Logout|My Dashboard

Family, faith and community - MessAge Media: Features

Persons of the Year: Carroll and Joy Janzen Family, faith and community

Aitkin area couple believes in giving to and serving others

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Wednesday, January 3, 2018 5:00 am

This year’s “Persons of the Year” award from the Aitkin Independent Age goes to Carroll and Joy Janzen.

The pair is unique because of joint involvement in so many worthy endeavors.

Both are involved in the Aitkin Lions Club, American Legion Post 86, the American Legion Color Guard and for many years, the Persian Gulf Support Group. They have played Mr. and Mrs. Santa for many events, including the annual American Legion Children’s Christmas Party and for the Heartland Marine Corps League children’s party in Brainerd. They were Aitkin’s Riverboat Captain and Queen in 1999 and were given the Warren Potter Award by the Aitkin Area Chamber of Commerce in 2012.

Carroll and Joy belong to different churches but have amazingly made that work to the advantage of all. Both are involved individually and together at St. John’s Lutheran Church (Joy’s) and St. James Catholic Church (Carroll’s).

Carroll is a volunteer driver for the van that takes area veterans to medical appointments. Carroll has been driving the Aitkin County veterans van since 2004.

“As busy as he is with his other volunteer duties, he is ready and willing to drive when he has a free day,” according to Penny Harms, Aitkin County Veterans Services officer. “He holds the record for the earliest leave time of 3:30 a.m. to get a veteran to his appointment on time in Minneapolis! I have heard from a number of veterans how Carroll takes such good care of them when he is their driver.”  

Early years

Carroll was born Aug. 9, 1946, in Brained to John “Barney” and Veronica “Phronie” Janzen. He grew up on a farm near Aitkin with seven siblings. Also living in the house were his uncle Henry “Heinie” and aunt Ann Janzen with their seven children.

“Carroll’s cousin Warren often complained of having day-old cake for his birthday on Aug. 10,” said Ann Finifrock, Carroll and Joy’s daughter.

Carroll went to school at Maryhill in Aitkin and then to Crosier Seminary in Onamia. He worked for many years for the Aitkin County Highway Department and was also the Aitkin County recorder for two terms.

Carroll served in the Army National Guard for more than 27 years, retiring as lieutenant colonel.

Joy was born April 23, 1946 to Don and Ferne Dumke in Wisconsin where she was raised on a dairy farm with a younger sister and brother. She showed dairy cattle at the Polk County Fair and the Wisconsin State Fair.

“One of her cows got away during the fair and was later caught watching the ferris wheel,” Finifrock said.

Joy attended school in St. Croix Falls, Wis., and attended college at Stout State in Menomonie, Wis. She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics and got a job in Aitkin as a 4-H Extension agent. She was a 4-H leader for many years, re-establishing the Cedarbrook 4-H Club.

Joy retired from the Extension the day before her first daughter was born and enjoyed staying home with their two daughters until they started school. Joy owned a fabric store, The Patchwork Shop, along with a friend and later returned to Extension as a nutrition educator. She has done nutrition training for Aitkin County in the past, and continues to be active as a 4-H judge around the state.

For 19 years, she was an Aitkin school board member.


Joy was invited on a snowmobile trip where she met Carroll. They were married Feb. 24, 1973, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Aitkin. They made their home on a farm in Cedarbrook for almost 30 years, raising daughters, Ann and Christine.

The Janzen farm was next to a creek coming off the Mississippi River that often flooded in the spring. After having to move out of the flooded house, Joy’s dad and brother built a dike around the house and barn.

“The dike made a great sledding and skiing hill in the winter,” Ann said. “In the spring, we’d hop in the canoe and paddle over the fences below the water. We often joke that we could cast out the kitchen window, catch a fish, clean it and fry it standing in the same spot. When the water finally receded, it left great nutrients to grow potatoes in the lower garden. We raised beef cattle but also had dogs, cats and a few goats. Our friends and cousins loved coming to the farm to play king of the hill with Chester the goat as we jumped the big hay bales.”

