Every farm has a story. Neil Kruse wants to see the next chapters for his family’s farm keep the rhythms of planting and harvest, machinery rumbling down the gravel roads in rural Lincoln County and neighbors stopping to visit through the windows of their pickup trucks.
With help from their estate planning attorney, Neil and his wife, Jenna, created a plan that will keep the family farm’s 145 acres in production after they’re gone through Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Keep It Growing ℠ farmland giving program. Rental income from the farmland will support nonprofits that have been important in Neil’s life, including a program that supports agriculture education in Minnesota public schools. How fitting.
A lifelong career as a teacher and coach started with lessons on the farm where Neil grew up in Verdi Township. His parents originally moved to Minnesota from Iowa and bought the farm that Neil now owns. They raised hogs, chickens, dairy cattle and crops to feed the livestock. There were always chores to do, and days spent baling hay in the hot summer sun.
Sharing the farm with two older brothers and a younger sister – plus the neighbors – meant plenty of kids for Neil to bike with and play football, basketball, softball and croquet. And wherever there are kids, there’s mischief: “We had no horses, so older brothers taught us to ride calves and cows. I remember getting my nose smashed into a barn door frame when a wild calf decided the barn was a safe haven when I was on her back,” Neil said with a chuckle.
Neil inherited a love of teaching from his mother. After swimming lessons as a boy, he helped in her Head Start classroom and realized how much he liked education. Neil went on to study at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall, majoring in elementary education, social studies and physical education. He taught in Winnebago and Clarkfield before spending 31 years at Centennial School District in the North Metro. Neil retired from teaching in 2016.
An athlete since his days shooting hoops behind the garage and running around the township section, he coached at every school where he taught. In 2015, Neil was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame after leading Centennials’ boys and girls cross country squads to eight state meets. He retired from coaching in 2021, with 10 total state meet teams.
Jenna also grew up in a small town. As a kid, she had worked as a lifeguard at the pool and in the grocery store in her hometown of Winnebago. She started college at Minnesota State University – Mankato, married, raised four kids and went back to school to earn degrees in nursing.
Neil and Jenna first met when Jenna’s parents hosted a social gathering for young teachers in Winnebago. Neil stayed in touch with her family, but their paths went in different directions. Then they crossed again later in life after Jenna had divorced and her nursing career brought her to the Twin Cities. The couple married in 2014.
Neil bought the farm from his parents, who have since passed away. He’s been renting the land to the same neighbor who’s farmed it since the elder Kruse retired. When Neil started thinking about estate planning 10 years ago, the farm kid in him wasn’t troubled by looking so far into the future.
“I get I have a limited time on the earth. For me, it’s a life cycle. When I’m gone, I’m gone,” Neil said.
But he did have trouble finding a way to donate his farmland so that it could stay in production, until he connected with SWIF’s farmland giving program and found a way to keep his farmland growing – and giving back. During his time teaching and coaching, Neil got involved with Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom, American Legion Boys’ State and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, volunteering countless hours. Rental revenue from the Kruses’ estate gift of farmland will support these nonprofits for years to come. Their estate plan also has a provision to support Neil’s alma mater, Southwest Minnesota State University.
“What a gift that Neil and Jenna found each other and that they eventually found their way to Southwest Initiative Foundation,” said Liz Cheney, SWIF Vice President of Giving. “Helping them create a gift plan to honor the land that grounded Neil’s family is what we’re called to do with our Keep It Growing program. Through their future gift, Neil and Jenna are writing a new chapter for this farm’s story, one that offers meaning and purpose for that special land.”
While they were dating, Neil and Jenna visited the farm near Verdi, and she felt that same sense of connection and caring for neighbors that she’d known as a kid. Small towns are like that. The has couple plans to move back to the home place.
“Putting together an estate plan was just one of those big things you know as a couple you want to have done. I’m very thankful Neil found a fit for his vision when he’s gone,” Jenna said. “We took a roundabout journey to get to each other, and now I want to have as much time as we can at the farm.”