Internet links urbanite and farmer at middle age

The ways of romantic love are seldom predictable or even reasonable. One Marion County couple has a different explanation for their improbable love connection.

?It?s a God thing,? said Dawn Suderman about the Internet meeting that led to a wedding in December between a 45-year-old marketing analyst from Chicago and a 54-year-old man who has farmed in Marion County his entire life.

New husband Joel concurs with Dawn?s conclusion.

?You never know where the opportunity lies,? he said about their introduction on a farm-related message board. ?Sometimes you just need to take the opportunity, even though it may be totally different than what you ever thought of doing or planned on doing.

?You trust that God knows what he?s doing and his plan is good?and just run with it from there.?

Different worlds connect


Dawn and Joel will be spending their first Valentine?s Day as wife and husband in suburban Chicago. Dawn is preparing to sell the house there that has been in her family for many years to prepare for a permanent move to the farm south of Marion and Hillsboro that has been in Joel?s family even longer.

And yet, their worlds are not as far apart as it might seem.

Though Dawn grew up in the Chicago area, she developed a farm connection even as a child. For a reprieve from the urban scene, she and her mother would make regular summer excursions to an uncle?s farm in Indiana, a place her mother had come to love as a child herself, an escape from the steel-town environment of her home in Gary, Ind.

?Mom was always telling me how she did love it on the farm,? Dawn said. ?She had lots of stories.?

Like her mother, Dawn developed an affinity for rural life?including the work ethic required for the myriad tasks that go with it. At the end of their stay, she and her mother would return to Chicago with a large supply of fruit for canning.

?Those were some of my fondest memories of her, hearing all her stories and going home and canning all the produce,? Dawn said of her mother, who died several years ago.

As an adult, Dawn also developed an appreciation for small towns when her Chicago employer assigned her to a burg in western Michigan for a year.

?I told the company I?m going to hate it there?it?s a small town, there?s nothing to do; you have to bring me back once a quarter to Chicago,? she recalled.

?At the end of that year, I didn?t want to leave. The air was so crisp and clean. Everything was accessible, the cost of living was so cheap, and the people were nicer. I thought, what am I doing in Chicago??

The first contact

It was the security of employment that kept Dawn living in the Windy City. But it was her interest in farming and small towns, plus a bout with depression, that prompted her to launch an Internet search for farm-related message boards.

?I realized my time would be best spent helping someone who needed it,? she said. ?They say that?s one way to keep yourself in an emotional healthy state.

?So I thought, given all my interests, it would be good if I could volunteer on a farm once or twice a month. So I thought, how do I meet a farmer who needs some help? There?s got to be a message board on the Internet with farmers talking.

?Sure enough, there was.?

Dawn began posting on New Ag Talk, offering to volunteer her services on a farm if someone would only invite her to come.

?The problem was, a lot of them were married, and they didn?t think their wives would appreciate having a woman helper around,? Dawn said with a laugh. ?I?hadn?t thought of that.?

Meanwhile, Joel had been posting on New Ag Talk for a couple years before Dawn entered the conversation in May 2009. Dawn remembers the post that changed their lives.

?Somebody had started a thread on ?how do you keep up with everything as a farmer??? she said. ?One person got on there, and I kind of thought he was complaining more than most. He said, ?Well, yes, there is a lot. I know I?m a little late in the dating department, but if God would just put a woman right here in front of me, I?d date her.??

Dawn replied almost immediately via e-mail: ?Here I am. Well, how about it??

Initial reservations

Joel didn?t take Dawn?s bold query lightly.

?That was a restless night for me,? he said. ?I wasn?t sure how I was going to respond to her. I always said I would never date anyone that I met on the Internet because I couldn?t trust them. I wouldn?t know what their background was or what their motive was.

?Furthermore, a long-distance relationship, to me, seemed unworkable. I didn?t even date anybody in Wichita because that was too far to go.?

Beyond that, Joel had come to peace about being single.

