Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Until Rubert Kerl’s wife left him two months before the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary, the soybean and corn farmer thought his dating days were over.
Then Kerl, of Mazomanie, Wis., happened to see a notice in his local paper about a group for single farmers seeking a social life.
“You got to do something,” he remembers telling himself.
The ad was his ticket to meeting an unattached farm girl. “It was love at first sight,” Kerl, 75, says of Charlotte, 71, and before long they were married.
In recent years, dating services for people of different ages, interests and religious backgrounds have proliferated thanks to the Internet. But one of the most resilient groups of all goes back to the 1980s and focuses on an increasingly challenging niche: farmers in rural areas, whose numbers are shrinking with the farm population and who don’t tend to live very close to others.
Today, the Singles in Agriculture group has several hundred members and holds get-togethers in rural communities for people who want to live on the land. The participants tend to be older than those in other singles groups and favor a style that’s more small town and traditional.
The gatherings are “kind of like being in a small town ... and the common denominator is that farm history that helps everybody to blend in and kind of blurs the edges so we can all be friends,” says member Cara Maschmeier, 53, who grew up on a 1,400-acre wheat and milo farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Single farmers face an especially difficult task finding others like them. In recent years, many farm families have sold out to corporations and moved away; the rural population has been gravitating to the cities, leaving small towns to wither, cafes to close, social organizations to decline. Meeting people is harder than ever.
“Farming is not an easy life. Your (dating) pool is very small to begin with,” said member Kevin Lilienthal, 50, who farms soybeans and corn on 160 acres near New Liberty, Iowa. Many young people who leave the farm “never want to come back. Any type of relationship is just a challenge.”
Roberta Statler-Meierotto, of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, met her second husband, Gilbert, through the club. He died in 2007, but Roberta refuses to close the door on the possibility of another husband with a farming background.
“I know what kind of lifesaver this group was to me,” she said, “and I want to keep that going.”