time, in 1989, most people didn’t live beyond a year or two with that diagnosis, but he lived for over five years, so we were very fortunate. He was able to work a lot of that time. He passed away in 1994 at age 53. I was 51. I had a house to finish remodeling and after a three-month break, I continued working.


After attending a Grief Support Group for about a year, I was almost ready to leave when John Koepcke came into the group in September of 1995. He had lost his wife, Bev, four months earlier. She had lived with cancer for over six years. 


John and I got to know each other well and were married on Oct. 4, 1997. He convinced me to buy the farm where I grew up. I was happy that both my parents had a chance to know John. Dad passed away so we bought the farm from my mother. There was so much clean up and remodeling to do that I didn’t work for pay after the move. John continued to do some consulting work for Nuaire in Plymouth, but then later retired from that (his second retirement).

Even though John had heart bypass surgery only four months after we married and overcame three separate cancer diagnoses, we accomplished so much in our years together. We made many improvements to the farm, built a deck and gazebo off the remodeled kitchen, straightened the barn and made room for the horses, had a new pole barn and shop built, and upgraded the heating and air conditioning system. The farm was kept in the family and ultimately sold to my niece and her family, making it a fourth-generation farm.


John and I moved into the Village Co-op in Fergus Falls in January of 2020. We both enjoyed the move but Covid hit and we were limited in our socializing. Even though attending church was limited to sitting in front of a computer screen, we were able to attend a weekly Bible Study in our Co-op led by Rodney Venberg. We felt so fortunate to have that. I knew that Rodney’s wife Helen must have great stories to tell about her years of nursing in Africa, but because of our social distancing, sometimes with masks and her weakening voice, conversation was difficult between us. It was clear she and Rodney were a devoted couple.


Rodney: I was married to my first wife Helen for 56 years. We had a wonderful marriage and were blessed with two sons who are both married, and we had six grandchildren. We had served as missionaries in Chad and Cameroon, Africa for some 30 years. When we returned from our years as missionaries, we were called to serve as part of the pastoral staff in a church in Eau Claire, Wisc. We had a wonderful ministry there and made many deep and lasting friendships during the 18 years in Eau Claire. Towards the end of that time, my wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. We retired and in 2013 moved into the Village Cooperative in Fergus Falls. I was elected to the Board of Directors and shared in leading a Bible Study group for the members of the Cooperative. In 2020 my wife’s Parkinson’s got worse, and she passed away in November of that year.


Carol: At the end of September, John needed surgery. We celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 in the hospital. The next day at noon, after being on a liquid diet, had his first solid meal and was discharged. He asked that we take a drive through Maplewood State Park before going home, which we did. It was a beautiful day. He died the next day.  


Rodney: After 56 years of a very special relationship, I was very lonesome when Helen died. I thought I needed someone to share life with. In January 2020 a new couple, John and Carol Koepcke, moved into the Cooperative and I was very impressed with their value system. They became part of our Bible Study group, and I asked John if he would be willing to serve with me on the Board. He agreed and we began to discuss some of the issues we were dealing with. Two days before the election he unexpectedly passed away. A few months later his wife Carol went down to Arkansas to help take care of the wife of her blind cousin. About that time I had received a brochure advertising a trip to the Ark and the Creation Museum in Kentucky, as well as some Southern Gospel groups that would be singing there.


Carol: In planning for services for John during the time of Covid, we decided to have a limited church service in Pelican Rapids with Zoom. 


Spring of 2021 was a busy time for me. On Feb. 26, I started driving to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas to spend time with my cousin Jim and his wife Sharon. She was struggling with health issues. Jim was her main caregiver, doing an amazing job with the help of an aide, but he is blind and could use some help. When I left home, I didn’t think anyone cared whether I stayed six days or six years -- my time was totally my own. By the time I returned on April 12, I knew that someone cared.


Rodney: I thought about Carol and wondered how she was doing in Arkansas. So I decided to give her a call. During our conversation, I happened to ask her if she enjoyed Southern Gospel music. She said she did. I also asked her if she had ever been to the Ark and she said no she hadn’t. So I told her that I had received this brochure describing this trip and said I was interested, but that I didn’t really want to go alone. I hadn’t really planned to ask her to go with me, but I asked her if that would be something that might interest her. She evidently took this as an invitation (everyone else who has heard this story said that this was certainly an invitation). Anyway, she said yes, she would love to go... as long as we had separate hotel rooms. I couldn’t believe what just happened! And I immediately applied for two of us to go on this trip in August.


Carol: Near the end of March, I had received a call from Rodney. After small talk, he asked, “Do you like Southern Gospel music?” I answered, “Yes, I do.” He explained, “There is this trip that I would like to take, but I don’t want to go alone.” He described a trip to the Ark and Creation Museum in Kentucky. There would be a dinner cruise. “Is this something that would interest you?” Thoughts rapidly raced through my head. If I ever wanted to travel, why not with Rodney, this world traveler who is so nice to everyone? So I blurted out, “Yes, if we can have separate rooms!” This trip was going to take place in August.


