The Jansens

You could say dirt runs in Rich Jansen’s blood. A third-generation farmer with nearly 8,000 acres of land spanning six counties, this Gretna native is no stranger to a little elbow grease, cultivating the soil that produces corn, soybeans and wheat—the family’s livelihood. “I’m going to die with my boots on,” he said.

Rich, now in his 60s, grew up going to trade shows, the machinery towering over him. “I always dreamt about being a big farmer,” he said. Six decades later, he and wife Mary Ann, along with son Jim and Jim’s wife, Nichole, run a well-oiled operation. “We started out with nothing, absolutely nothing. Together, with what Jim’s got, we own right at 24 farms,” he said.

Appropriately, he met Mary Ann, formerly Petersen, at a tractor pull in the summer of ’69. “It was Papillion Days; I was 20,” she said. Not even a year later, they wed. The date? Aug. 15, 1970: Papillion Days. “He was in a tractor pull that day, too,” she said. The newlyweds lived on Rich’s father’s land, eventually buying it with precious stock—livestock, that is. “Our down payment was our cattle—the cows and calves we had,” Mary Ann said, who is no stranger to life on the ranch, growing up in Springfield, Neb., the daughter of farmers.

By 1979, years past the prenuptial tractor pull and four children later, the heartland duo served on the Sarpy County Fair Board of Directors, passing their heart for service on to their children. The Jansen kids, born between 1972 and 1978, grew up not only helping on the farm, but also pitching in at the fair. Today, Jim and Nichole (who also met at a fair) are active volunteers with the Sarpy County Fair, Jim serving his second term on the board under his father’s leadership as president.

In fact, Rich is a well-known leader in Sarpy County. He served on the county’s Board of Commissioners as the District 5 representative from 2007 to 2010. Before that, he spent 12 years as a director on the Papio-Missouri Natural Resource District Board and seven years in the National Guard. And he’s still a director on the Gretna Rural Fire Board. “My goal is that if you can get people to work together, you can accomplish a lot,” he said. “I’m the type of person who’s always been very proactive, and I always think of the future.”

Despite his accolades, Rich remains humble. His tendency to look ahead is just the natural mindset of a successful farmer, he said. And he takes the business of farming seriously. His approach: hands-on learning and keeping up-to- date, new practices and technological advances. “Things have changed so dramatically that you have to stay up on the technology,” he said. “Just running a tractor or combine today, the technology in them is astronomical,” Jim said. Adding an anecdotal comparison, Rich said, “Like my grandpa, the first time he drove a car, he drove it into the barn and hollered ‘whoa!’ and then [drove] right through the wall.”

His ability to adapt has paid off in other areas, too. He helped the family carry through what Mary Ann calls “the bad ‘80s,” when local farmers were struggling. The Jansens turned flooded riverside land into a profitable sand and gravel pit, and the family learned a new, albeit temporary, business. “It was tough there for two or three years, and then finally we got diversified and did something besides farming and started the gravel pit business,” Rich said. “Within two years, one of the bigger companies in the country bought us out; apparently we got somebody’s attention…we went from zero to 100 miles an hour there.”

Thirty years later, diversification is still part of the Jansen strategy. The family owns Platte Valley Equipment as part of the farm operation. Jim serves as a seedsman for Channel Seed Brand and has been a distributor since 2009. Mary Ann has been involved in Nebraska Agri-Women (an affiliate of a national advocacy organization) since 1978 and serves as the group’s president. Nichole works in human resources for Alegent Creighton Health in Omaha, a position that provides insurance benefits for her family.

It’s not all business, though. Rich remains easygoing, enjoying rural life. Describing his neighbors near his family’s land outside Tecumseh, he said, “The people there are so laid back, it takes them an hour and a half to watch ‘60 Minutes.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way, emphasizing his Sarpy county residence, although his family is scattered across city lines.

The original Gretna farm property is the site of Rich and Mary Ann’s current home, and Jim and Nichole (a Platteview High alumna) live fairly close, with 10-year-old daughter, Lexie, and 7-year-old son, Kaleb. Rich is a member of American Legion Post #143 (Springfield), and the Jansens attend Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Springfield.

The four siblings are all married with children—read, 11 grandchildren to spoil—but only Jim is still involved with the family farming operation. The oldest Jansen daughter, Amy LaFontaine, works as a CNA in a care facility and lives in the Gretna area. Jim’s twin sister, Jenny Stander, works in real estate as a paralegal and is married to a farmer whose land is outside of Greenwood. Chris, the youngest, has a career in electronics and also lives in the Gretna area.

“It’s like the best of both worlds,” Nichole said. “We have the privacy of being out there by ourselves, but yet we’re two minutes from the interstate and two minutes from Shadow Lake and three minutes from the outlet mall.”

“You should ask Kaleb about that,” Jim said with a grin, hinting at the thin line between country and city life. His wife started laughing, knowing what was coming next. “Every morning before he goes and gets on the bus, we’ll walk outside, and he’ll be out there peeing on the lawn!” Indeed, country life has its benefits.

Jim, the family’s fourth-generation famer, plans to continue farming, “hopefully taking over,” he said. His dad quickly added, “He’ll be there someday.” Yet, Rich has no intention of retiring any time soon. “It keeps your mind going, staying active,” he said. The fruits of the Jansens’ labor have paid off. “The last three or four years have been pretty good,” Rich said. “The new [crop] genetics have really taken off…the way they are utilizing our products today—food sources, ethanol—it’s really improved the prices on our crops. I think it’s been a great asset, things like that, that makes a better market for us.”

Will there be a fifth generation of Jansen farmers? “Kaleb thinks that’s in his long-term goals, too,” Nichole said. “He’s interested, and Grandpa and Dad are persuading him, as well.” Until then, Rich is content living life on a dirt road, near his family and the work he loves. “If it wasn’t for my family, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” he said.

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