It was a sun-drenched afternoon in late September. Wendy and Darryl Runde sat at their kitchen table, plastic containers of homemade chocolate chip cookies stacked around them. It was a few hours before they would be leaving for their great-granddaughter’s second birthday party. The John Deere clock on the wall chugged 2 o’clock.
“It was an eating place,” Wendy said, recounting where she and Darryl met over pop in Ames, Iowa. It was 1955, and 18-year-old Wendy had just come from choir practice at nearby Bethesda Lutheran Church, where she sang as a soprano. “Tip Top. It’s a beer joint now.”
Darryl, a 22-year-old farmer from Roland, a town 15 miles northeast of Ames, took Wendy out to a dirt road and proposed six months later. They made their vows on April Fools Day, 1956, at Bergen Lutheran Church in Roland, where Darryl had been attending services since he was born.
“We’ve been fooling each other ever since,” he said. That might have been a wink behind his silver wire-rimmed glasses.
Darryl has been farming since he was 13, a few years after his father passed away and left behind a herd of hogs and 40 acres of corn and soybeans. He and Wendy, 81 and 77 respectively, had been farming the same land since they were married, a mile up the road from the house Darryl was born in. The morning before their great-granddaughter’s party, Darryl replaced a wire gate in the cattle yard with a swing gate, mulled over the cost of Angus versus Swiss calves, and forecasted it would be a few more weeks before the expanse of soybeans behind the house yellowed enough for harvest.
Wendy took quickly to farm life. She grew up poor, working from the age of 16 at a canning factory in Ames, as a corn detassler, and babysitting for a quarter an hour in order to buy clothes for school. She stayed at home with the family while Darryl worked various jobs, from canning to egg pick-up to maintenance at Atomic Energy in Ames, where part of the atomic bomb was fabricated in the 1940s.
“I’ve pulled a lot of pigs in my day,” Wendy said, referring to the practice of dislodging stuck piglets from a sow’s birth canal. “I’ve been clear up to here.” She pointed high on the sleeve of her red polo shirt. “And I castrated them, and clipped their teeth and nails.” Her grandson Teddy tended pigs with her from the time he was eight weeks old–Wendy pushed him around in a grocery cart.
“He grew up in the pig house,” she said. “Now he’s six-four, and 18 years old.”
In the living room of their small ranch on a dusty dirt-and-gravel road, pictures of Teddy and the rest of the Runde’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren cascaded down the wall above the couch. Formal portraits of their three children–Peter, Patty, and Paul–were arranged in a triad above the fireplace, where they’ve hung since the photos were taken when the kids were in high school.
The Rundes were expecting 35 bushels–about 2,000 pounds–per acre of beans this growing season, a big crop due to a wet summer. At 13-acres worth, this amounts to 455 bushels, sold at about $10 per this year. They anticipated close to 4,000 bushels of corn from their 20-acre crop, all of which would be shipped to Key Co-op in Radcliffe and returned to them in feed for their 20 gloss-black Angus steer. It would be a good harvest compared to their hardest year: 1977, when a great drought hit the Midwest. Their corn crop yielded 40 bushels per acre that year, and the beans only five. But Wendy and Darryl had what it took to survive the feasts and famines of farm life: a good, hard work ethic and a knack for saving money.
“Buy what you need, not what you want,” Wendy said, her poor childhood never far from her pocketbook. “People wouldn’t have money troubles if they did that.”
A shiny black pick-up truck sat in the Runde’s driveway, the first new vehicle they’d bought in a half-century of fixing up used ones. The Rundes even hang on to good names – their sprightly Goldendoodle puppy, Abby Sue, was named after her predecessor, Abby Lane.
“Stay with the old, that’s alright,” Wendy said. “It just matches us.”
Darryl, who’s been known to cut his neighbor’s lawn after a long day on the farm, distilled his take on life into a few words: “Hard work never hurts you.” And hard work may be the secret to the Runde’s near-60 years of marriage.
“We were too busy to fight,” he said, remembering the bustle of their life as newlyweds. “I worked at the canning factory and picked up eggs at the same time.”
“You have to try,” said Wendy. “Young people don’t nowadays, they give up. You’ve got to put up with everything.”
Just as you’d put seed down below drought-shriveled stalks of corn; just as you’d spend a Sunday afternoon looking up into the undercarriage of a fifteen-year-old car.