Secrets of A Rural Romance

The story of how Gary and Doris Schlenvogt, children of farm families, found each other 30 years ago
Ozaukee Press staff

Sometime this weekend, Doris Schlenvogt will likely make a heart-shaped meatloaf for her husband Gary.

The Valentine’s Day tradition was established years ago for the Town of Port Washington couple who will celebrate their 30th anniversary in April. But it took a while before Cupid’s arrow found its mark.

The two grew up eight miles from each other — Gary in the Town of Port and Doris Feider in the Town of Holland — and their families were intertwined through friendships forged in the cattle business.

The two often attended the same events, both social and professional, but missed connecting one time after another.

Gary worked for Doris’ father on his farm — he was 16 and she was 8 at the time — and he  even roomed with Doris’ brother, also named Gary, on a mishap-filled Mexican cruise in 1982.

The two remember attending the same barn dance and the wedding of Gary’s brother Lee.

“Lee and Pam had a very large wedding. He’s there and I’m there, but of course we don’t meet again,” Doris said.

Gary’s third cousin Sue (Grady) Voll, the wife of Mark, the former pastor at Friedens Church, knew Doris from college, and even tried to set them up on a blind date. Gary, who was the treasurer at Friedens, said he wasn’t interested. Doris said, “Are you kidding? I don’t do blind dates.”

Doris’ grandparents taught Gary’s parents how to play sheephead and she remembers visiting their farm for her father’s cattle-trucking business.

“My dad had forward thinking,” Doris said. “When you were 16, boy or girl, you got your license and you drove a cattle truck. That’s the way it was.”

Gary and Doris finally crossed paths in 1989. Doris was home for Labor Day weekend, and her brother Daniel suggested they go to the corn roast in Belgium.

Gary and two friends rode motorcycles to the Sheboygan County Fair that day, but something (Gary thinks it might have been divine intervention) told him to leave and go to the corn roast instead. Doris, then 29, and Gary, 37, ended up in the beer tent. Gary said he introduced Doris to a friend and told her, “Stand here, drink beer and be sociable.”

By the time they left later that night, they had scheduled a date. Gary invited her to the horse races in Arlington, Ill., but left out the detail that the bus to the track would be full of Gary’s family members, including his parents, a brother and other relatives.

“For our first date, I had to go with his family,” she said. “I got to know them real quick.”

“Kill three birds with one stone,” Gary said. “I never thought about it, but I knew the rest of my family would be there.”

It didn’t take long for Doris to know Gary was the one for her. “I had dated a bunch of guys, but I knew within two weeks I would marry him,” she said.

“But she never told me that,” Gary said. “And all that money courting her.”

Doris said she sensed Gary was honest through their common connections.

“I felt the same way,” Gary said. “Knowing her family, how honest they were — good business people.”

Later that fall, they attended the baptism of Lee and Pam Schlenvogt’s daughter Melissa at Friedens Church. Sue Voll turned around and saw the couple, and got the “biggest smile,” Doris said.

At a party on the Schlenvogts’ farm afterward, Doris walked into the kitchen and began cleaning up.

“I’m used to big farm parties,” she said.

Gary’s aunt Hildegard patted Doris on the fanny and said, “That’s great you’re cleaning up the kitchen. You’re going to be a great part of the family.”

“I ended up cleaning up many a meal in that kitchen,” Doris said.

But Gary hadn’t proposed yet. That happened at Waubedonia Park in the summer of 1990. He didn’t get down on one knee.

“I’ve got bad knees anyway,” he said.

The two were married at Friedens on April 13, 1991.

Doris’ father initially supported the idea of the two dating, but her mother was more apprehensive.

As Doris was leaving her fixer-upper house in Knellsville on the day of the wedding, her father stopped her and said, “Now if you don’t want to get married to Gary you don’t have to.”

Doris said she looked at her father as if he had lost his mind.

“I was like, ‘I’m getting married today. He’s great, dad. This was the man you were all excited about,’” she said.

The reception was at Schmit’s ballroom in Grafton. The 350 in attendance — a small crowd for those days, the couple said — enjoyed beef and chicken for dinner.

“Farm families — gotta have good food,” Doris said.

The honeymoon was a Caribbean cruise. Doris took off two weeks from her job as office manager at an eye care business in Milwaukee — “I was only getting married once,” she said — and Gary, an estimator for

JT Roofing, was going to miss weekly staff meetings on Saturday mornings.

“One of the leverages is I asked JT (Jerry Thull) to stand up in the wedding,” he said, adding the two had been friends since 1978.

The couple have three children, enjoy traveling across the country and volunteering. Doris is on the board for Ozaukee Christian School and works at Hidden Treasures, the resale shop that supports the school.

Gary is on the school’s building team, volunteers at the shop and was recently named chaplain of a Vietnam veterans group.

The two also have separate hobbies. Gary runs a large vegetable and herb garden, with much of the harvest going to friends and family, and Doris leads Bible studies and likes to knit, crochet and cross stitch.

“We’re able to do things together and apart. I just don’t think married couples should do everything together,” Doris said.

They will enjoy the heart-shaped meatloaf together, but it might not be on Feb. 14.

“That’s another thing. You have to be flexible in marriage,” Doris said.

“Communication is the biggest thing,” Gary said. “You have to be able to communicate and negotiate and agree.”




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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