?I dated a few women but was never serious about anybody,? he said. ?I had kind of given up on dating. I had decided that God could use me as a single man. I was in a lot of different positions, and it was just a lot easier to do them as a single person.

?Sometimes I wished I had been married,? he added. ?There were different avenues where God could use me as a married person, but that seemed like an unreachable goal.

?That?s what I told God: For me to get married you?re going to have to bring her here and put her right down in front of me.?

Building a relationship

Joel e-mailed back, and it began a dating relationship, tentative at first, that warmed with time and increasing communication?even from a distance.

After multiple e-mails and phone conversations, the pair had their first face-to-face encounter when they met July 4 in Kansas City. That led to several commutes between Chicago and Marion County as well as more time on the phone.

Using their creativity, their long-distance relationship bloomed.

?We probably spent dozens of hours talking together on the phone,? Joel said. ?I would say one, maybe two, hours every week we have had?and continue to have while we?re still living apart?a date night.?

The date might be renting the same movie and watching together from separate homes. It might mean sharing a meal some 675 miles apart, followed by sharing a book or a board game.

?Sometimes we plan and fix the same kind of meal, sometimes it?s what we find in the refrigerator,? Joel said. ?But we call each other up on Saturday evening and act as if we?re on a date.?

Joel said while he was leery of having long-distance romance before meeting Dawn, it?s actually been an asset.

?It helps us in many ways to get to know each other and build our relationship,? he said. ?We had to rely on our conversation to get to know each other.

?(The creativity) continues now.? Joel said. ?We went back to her place three weeks ago, and then last week I came home because a farmer kind of has to look after his business here, too.

?I?ll be returning to Chicago (this) week, and I?ll be with her on Valentine?s weekend, and then I?ll bring a truckload of stuff back.?

Response of others

So, how did friends and family respond when they heard about their Internet introduction?

Dawn said her friends all but rolled their eyes at the news, knowing she had developed a few relationships in her past with men through dating sites.

?They thought, ?Well, here we go again. It?s going to be another one that doesn?t work out, but we?ll roll with it,?? Dawn said. ?They never said it so many words, but that was the attitude.?

Even though this was Joel?s first Internet-based relationship, family and close friends were supportive from the start.

?I got the feeling they trusted my judgment,? he said. ?They met Dawn and continued to be supportive and realized she was who she told me she was.?

For all their differences, they couple have found much in common.

?Both of our sets of parents have passed on, and we live in the houses that we grew up in,? Joel said. ?Dawn said she had very little family, and what she had was scattered. I have a big family and much of it is concentrated right in this community.?

Dawn said: ?He has such a good family, too. They really get along. It?s just amazing to me and it makes me feel very welcomed. It?s just extraordinary.?

And what about those basic personality differences that inevitably surface between two people?

?I told her if we were both alike, one of us wouldn?t be necessary,? Joel said. ?I?m laid back, she?s more aggressive-?in a positive way. We kind of even each other out that way. She?s kind of a spur in my side, and I?m kind of a calming effect on her.?

At age 2, Dawn lost her father to a heart attack and is still working through the loss of her mother.

?One thing motherless daughters do more than the general population is seek out nurturing men,? she said. ?Joel is that. He?s tremendously good for me that way. And the fact that we share the same beliefs and that we want to live on the farm, and we complement each other…. I think this was probably the best decision I?ve made in my life.?

Looking ahead

The plan is to be together permanently on the farm once Dawn sells her home. The big-city woman said she?s ready for life on a farm.

?It?s a curious mix,? she said about the prospect. ?Wichita is an hour away, Hillsboro and Marion are 12 miles or so. I don?t feel like I?m isolated. I wake up every morning that I?m there and I look at the sunrise, the cows and chickens…. I love it.?

Added Joel: ?This process of combining two lives, two households is quite a process, at the age we are. If we were kids starting out with nothing, that?s easy. But we?re trying to pare down at the same time we?re coming together.?

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