Many family reunions were held at the farm in Cedarbrook as well as neighborhood turkey-butchering parties. But dealing with the constant threat of flooding and driving through 13 inches of water to get in or out prompted the family to finally move.

For the last 15 years, Carroll and Joy have lived on a property on Deer Street, where they entertain friends and family and maintain their yard and gardens.

The couple has four grandsons – Nathan, 17; Nicholas, 14; Brady, 9, and Isaac, 6. As often as they can, they attend as many concerts, sporting events or other activities that involve their grandsons.

Church Life

Friends at both churches emphasized that the pair are definitely a team; each coming to serve at events their spouse is involved with, regardless which church is hosting. Friends at both churches said the same thing about Joy and Carroll, “They always have a smile and a positive, loving attitude.”

A lifetime of modeling servant leadership in the community has produced a second generation with a focus on service. Ann Finifrock and Christine Midthun were also married at St. John’s. Ann is a special education teacher, and Christine is involved with Gorecki House, a home away from home for patients and families of patients at the St. Cloud Hospital.

Pastor David Becker at St. John’s said that Joy has been a member there for more than 30 years. She is on the church finance board; has taught Sunday school; and is past president of the “Evening Circle,” a women’s group in which she continues to be very active. Joy is also a work group leader for events and functions at the church. Carroll can often be seen working alongside her during those events. Joy continues to be active in organizing the church bazaar at St. John’s, and is very actively involved in the church’s quilting group.

Kathy Pearson, a longtime friend and member of the quilting group, said that she and Joy have worked together in the quilting group for many years. Joy has a talent for finding worthy recipients of the more than 60 handmade quilts the group produces each year. Organizations that receive quilts include local food shelves, the Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, veterans, individuals and local families who need a special touch of love. In past years the quilts were often sent to more distant places, but recently the focus has been on filling needs in the Aitkin area.

The quilters make use of donated fabrics from various sources, cutting and piecing the quilts in their own homes and then gathering at the church to assemble the quilts. Pearson believes Joy may be the youngest member of the St. John’s quilting group; and wonders who will carry on that tradition. The group will start gathering to make quilts again in January. The group would be happy to mentor some younger quilters who would like to learn the craft.

Carroll is active in the Knights of Columbus chapter at St. James Catholic Church. He fills many roles at the church; ushering, and helping with mass and other church events. He is active in veterans organizations, participates in the color guard for funerals, and leads pro-life activities in the community, including the March for Life, for which Carroll has driven a van to support and encourage the walkers. Joy also works alongside her husband at countless functions and events at St. James.

Lions Club

Aitkin Lions Club Past President Gary Tibbitts said Carroll and Joy can always be counted on to realize a successful project or event of the group.

Joy was a charter member of the former Riverboat Lions Club where she held numerous offices. When the Riverboat Lions merged with the Aitkin Lions, she was again joining Carroll, who had also served various offices and been a member of the board of directors of the Aitkin Lions.

“As president,” said Tibbitts, “I always knew if Carroll and Joy took on a project, I didn’t have to worry. They always had the product, the volunteers and everything that was needed. They understand what it is to be a Lion.”

Collecting pop tabs that help the Ronald McDonald House has been an important Lions endeavor for years. And a project taken on in 2017 is helping the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, Childhood Cancer Ward. The assistance Lions give is in memory of Taylor’s Team (Taylor Nguyen did not survive childhood cancer).

“They needed pillowcases and light blankets,” said Tibbitts. “Joy immediately volunteered to make several dozen pillow cases.”

The Janzens join fellow Lions serving one meal annually at the Ronald McDonald House where an average of 75 people are served a meal each day by volunteer groups.


Besides their family, the Janzens are probably most passionate about the welfare of veterans.

“They put the needs of veterans before their own needs,” said American Legion Post 86 Commander Bob Carlson. “If anyone is in need, they get us together and we all use our resources to help.”

Carroll is the current chaplain at Post 86 and is the chair for children/youth matters. Carroll and Joy are both members of the Color Guard.

Bob’s wife, Cher, said she is so grateful to have met the Janzens immediately after moving to Aitkin in 2007.

