In the past two years, Betty and Duane Guden of St. John the Baptist Parish in Marshfield have had to face intimidating life changes, including a cancer diagnosis and the sale of their dairy cows. For many people, these experiences could cause fear and sadness, but Betty and Duane’s strong faith in God has guided them through each adversity, keeping them at peace and able to see the joy in life.
Just after the couple’s 55th wedding anniversary in May 2014, Betty received a diagnosis from her doctor that no one wants to hear. “I found out I had third-stage breast cancer,” says Betty.
The doctor wanted Betty to undergo a course of chemotherapy to battle the cancer. Betty and Duane discussed the situation, based on their trust in God. They were realistic about the diagnosis and did not expect Betty’s future to have a healing miracle. Rather, they both wanted the quality of Betty’s life on earth to be filled with peace.
“We both decided that our faith could carry us further than the medical community,” Betty says. “My husband worked right beside me. The situation seems to have stabilized. I’m still here. Every day I get up and decide whatever the good Lord wants, I will do.”
The decision to place Betty’s health in God’s hands was difficult for some of their children to accept. In the beginning, their six daughters were divided on Betty and Duane’s decision.
“At first, three of them disagreed with me,” says Betty.
Betty was focused on following a healthy diet. Her health stabilized. Then, to complicate matters, she fell in September 2014 and broke her hip. Betty continued to let herself be guided by God and trust in him, even with the setback of the broken hip. Her quiet strength and determination came from a faith that never wavered, which made an impact on her family.
“At Christmas time, the girls called and said they were very sorry,” she says. “They are all on my side now.”
She had a complete recovery after hip surgery, and no longer uses a walker or cane. The breast cancer is manageable.
Faith in God has made the challenges to Betty’s health easy for her to bear and has given her the sense of peace she was searching for after receiving the cancer diagnosis.
“Day by day, little by little, whatever will be will be,” says Betty. “I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. If your faith is weak, you’re always going to be looking for the material back up.”
Betty’s faith was strengthened by being active in the Catholic Church from the time she was a young girl. A child of divorced parents, Betty never knew her father. Instead, she focused on building a relationship with the one true Father by being active in school and church.
She was not a typical girl in seventh and eighth grade, but that never bothered Betty.
“I didn’t fit in with the kids, and I didn’t want to,” she says. “I was in the special choirs in school. I always loved to do the things that concerned religion.”
Faith was a gift to Duane from his parents, who modeled the importance of church in marriage and family. “My parents were good Catholics,” Duane says. “I used to always serve the 7 a.m. Mass. Then and now, I wouldn’t miss church. I believe in the dear Lord above. Without him, we would be lost.”
Duane balances Betty’s quiet calm and resolve with a lively sense of humor. He is always ready to make a joke and see the happy side of life. Faith gives Duane a joyful view of the world.
The two began dating at age 16 and will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary in May. Their marriage has been a lifelong partnership.
“We don’t only work together, we think alike,” Duane says.
“He encourages me that it’s always going to get better,” says Betty. “There’s no way you can do it alone. You have to have somebody who works with you.”
After a short time Duane spent working in the body shop of a local car dealership, the couple bought the 126-acre farm just three and a half miles south of Marshfield. Duane grew up on a dairy farm nearby and was happy to have a farm for him and Betty to continue the family tradition of dairy farming.
By 2015, the farm had a herd of 50 dairy cows between the ages of 12 and 23 years that were more than just a meal ticket for the family.
“Our cows were pets. They all had names. We would talk to them and they would answer back,” says Betty.
“They all knew their names,” Duane says. “They knew their stalls.”
The hard work of being a dairy farmer was a joy for Duane all through years of regular milking and caring for the bovine members of the family. The farm was run by the whole family when their children were growing up, and their six daughters and one son were always happy to help with the animals and the farm.
“We never had to worry,” Betty says. “We didn’t have to tell the children what to do.”
With all the children grown and most living out of the area, the farm work grew to be more than what Duane and Betty wanted to do in their mid-70s. It was time to sell the herd.
“It was a very hard decision,” says Betty.
On March 17, 2015, they sold the entire herd to a neighbor. Keeping all the cows together made the sale easier for Betty and Duane.
The cows may not be around, but the barn isn’t empty. The couple still has their horse, and they made room for their granddaughter’s horse as well. And with 13 barn cats still on the farm, Duane has animals to look after and to keep him company.
Duane’s career in an auto shop may have ended when he was young, but his interest in cars has continued through the years. The farm is also home to Duane’s collection of classic cars and his heated shop. The first car in the collection was a 1958 Oldsmobile, and once upon a time it was a new car for Duane and Betty.
“I bought it new before we got married,” Duane says. “When I brought it home, Betty asked me how we could afford it. I tell people I only have two payments left. The car still only has 44,000 miles on it. I just love cars, I always did. I love my hobby.”
Betty and Duane’s life is a testament to the way faith can keep the joy in life, even when hardships appear. “We both figure when something comes up there’s only one place to go,” says Betty.
Duane’s advice at living life to the fullest is that laughter is the best medicine. No matter what the future holds, Duane and Betty have God’s love and wisdom to guide them. Every day they have together is a blessing. Their philosophy for a good life and a strong marriage is a simple one.
“Let the good Lord take you along on a wagon ride,” says Betty.
For more information about making God as the center of your marriage, visit http://diolc.org/ministry_resources/family_life/.
by Mary Kay McPartlin
Photography by Michael Lieurance