SOUTH WAYNE, Wis. – When a small country church needed to fill a retiring minister’s vacancy, they looked to the community to fill the void. Koel Steinmann answered the call and began preaching at the church up the road from his dairy farm near South Wayne.
It was supposed to be a temporary situation, with Steinmann and three other people filling in once a month. Seven years later, Steinmann is still preaching.
“I didn’t graduate from seminary and I’m not a biblical expert. But, I do have faith,” Steinmann said. “And, I think that goes hand in hand with dairy farming. You’ve got to have faith that something better is going to happen or you’re not going to last very long at all.”
Steinmann watched his parents struggle with health issues and dealt with his own medical problems as well but maintains a positive outlook on life.
“I feel like farming has helped my faith and faith has helped with my farming,” Steinmann said.
Steinmann took over his grandpa’s farm in 2016, one year after he began with the church. He milks 50 cows in a stanchion barn. Steinmann grew up helping his grandpa on the farm every chance he could get and attended church with his mother every Sunday.
“I didn’t know I wanted to milk cows,” Steinmann said. “Even though it was always a big part of my life, I was also interested in teaching and political science. But, then summer would come and I would be down at the farm and that was it.”
As Steinmann grew older, his grandpa began to slow down.
“He had never pushed this on anyone,” Steinmann said. “I knew that if I wanted to see this farm in operation, it was now or never.”
Six years ago, Steinmann took over his grandpa’s farm on the day he turned 21 years old.
One year after taking over the farm, Steinmann started having health issues. While in the barn milking, he had a seizure. His brother and sister were at the farm helping and found him trapped between two cows and turning blue. He regained consciousness, and they thought the initial seizure was an isolated situation. However, three more seizures occurred within the next few years.
“They haven’t found a diagnosis,” Steinmann said. “But, I am on medication now and haven’t had any spells for two years or so.”
Steinmann’s brother, Noah, has since graduated high school and helps Steinmann on the farm.
“He’s been right by my side through the best of it and the worst of it,” Steinmann said. “He’s been around to save my life on three different occasions.”
Steinmann had watched his mother struggle with health issues all his life. After surviving a car accident as a teenager, she was later reinjured as an adult. She was able to walk until Steinmann was in seventh grade when muscle atrophy and arthritis prevented her from ever walking again.
“To see her health progressively get worse and her faith progressively get stronger was something that I didn’t appreciate until I graduated and was out of the house,” Steinmann said. “Although she is in a wheelchair with a lot of health issues, she’s got this power, this optimism and this strength that it’s all going to be OK.”
Steinmann’s barn faces the church where he preaches, and he said the lit up cross serves as a visual reminder of his faith.
“No matter if it’s raining out or if the sun is shining, you can always see that cross shining,” Steinmann said. “It’s kind of poetic.”
Steinmann has found the time with the cows therapeutic when dealing with life’s difficulties.
“There’s a humbling aspect to it,” Steinmann said. “No matter what goes on throughout the day, the cows still have to get milked.”
Steinmann found solace in the barn when he and his wife, Laken, lost a newborn child one year ago. The baby was discovered to have only one partially functioning kidney when Laken was six months pregnant, and the child only lived for an hour and a half.
“Last April, we lost our son, Winston,” Steinmann said. “I remember leaving the hospital and my thoughts were all over the place. The one place I wanted to go was here to the farm. I don’t know what it is, if it’s the act of milking and it’s a safe place to feel, but there’s something about it.”
Steinmann said he uses farming references in his messages in church.
“It’s just always gone hand in hand,” Steinmann said. “There’s purpose in working for something bigger than yourself.”
Steinmann said he has been fortunate to have people to look up to his whole life.
“I’ve had my grandpa, I’ve had my mom and dad to look up to, my brother who’s been with me the whole time, and now I have Laken,” Steinmann said. “I think if it wasn’t for my family, I couldn’t keep doing this. And, if I wasn’t doing this (farming), I don’t know if I’d be able to do what I could for my family.”
Although he did not always know he would farm, and he did not know he would end up preaching, Steinmann said he feels at home on the farm and in the church.
“There’s no other place that I would milk cows than this barn right here,” Steinmann said. “It’s just always been home, and I love it.”