In response to the Gulf War that began in August 1990, the Janzens organized the Persian Gulf Support Group in 1991. The group met monthly and packed care boxes for troops deployed from this area. It disbanded after a time and was re-organized in 2003 when the U.S. began sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of the group collected items and cash donations, even homemade cookies to fill the boxes. At its height, about 65 boxes were packed every month. In 2011, the Janzens relinquished their co-chair position to Bob and Cher Carlson, Gary and Becky Guida and Terry Morgan, although the couple continued to be a part of it. It disbanded in 2014.

The Janzens were instrumental in creating a rock memorial for all veterans at the Aitkin County Courthouse and also restoring the eagle that had been on the grounds for years.

For veterans' causes, Carroll works with other organizations – American Legions, VFWs, Disabled American Veterans and others as a liaison.

“You can’t slow them down,” concluded Cher.

Life lessons

These are comments from Carroll and Joy’s daughters, Ann Finifrock and Christine Midthun:

• Faith and church is very important to Carroll and Joy. Carroll was raised Catholic and Joy was raised Lutheran. Over 40 years ago when they met, this was a big deal with their families and actually broke off their engagement for a bit. Carroll and Joy didn’t try to change each other but instead have become stronger as a couple as they support each other in their separate churches. Premarital counseling classes at the local churches have shared the love story of Joy and Carroll and how they continue to support each other. They have even served on committees and other activities in the other’s church. Growing up in a dual faith family was a great experience for us as kids as we formed our personal values and beliefs and respect for others.

• Joy is a true home economist. She loves to try different recipes and food for family and friends. Growing up, we were even a test kitchen for Betty Crocker. Mom has cooked everything from raccoon, turtle, to muskrat. Somehow she has a way to make things taste like chicken or beef. If you are lucky enough to find Carroll and Joy home, you are sure to be welcomed in for something delicious from the garden or kitchen. If you can imagine it, Joy can create it.  To keep family peace at a recent Packer/Viking game, Joy made Carroll a referee costume. When Joy was a nutrition educator, she came dressed as a table setting, grapefruit, or one of the many other costumes she created. When Nathan wanted to be a skunk for Halloween, Grandma came through – even with a tail that could go up and down. When Nicholas needed something to keep him warm and dry in his wheelchair, Grandma created a lined poncho that was also wind and rain resistant as well as a lap blanket that covered his legs in the front and back. When it comes to memories, Joy made bears from old chenille bedspreads, complete with vests made from her dad’s overalls.

• Dad is the friendliest person we know. He will strike up a conversation with anyone. He’s met some amazing people in elevators, on plane rides, cruise ships, etc. It’s amazing the stories he tells and connections he’s made. Growing up with Carroll and Joy as parents, I feel so blessed. They have modeled a Christian marriage with giving hearts. They made sacrifices so we’d have what we needed and others did as well. No matter how busy they are, they will drop everything and make time when we need them. Mom and dad are truly the most caring, giving, amazing people!

– Ann Finifrock

• First of all, they always stressed the importance of faith, family and friends. I also think the golden rule -“treat others the way you would want to be treated” was an underlying theme and keeping in mind respect and dignity for others. I didn’t really know that volunteering was a word. It was just something as a family we did. Whether it was helping a neighbor, an event at church or 4-H, or helping a family in need. We just did this as a family because it was the right thing to do and we always got way more out of the experience than what we gave. I know personally and professionally this volunteerism and philanthropy that was instilled on me continues to be part of my life – personally and professionally and have modeled that for my own children. My parents have also modeled strong work ethic but also enjoyed having fun exploring, traveling and making lasting memories and great stories.  

• Life isn’t always easy I know one statement my mom often said “This too shall pass,” but both of my parents often tried to find the good in a bad situation and demonstrated their strong faith that would get them through anything. I truly admire all that my parents have and continue to do for their community, their family and their friends. They are truly amazing people and one-of-a-kind and I feel so blessed and honored to call them my parents.

– Christine Midthun

  • Discuss

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.