As soon as I got off the phone, I said to Sharon, “I can’t believe what I just did!!!” She looked at me and said, “Here’s a side of you I’ve never seen before.” We both collapsed in laughter at the crazy thing I had just done. I do remember wondering, “What if we don’t even like each other by that time?” As far as I knew, I was just going to be a traveling companion, but something happened as we began to text back and forth... our friendship grew.


It was about a week after I had returned that Rodney happened to mention to me how shocked he was during that phone call when I invited myself along! My turn to be shocked! I returned to my apartment in a daze, replaying his words in that phone call over and over, thinking how could I have misunderstood his intent so badly? Of course, I have to go to him and apologize for the huge misunderstanding. Of course, I have to say that I am not going on this trip. I was MORTIFIED! If I had known Rodney better, I would have known that this retired pastor could never have asked a woman to travel with him if they weren’t married. But then, what was his intent? Did he expect that I might come up with a list of about six women that he should call? I decided to swallow my pride and say to him, “No, Rodney. I did NOT invite myself along. That was an invitation!” He thought that he was simply sharing about a trip that he would like to take someday. He reminded me that he didn’t say, “Will you come with me?” He asked, “Would this interest you?” He thought I would say, “That might be fun someday.”


We could laugh about it later, but I almost threw away a new, growing friendship. I imagined two angels up in heaven having a discussion. “How are we going to put words in Rodney’s mouth that are acceptable to him, a retired pastor whose high school year book says, ‘not too shy, not too bold,’ and still make Carol feel singled out and special?”


Rodney: When Carol returned to the Village Cooperative from Arkansas in April 2021, we began to at first text each other from time to time. Then I got a little braver and asked her if she would care to go to church with me and out to lunch following. She agreed, and soon we began dating more regularly. Our relationship and appreciation for each other grew. Then on July 4, 2021, I asked Carol if she would “declare independence from all former relationships and pledge allegiance to a new relationship with me.” She said “YES!” Once again, I could hardly believe what was happening.


Carol: There is one question that I would like to ask. In my circumstances, when is the right time to tell children and step-children about Rodney? Other than attending church with Rodney several times and stopping for something to eat afterward, we really hadn’t had a “first date.” Rodney had asked to take me to dinner and I had been reluctant. We were getting closer to John’s Celebration of Life. My mind was filled with those plans and reliving our life together in write-ups and photos. At that point I almost felt as though I was living in two worlds. I wish the timing had been different, but we needed to make it as good as we could.


Rodney and I share a birthday, May 29. I agreed to go to dinner with him. We consider this our “first date.” We drove to a restaurant in Alexandria and had a very nice time. Memorial Day weekend is very big if you have any connection to Hillcrest Lutheran Academy or Lutheran Brethren Seminary. Rodney was hoping I would attend a concert and graduation ceremonies with him. Rodney’s granddaughter Tevi was graduating with an Open House. I would be meeting many more of Rodney’s friends. Just before our birthday dinner, I told my sons Dave and Paul about Rodney, but we agreed that I should wait until after the Celebration of Life to tell Paul, Nancy and Karen. I care deeply for my step-children. When I met John, their mother Bev had only been gone for four months. They had been through this before. I didn’t like keeping this from them.


The Celebration of Life was everything we could have wanted for John. It was a beautiful day with so many relatives and friends gathered. John had left a huge hole in my life. We had made a very good life together. Rodney understood this need of mine to now bring some closure to that chapter in my life.


It was only one month between the Celebration of Life and the 4th of July when I accepted Rodney’s proposal. How could I have done that? I seemed to be completely discounting the fact that John had passed away nine months earlier, one month before Helen. It helped that John and Rodney had such a high regard for each other. My children and step-children and their families were so good in welcoming Rodney to our family, as Rodney’s family was to me. They all seemed genuinely happy for us even though it happened so quickly.


Rodney: Then in August, we did take that trip to the Ark and the Creation Museum. We had a wonderful time getting to know each other even better during this trip (and we did stay in separate rooms). We decided that since we weren’t getting any younger, we should go ahead and seal our relationship, so we began to plan our marriage. We were married on the Sept. 26, 2021, with many of the members of our families being present to support us as we began our new life together We just celebrated our second anniversary and are very happy together.


Carol: We were married at Oak Hill Church in Bloomington on Sept. 26, 2021. We had a pizza party “meet and greet” on Saturday night at the church. Many of our relatives attended church services with us the next morning with the wedding on Sunday for about 50 relatives. We recently celebrated our 2nd anniversary.


Rodney: One piece of advice we would share with others concerning a second or third marriage. We met with a lawyer and drew up a prenuptial document keeping our individual financial investments and wills separate so that there would be no questions for our families, should one or the other pass away first.


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