Lessons Learned from Faith, Family and Farming

This article was posted on: March 31, 2022

Chris and Jennifer Pass on What They Received

In the rural Central Wisconsin communities along Old Hwy. 10, Faith and farming are a way of life. This is evidenced by the many Catholic parishes and farmsteads dotting the landscape on the stretch of road between Marshfield and Stevens Point.

Chris and Jennifer Zarecki both grew up in the area. Jennifer’s family owned a dairy farm in Milladore where she and her five siblings shared the responsibility with their parents of caring for the animals and the land. “My favorite thing was taking care of the animals,” says Jennifer. “I loved growing up on a farm.” Family life also involved family prayer each evening, and weekly Mass and catechesis at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Milladore.

Chris grew up in Junction City where he and his family were parishioners at St. Michael Parish. As a child, Chris worked at his grandparent’s farm up the road in Rudolph. This experience helped him envision his future.

When Chris and Jennifer were just 16, they met at a dance in Marshfield. In 1999, the couple married and joined St. Michael Parish.

After Jennifer earned a degree in farm business and production management and Chris a degree in farm operations, they purchased Chris’ grandparent’s farm on which they made their home. They had three boys in short order, adding life and excitement to the dairy farmstead.

The Zareckis continued dairy farming until, in 2019 during a windstorm, their barn started to collapse. They sold the herd and erected a new barn. Now Jennifer raises feeder steers and heifers, along with working part time at two other local farms. An appropriate addition to farming, Chris started working at a local fence company in 1995. In 2004 he became a subcontractor through them and then in 2013, part-owner. The couple cash-crops as well.

“Working together to complete tasks on the farm created a strong family bond with my siblings, as well as now with my husband and kids.” -Jennifer

Jennifer continues to love caring for animals. “I didn’t care much for field work [as a child] and I still don’t,” she admits, “but I do it because it needs to be done!” She explains that growing up on a farm taught her responsibility and instilled a strong work ethic. And “we were never bored as kids,” she laughs.

Seeing her boys grow up in the same environment, Jennifer shares that “working together to complete tasks on the farm created a strong family bond with my siblings, as well as now with my husband and kids, [and] my kids know they have to work for things they want.”

Both Jennifer and her boys participated in 4-H as children. Jennifer became a leader for the 12 years her boys were in the program. She believes it was her upbringing on a farm, coupled with her 4-H experiences, that helped her develop her leadership skills. She sees this in her boys as well, especially now as they embark on their career paths. Twenty-year-old Alex graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and works with his dad. Ethan, 18, enlisted in the U.S. Army reserve and is currently at Fort Lee doing his field training after completing basic training. And 17-year-old Dustin is a high school senior working at a dairy farm.

As it is said: When you work hard, you get to play hard. The Zareckis enjoy deer hunting on their property and Chris and the boys like to ice fish together. Jennifer gardens and she and Chris go kayaking when they can find the time.

Faith has always been a mainstay in the Zarecki home. Between serving weekly Mass or being involved with religious education classes, they are always ready to help out at their parish. An annual pilgrimage to the Grotto Gardens in Rudolph to pray is a tradition for the Zareckis. The family prays together daily, just as Jennifer’s family did growing up. Jennifer says, “Chris and I are so grateful to our parents for instilling our Faith in us and we passed that on to our children.”

Both Chris and Jennifer have led by example with their involvement at St. Michael Parish. As their pastor, Father Packianathan Nathan, can attest: “Chris and Jeni are involved in all the parish activities, especially the church dinner and picnic. They are a good, practicing Catholic family.”

Chris is an usher. His son Alex has joined him in the role. Chris also helps with maintenance work on the grounds. The Zareckis have both served on the parish council.

Jennifer remains on the parish council, as well as the finance council. She is the PCCW secretary and schedules the liturgical volunteers. She is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, a lector, she coordinates parish hall rentals and some parish functions. She has been co-director of the parish’s religious education program for eight years. This is her 16th year as a catechist. She began when her oldest son started attending kindergarten and they needed a first grade teacher.

Jennifer’s love of teaching religious education began when one of her own teachers and mentors, Maureen Karaliunas, encouraged her to use her gifts as a teacher. So, when she was a senior in high school, and the following year, she helped teach religious education at her parish, St. Wenceslaus in Milladore.

The Zareckis love their parish community at St. Michael’s. They feel a great connection, working as a part of its day-to-day ministries. With all of Jennifer’s commitments, she shares: “If I need help with any of these tasks, Chris is always there to help me.” Serving together is something they truly enjoy. “My parents taught us to work hard and help others,” Jennifer explains. “My mom always told me to share your talents, that is why God gave them to you!” In that, the Zareckis are holding nothing back.

Story by Amy Eichsteadt
Published in the March 2022 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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