The shared thread of Catholic Faith in Steve and Jolene’s life
Steve and Jolene Janke reside on a dairy farm in the southern part of Humbird, located halfway between Neillsville and Osseo, south of Highway 10. They are active members of St. Joseph Parish, Fairview, just an eight-minute drive north of their farm. The couple has six children: twins Marcus and Joseph, Geralyn, Zach, Gabe and Rudy, and eight grandchildren: Frederic, Claire, Nickolas, Sarah, Evyln, Caleb, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They are expecting a new grandchild in December and another one in January.
Zach and Gabe are farmers who work on the land adjacent to their parents’ property. Rudy is employed as an industrial mechanic in Eau Claire but helps on the farm during weekends when he visits home. Together, they farm around 800 acres of land. Steve and Jolene’s other children reside outside the parish area.
As a young man, Steve never intended to be involved with farming despite being born and raised on his family farm. He attended technical school and studied welding. After graduation, he interviewed for a job in Minneapolis at a company that made cranes. However, after visiting Minneapolis, Steve realized he did not want to live there, and the job did not fit him well. Steve returned home to Humbird jobless, but he found plenty of work to do on the family farm.
“One day led to the next, and I just stayed here,” he said. “My dad made a living on 37 cows, and the barn needed a little upgrade. We expanded to 46 cows, giving us plenty of work to do. We stayed at 46 cows, the maximum I can milk.”
Jolene was raised in a Catholic family in Stratford. She attended Catholic school until the eighth grade and later graduated from a public high school. She pursued a bachelor’s degree in speech therapy from UW-Eau Claire and, after graduation, started her first job as a school speech therapist in South Dakota. However, she returned to Wisconsin during the summer to pursue graduate studies at UW-River Falls.
That was when Steve entered Jolene’s life. She was living with her good friend from college, Deb, whose home was close to St. Joseph Church in Fairview. Deb’s friend was getting married, and Jolene was invited to the wedding ceremony and dance afterward. Jolene was standing by herself as Deb was busy at the bridal party. She spotted Steve in the room and wondered if he would dance with her. Like all of us, she was hesitant to ask someone who might turn her down, but she eventually asked Steve to dance. Steve and Deb knew each other as they were from the same small community. After the dance, Steve got Jolene’s name and address and wrote her a letter. They started seeing each other from then on.
Jolene and Steve were soon married, and Jolene moved to Steve’s family farm. Jolene confessed, “I said I would never marry a farmer. I grew up in Stratford, and my dad was a mailman. You know, sometimes you do things you say you’ll never do because it’s the thing to say at the time.”
Nearly every Sunday, when my local grandchildren, Caleb (3) and Sarah (4), come back from the Communion blessing, they “sneak” up the stairs to the choir loft to see grandma. I just love it when I feel that little child leaning against me as I sit on the keyboard bench. They know not to touch anything; they just want to say hi. It is delightful.”
Jolene shared that Steve, who was raised in a Lutheran family, decided to join the Catholic church when their twin boys celebrated their first birthday. “Steve could see me struggling to take them to church every Sunday by myself. It was challenging. The car seats were so heavy to carry. Finally, he said, “This can’t continue. I am going to become Catholic.” And so he enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA),” Jolene said.
She continued, “Steve told me it was very difficult to share with his mother that he decided to become Catholic because his mother was a very devout Lutheran. It was a real upheaval for us to marry, for one, and then for him to convert was a challenging time for us all. But to her credit, and for me, we always got along.”
Singing in the Choir
Life’s experiences are sometimes not what one expects. Neither Steve nor Jolene planned to live on a farm. But doing so has brought joy into their lives. In fact, one of Steve’s small joys, despite not admitting it too loudly, is his love for his cows, and during Christmas time, he even gives them extra feed as a treat. I get up at 5 a.m., which is the best part of the day.” Jolene said that when Steve comes in for breakfast around 9 a.m., he always says, “Oh, it is so beautiful this morning; I wish I would have gotten up earlier.” Of course, that is only true in the summertime; winter is a different story.
Jolene made a good choice when she decided to live on a farm and marry a farmer. In her opinion, the farm is an excellent place to raise children. Jolene is proud to say that her children have developed a strong work ethic and love for family as they worked together daily to complete chores.
Jolene credits Steve for taking on more of the household farm work so that she can serve the parish community. As with many small rural parishes, parishioners often fill multiple roles, and this is true in Jolene’s case. Jolene serves on the St. Joseph Parish Council. She also enjoys singing, so much so that she fills the role of music director. “Usually, 70 people attend Mass on Sunday,” said Jolene. “Initially, only those singing were up in the choir loft with me, but as time passed, more and more people joined in. It feels like a revival, and it is wonderful.”
According to Jolene, people are often afraid to sing, but she encourages them, reminding them that whether or not they can sing isn’t what matters, but instead that they are offering praise to God—so sing! She mentions that every parishioner can now hear the singing from the choir loft. Jolene sings at every Mass, including those celebrated in Spanish. Jolene and her friend Marci Baugher also sing in Spanish, even if they don’t understand everything they’re singing.
The Journey of Joy and Love
Jolene, like Steve, does not let grass grow under her feet. She is passionate about her music ministry, leads a prayer chain, helps with church decoration and participates in a Bible study program. Her love for playing music at church is evident in the joy it brings her and the hope it gives her for the future of her Catholic family. Jolene shares, “Nearly every Sunday, when my local grandchildren, Caleb (3) and Sarah (4) are coming back from the Communion blessing, they “sneak” up the stairs to the choir loft to see grandma. I just love it when I feel that little child leaning against me as I sit on the keyboard bench. They know not to touch anything; they just want to say hi. It is delightful.”
Neither Steve nor Jolene had any idea when they attended that small-town wedding dance that their lives would then be forever intertwined. What began as simply two people dancing together at a wedding is now a rich love story full of children, grandchildren, a family farm and a vibrant faith life. Steve and Jolene’s journey has been one of pure joy and love. Their story reminds us of the incredible power of God, love and family.
Story by Robert Rogers
Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine