Jerry and Janet Hettwer meet at 17, wed at 71

When Jerry and Janet Hettwer attended the Diocese of St. Cloud’s marriage preparation course in 2016, they already had enjoyed 80 years of successful marriages. Now celebrating their fifth anniversary, they’re among the couples being recognized on Honoring Marriage Day Oct. 2.
Janet Kurzman, in her graduation photo from Eden Valley High School. (photo submitted)

“God prepared us with a spark of love at age 17, but we didn’t get together until age 71,” Janet said. “We were both seniors. I was from Eden Valley High School and Jerry was at St. Boniface in Cold Spring. We met at the Richmond Ballroom for old-time dances. We liked dancing with each other, and he came to my prom. The summer I turned 18, Eden Valley friends and I moved to the (Twin) Cities.”

There she met Rodney Ophoven. He was sent to Vietnam, and for two years Janet considered a religious vocation in Louisiana. They later returned to Minneapolis and married in 1970.

That same year, Jerry married Mary Jane Ley.

“We lived in Sartell and had two daughters,” Jerry said. “Mary Jane was a wonderful wife and an unbelievable helpmate. She retired in 2006 from teaching special education and the hearing-impaired.  A month later, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 2007. We had a good life for 37 years. I missed her terribly.”

He occasionally shared meals with a widows and widowers group, volunteered in the community and served with the Knights of Columbus.

The Ophovens eventually moved to St. Joseph.

“At age 30, Rod and I had a born-again experience. Our young family, growing to four sons, became active in the Evangelical Bible Church,” Janet said. “I’d worked as a nurse. In 2012, Rod battled pancreatic cancer for eight months, and died in 2013.”

After 43 years, the Ophoven family now included 13 grandchildren, who often visited during Rod’s last days and grieved with Janet.

“Rod was a great husband. We were devastated to lose him,” Janet said. “I turned to my love of the Lord, my Bible and my church, but I was lonely. I prayed, ‘Please Lord, send me another godly man.’ And I asked God to put him right in front of me. But it’s hard to date when you’ve had a great spouse.”

Jerry agreed.

At the 2015 Catholic Men’s Conference, Jerry was one of the Knights who parked cars. He unexpectedly spoke with Janet’s brother who said she was in Arizona, struggling, having just lost her husband.

“I offered condolences and wrote my address and phone number in case she wanted to communicate.”

Janet (Kurzman) Ophoven married a “Knight in shining armor,” Jerry Hettwer, in his KC regalia. (photo submitted)

Janet later returned to Minnesota and brought her father to Assumption Church in Eden Valley often. On Corpus Christi Sunday, she took him and her aunt, Franciscan Sister Marie Theis, each then 97, to the special Mass where Jerry’s KC Assembly Honor Guard had been asked to greet parishioners and process.

Jerry said, “After lunch, I tapped Janet on the shoulder and asked, ‘Are you Jan et Kerzman? Do you remember Jerry Hettwer?’”

Expecting a tall skinny farm boy, she didn’t recognize him. She was speechless.

“God had directly answered my prayer, but I couldn’t move. I was talking to God right then,” she said.

They started dating, attending an Everly Brothers concert followed by fireworks, then St. Cloud’s July 4 fireworks, a Rox ballgame with fireworks and the Richmond centennial parade, and more fireworks. The symbolism wasn’t lost on Jerry, but the couple didn’t talk of marriage.

“Jerry was the answer to many prayers. I loved him,” Janet said. “But if marriage wasn’t in the future, I planned to break off the relationship. I spent the winter in Arizona, and invited Jerry.”

Jerry Hettwer, in his graduation photo from St. Boniface High School in Cold Spring.

He visited over Super Bowl Sunday. Before the game, they attended St. George Church in Apache Junction, Arizona. That day, the priest’s homily on vocations encouraged the many single people to consider marriage.

“I hope Jerry’s listening,” Janet thought.

He was. During the sign of peace, he asked, “Will you marry me?” He’d already planned to ask her when the right time arose.

One challenge they faced was where to worship.

Janet had been a Catholic for 30 years and 40 at the Evangelical Bible Church. Jerry offered to attend with her, but she felt called to rejoin the Catholic Church to worship together. They’re eucharistic ministers, and Jerry is a lector and usher.

“We go to church because we need to be with the body of believers,” Janet said.

Janet married Jerry, her “knight” in shining armor on June 3, 2016, at Assumption Church in Eden Valley. While the couple attends at St. Francis Xavier in Sartell, Janet returns occasionally to the church where her children attend.

The Hettwers’ advice to couples

  • A second marriage is possible if you accept that nobody’s perfect and don’t look for a spouse exactly like your first — it’s not realistic. Being committed to the marriage is important. I was committed to Mary Jane, and now to Janet. (Jerry)
  • Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Where one has a weakness, the other has a strength. (Janet)
  • Like all couples, we disagree. I’ve learned to forgive, apologize and tell her I love her. I accept her as she is. We’re still learning to get along, pray and live with each other. (Jerry)
  • God is the foundation of our life. Spend time with God every day and participate as much as possible in your parish. Don’t be afraid to tell your heavenly Father what’s on your heart. A three-part cord — husband and wife and God — is not easily broken. (Janet)
  • We learn loving traits from our grandparents and parents and pass them on to our children. Find ways to give and serve. (Jerry)

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

Leave a Reply