June 12, 2023 at 3:48 p.m.

Laughing together

Porch Ladies create community through hardships, joys

By Amy [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HUTCHINSON, Minn. – Laughter echoed through a kitchen as a group of women sat around the table. They have experienced it all together. From their laughter to the excitement and joy of weddings and births to the deep pain of losing a spouse, these women bring support, encouragement and a listening ear to each other’s lives.  
They call themselves the Porch Ladies.
Most of the founding members of the group have a connection to dairy, whether they dairy farm or grew up on a farm.
Retired dairy farmer Diane Kaehler said she has built rapport with these farm women like nothing she has ever experienced before.
“I was very isolated,” Kaehler said. “I lived on a dairy farm, and I worked out in the fields. And so, I didn’t find people that got me until I was invited to this group.”
One of the founding members, Kim Asche, agreed.
“I don’t think people who have not been in a farming ag background understand how hard it is to be a farmer,” she said.
A dairy background was not something the group sought out, just something that happened.
As a former dairy farmer, Mary Nelson understands the importance of building these relationships.
“When farming, you are out on the farm, and you put so much effort into your daily life,” she said. “Sometimes you just need to walk away from it for an hour.”
Marlene Benson, a dairy farmer and one of the Porch Ladies, said her now best friend is a neighbor she got to know through their gatherings.
The Porch Ladies’ gatherings began in 2015. That year, Barbara Bumgardner’s husband took a job in Park Rapids, three hours away, and she had to stay behind to get the house sold.
“I got ahold of Mary (Nelson) and said, ‘I need company; I need some women,’” Bumgardner said. “I have this beautiful front porch, and that’s where the name came from.”
Years later, the group is still gathering, and the friendships continue to deepen among the kindred spirits. They gather whenever someone feels like they need to see the group.
Asche said she knows some of the reasons the group has lasted so long.
“We’ve gone through a lot of challenges,” she said. “The important thing is that our group is based on faith and friendship and support and fun and laughter and basically kindness and giving.”
The group shares their lives in the good and the bad.
“It’s not just the weddings and the births and the showers,” Asche said. “It’s also the deaths.”
This support is especially real for Nelson. When her husband Duane passed away from cancer seven years ago, she was left with the pain of the loss and with many life decisions and changes. The Porch Ladies helped her walk in her grief as she sold her dairy farm and moved into town.
“It took me three years before I could breathe,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t functioning, and they kind of pulled me along.”
Asche said most of their gatherings are informal as they meet at someone’s home or out for a lake day.
“We have our best gatherings when we’re at somebody’s house around the kitchen table,” Asche said.
The group does plan two retreats per year. Asche works to organize the group along with the other five core women. Together they make decisions and plans and then reach out to include their wider community.
Bumgardner has seen the mentorship of the next generation as an important aspect of the group.
“We have daughters who have joined this group and gotten married,” Bumgardner said. “Now they’re having children and they’re bringing those little kids.”
Together, the group has built a strong community that listens without judgement, something that Lori Buss, one of the original Porch Ladies, appreciates.
“Porch Ladies is my safe place,” Buss said.
Nelson agreed.
“This is where I can come and open up and share,” she said.
The group also has a lighthearted side. They laugh over memories of a meeting they had on a boat that was securely on dry land or of Nelson and Asche dressing up like a chicken and a cow to serve breakfast. Their tag line for embarrassing stories is, “What happens at Porch Ladies stays at Porch Ladies.”
The group brings the friendship they all need, Asche said, grounded in trust, compassion, honesty and faith.
“We can also express to them (members) what their gifts and talents are, make them feel the self-confidence they need to carry on whether they’re looking for a new job or whether they’re starting a new adventure in their life,” Asche said.
For other women who are looking to create community for themselves, Bumgardner encourages women to just do so.
Valerie Koelln, a member of Porch Ladies, emphasized the importance of in-person communication for creating a community like theirs.
“A big thing is you have to put the phone down and the text and … (choose a) face-to-face gathering,” she said.
The Porch Ladies do not have specific goals for the future. In keeping with the laughter that surrounds their group, they joke about building an assisted living nursing home for themselves on a lake someday. There they plan to dispense advice from the front porch.


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