April 11, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Rinkenbergers share secret of 66-year marriage

Like two halves of one heart, Joe and Harriet Rinkenberger have spent the last 66 years working, loving and sharing good times and bad. They have lived within a few miles of where they grew up, raised a large family and now have four of their nine children living within four miles of their home. 

Joe Rinkenberger grew up on a farm in Horton Township and has lived his entire life in the same area. Harriet Roberts also grew up on a farm in nearby Hodges Township. Joe is six years older than Harriet.

The first time Harriet met Joe, he was dating her sister. Harriet came home late from a babysitting job and Joe commented that she was “pretty late getting home.” Harriet remembers that meeting quite well as she almost instantly fell for this good-looking young man. 

Joe doesn’t recall that first meeting but does remember seeing Harriet a few years later at dances and roller-skating. By this time he was no longer dating her sister so he started to strike up a conversation with Harriet. Within six months, Joe was also smitten by this beautiful young woman. Joe was immediately attracted to her smile and said she was always “a happy person.”

They dated throughout Harriet’s senior year of high school and Joe even took her to her senior prom. They were married on Nov. 20, 1953, six months after she graduated. They moved on to a farm in Horton Township and as Harriet put it “life happened” for the next 66 years.

A large part of that life was raising nine children, six boys and three girls. Randy is the first born and now lives in Iowa. Then came Dale and Doug who live near the home farm. Robert was next and lives in St. Cloud. To try to encourage a girl the next time, Joe gave Harriet a calendar with a picture of a girl on it after Robert’s birth.

It worked, as Marie came along next and then two more boys, Charles and Howard. Daughters Sharon and Laurie rounded out the family. These children have given Joe and Harriet 22 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren (or so, as they stated.) With the children living close, they are able to see them often which is good for Harriet as she does not like to travel.

It is a big job to raise a large family. Joe farmed 200 acres and also raised dairy cows, pigs and chickens. The kids were in FFA and had some sheep during those years. Joe did all his own repair work on the farm equipment which is probably why his sons and grandsons are also mechanically inclined. Their son Doug has six working antique John Deere tractors and several others that are repairable. 

Harriet had a large garden and canning was a daily process when produce ripened. She continues to garden but cans more for the children than for themselves. She remembers having an idea how much she needed to put up each year in order to feed the family and that is what she would do. She also did some babysitting for family and friends through the years.

When Joe’s mother passed away, they took in his father, Albert, as he was not able to be alone. A house was moved on to the farm place and connected to their home so he would have a place to be on his own, yet able to come over for meals or visits.

Each of them did have a favorite hobby when time would allow. Harriet loves quilting and even volunteers times at her church to help make quilts. Joe loves to read so he spends more quiet time doing that. They both enjoy listening to music and have lots of Old Time and Country Western records to prove it. However, with a gift from the children of a new television, they can listen to that music on TV and even watch their favorite dance shows.

Through the years their lives were very busy so there was no time to worry about things. “It takes busy people to be happy,” Harriet explained.

Age is starting to take its toll however. Joe has had bypass surgery and a pacemaker. Harriet has two new knees and also struggled with blood clots. Joe stated “I am like an old car. Every once and awhile I need some new parts.”

Harriet said that they never really worried about exchanging valentines or other gifts through the years. Joe always said that if you can’t afford something, you don’t need it. Cards and candy were things they didn’t need. Harriet said that Joe would show her his love in other ways like getting the car out and running and little things like that. On their 50th wedding anniversary, Joe surprised her with two roses and Harriet said that was the best anniversary ever. 

So what is the secret to staying happily married for 66 years. Joe and Harriet agree, it is to learn to forgive and forget and talk things over. You need to work things out together. Their advice to younger people is to take your marriage vows seriously and respect each other. 

Even after 66 years, the couple is still living on their farm and enjoying a busy life. Their children and grandchildren stop in often which is okay with them. There is always food on the table and warm hearts to greet them. Right now they are celebrating life every chance they get and hoping to celebrate 70 years in 2023.

Katie Erdman