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Single in the country

Friday, November 2, 2007 | 3:00 p.m. CDT; updated 6:25 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Dorothy and DeWitt Finney smile for their Christmas photo in front of their home in Skidmore. The couple met through Singles in Agriculture in 2000 and have been married since October 2001.

After Mike Decker’s wife died eight years ago, friends tried fixing him up with various women, all without success.

“What somebody else likes is not necessarily what you would like,” he said. “You’re probably better off if you fix yourself up.”

Cultivating a relationship

DETAILS

Singles in Agriculture 118 E. Front Ave. Stockton, IL 61085 Call: 815-947-3559 e-mail: sianationaloffice@singlesinag.org Web site: singlesinag.org

INTERESTED IN A SINGLES GROUP?

Singles in Agriculture is by no means the only organization serving singles with agricultural backgrounds. Here are four additional ways to meet people with rural roots. • Loners on Wheels; call Donna Jane Stewart, 816-941-3831 Loners on Wheels is a national RV club for singles generally in their 50s to 80s whose membership includes many farmers and farm wives. The Kansas City “LoWs” chapter goes camping about one weekend per month from April through October. It meets for lunches during the winter months. Its members also participate in volunteer and service projects. “Many people come after a divorce, relocation or a death in the family, so we try to make it a good, safe step back into life’s enjoyment,” said Donna Jane Stewart, a former officer of the Kansas City chapter. “It’s just a good way for single people to get acquainted without the hassle of bars, dating clubs or the Internet,” she said. Stewart said there are typically one to two weddings per year as result of the organization. • FarmersOnly.com, farmersonly.com This Web site was launched in 2005 and now has more than 10,000 members with a background or interest in farming. • Country Singles, countrysingles.com Anyone who’s ever passed through an interstate highway rest stop has probably noticed Country Singles, a monthly newspaper with information and personals for Midwest singles. Country Singles also publishes a directory of more than 60 Midwest singles groups – including Singles in Agriculture. • Missouri Farm Bureau, mofb.org Garrett Hawkins, director of national affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, is not aware of any programs designed specifically to address the issue of lonely, single farmers. But the bureau’s young farmers and ranchers program involves both married couples and singles. Its annual conference is held in Missouri each February and typically draws about 500 young farmers. “Anyone from collegiate farm bureau members to people in their late 30s will come,” Hawkins said. “There might be farmers older than that who will come back and want to see their friends. And some people bring their children.” According to Hawkins, the 2008 conference will be held at Tan-Tar-A, Lake of the Ozarks. “It’s usually some time around Valentine’s Day,” he said.


Decker is a 60-year-old bachelor who lives on his father’s farm, where he grew up, in Bogard, population 239.

He is outgoing and personable. In addition to operating a farm, he is a sales representative for a farm supply company, but his schedule isn’t ideal for meeting women.

Decker makes sales calls in six states and is rarely home during the week.

“I typically don’t have any time to socialize with my friends until the weekend,” he said.

Five years ago Decker joined Singles in Agriculture, a national organization that sponsors events throughout the country for singles with rural or agricultural backgrounds.

“The reason I joined SIA — I was probably looking for somebody,” Decker said.

But rural dating, which gives new meaning to the term “long-distance relationship,” can be a challenge.

Loneliness and isolation are not uncommon in the farming community, where small towns, long hours, unpredictable schedules and misconceptions about farm life are obstacles for the single farmer hoping to meet someone special.

Perhaps this is why the organization and others like Country Singles, Loners on Wheels and FarmersOnly.com serve an important function: They give rural singles the chance to venture beyond their comfort zones and make new connections.

Singles in Agriculture began in 1986, following a series of articles in Farm Journal magazine.

“Maybe I wouldn’t feel so alone if I knew there were others with the same problem,” wrote a young Missouri farmer in the August

1984 issue.

He was responding to an inquiry posed by Meg Gaige, a reporter who “hit a nerve” in 1984 when she asked Farm Journal readers to comment

on the social lives of single farmers.

“Finding someone with concern for this problem is just what the doctor ordered,” wrote a single dairyman from Ohio, grateful for the

reporter’s attention to the issue.

Gaige invited rural singles to contact her and promised to collect a list of available prospects across the country. She thought she’d be lucky to get 300 responses.

“But within a week after the August Farm Journal hit the rural routes, there were rubberbanded stacks of 100 or more letters dropping through my mail slot day after day,” she wrote.

The response was so overwhelming that the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, and the CBS Morning News covered the story.

Gaige read “every word” of the first 500 or so letters, which came from nearly every state and Canada. They were written by cattle,

dairy, vegetable and macadamia nut farmers, by mothers of single farmers, by widowers, divorcees — even a handful of 16-year-olds.

“Would like to find a companion to share my farm, kids, long days and profits with,” wrote a single Alabaman.

A grateful Ohioan wrote: “Frankly, your article on finding a mate was a brainstorm or a stroke of genius or something. It is very

difficult to find people, even among those raised on farms, who have a ‘rural value structure.’ Thank you very much.”

As promised, Farm Journal mailed out directories of the 2,700-plus responses that eventually rolled in.

In 1986, a group in Illinois picked up where Farm Journal left off and formed Singles in Agriculture, the oldest agriculture singles group in America.

With 12 chapters in 16 states, including Missouri, the group sponsors three large national events each year. Local chapters sponsor smaller events such as barbecues, scavenger hunts, canoe trips, museum tours and dances.

At a Singles in Agriculture event in Minnesota last July, Mike Decker met a nice woman from Nicollet.

They’ve been “going together” for about four months, he said, even though they live 437 miles — about seven hours — apart.

“Proximity” is the best predictor of a friendship, which is why single farmers, or anyone who feels isolated, may need an extra push to meet others.

Take Dorothy and DeWitt Finney, who married in 2001. She was 65, and he was 69.

She was from Kansas, and he was from Missouri. They met in Lincoln, Neb.

DeWitt grew up on a farm, graduated high school in 1951, and served in the U.S. Navy for two years until 1955, when he moved to a farm near Skidmore. He settled there with his wife, whom he’d known since elementary school.

After he wife died in 1993, DeWitt spent the next seven years alone. None of his seven children had become farmers because “it’s an awful hard business to get into anymore,” he said.

His winters were devoted to caring for livestock, his springs and summers to planting and harvesting row crops. But he still made an effort to see other people.

“There weren’t too many days where I didn’t go to a coffee shop, and go to a local truck stop and eat supper,” he said.

Nonetheless, when one of his cousins, a national board member with Singles in Agriculture, suggested that he attend an event in February 2000, he agreed.

“My first wife didn’t really like to farm that well, and it sort of caused a little bit of friction,” he said. He hoped the next woman he met would have a farming background.

“I wasn’t gonna move my cows,” he said.

Dorothy Wright was living on a 180-acre grain farm outside of Hiawatha, Kan., at the time, working for the Farm Service Agency.

She had been involved in Singles in Agriculture since 1990 after reading about the organization in Farm Journal.

Being a “single girl” and not knowing many people nearby, she drove more than two hours to attend a national campout in Kansas. She quickly made friends with the members.

“It was just ironic how we had so much fun together. And I thought if I ever met someone, that would just be frosting on the cake,” she said.

“I’d been single 23 years, so I didn’t know if anyone could adjust to me, or me to them.”

At a national Singles in Agriculture convention in Lincoln, Neb., in 2000, Dorothy Wright met DeWitt Finney.

“I happened to be sitting across the table from her at supper on Saturday evening. I struck up a conversation with her, and that’s how

I met her,” DeWitt said.

“She seemed to be real friendly, and everybody seemed to like her, you know, and we just kind of went from there.”

They stayed in touch about carpooling to future events, and next attended one together in July 2000.

That was when they began dating, Dorothy said.

“He just asked, ‘Would you like to go out for supper?’ And I said ‘sure,’” she said.

For their first date, DeWitt drove 70 miles to Dorothy’s home in Kansas and asked her where she wanted to go.

She could think of three “good fish-eating places” near Rulo, Neb., and so they crossed the Missouri River and dined at Camp Rulo, a restaurant that serves carp.

They were disappointed to learn the restaurant no longer offered dancing, so they drove to Falls City, Neb., in search of a dance hall. They never found one.

The two continued dating. On Saturdays DeWitt would pick Dorothy up and take her out for supper. They often returned to her home

to watch television, she said, because there were “no places to dance.”

They also continued to attend the organization’s events.

At one, Dorothy remembers a moment when they were slow dancing. “He smiled at me with this nice smile, and it just kind of won me over. It can be like you’re almost a teenager again. You have those feelings again,” she said.

DeWitt proposed in December 2000, six months after their first date. He handed her a ring as they were standing in front of the Christmas tree in his house.

They married in October 2001 near Dorothy’s home in Hiawatha, in a small ceremony limited to family members. About 20 acquaintances from Singles in Agriculture came to the reception, where there was plenty of dancing.

After the wedding and some calculated deliberation on her part, Dorothy moved to Missouri.

“It became a border war, because there’s the Missouri River between us,” she said. “I had a good government job and had worked there 19 years. I wanted to get my 20 years in.”

DeWitt’s house in Missouri didn’t have a bathtub, and Dorothy told him: “I gotta have a bath tub.”

So they tore down his old house and built a new one, “just to get a bathtub in,” Dorothy said laughing.

Recently the couple celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary, and now they belong to Singles No More, a branch of Singles in Agriculture that allows married members to attend.

Although it is billed as a singles group, Singles in Agriculture is not solely meant to play Cupid. Members are quick to emphasize the educational benefits of visiting new places, as well as the platonic relationships that develop.

Janet Knehans no longer lives on a farm, although she grew up on one.

Born and raised in Higginsville, she was one of seven children — two boys and five girls — and she was “definitely a tomboy.”

She graduated from high school in Higginsville, attended Columbia College and Warrensburg (now the University of Central Missouri), and did graduate work at MU between 1981 and 1983.

In 1987, she moved to Jefferson City after a divorce, but she missed the rural life.

“I wasn’t exactly a city kid, and I’m still really not,” she said.

In 1995, she transferred to St. Charles County, the closest she could get to farm life without quitting her job.

“I rented an apartment for a few years and then got back into home ownership because that’s how I was raised,” she said. “Just like any farm kid, I bought the house because it has big trees and dirt to play in.”

Knehans learned about Singles in Agriculture during a break one day when she was still working in Jefferson City. On a Friday morning in August 1989, a coworker asked what she was doing that evening.

Nothing, apparently, because Knehans soon found herself on a road trip to Wisconsin.

Since then she has attended a variety of the organization’s activities: canoe trips in four states, visits to John Deere centers in Illinois and Iowa, and a horse-drawn sleigh ride in Oklahoma around Christmas.

She loves that Singles In Agriculture members share similar backgrounds.

“One of the funny things you should learn about farm people – in case you meet one – is farm families are notorious for overcooking meat,”

she said.

She recalls that first event in Wisconsin where they served “the most beautiful prime rib.” “But it was a little underdone, and almost every plate went back to the kitchen.”

Knehans said the organization has been her best resource for finding adult girlfriends.

“Sometimes my phone will ring at 4 a.m., and it’s a friend trying to stay up for daybreak because farmers usually plant more than they can farm in a work day.”

“People make good enough friends that it’s OK to do that,” she said.


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