Radke Report: Remembering a life well lived
Last week, we said “goodbye” to an incredible woman: the matriarch of our family, Carol Wienk.
A devoted wife, mother of five, grandmother of 16 and great-grandmother of 23; Carol was and will continue to be an inspiration for all that we hold dear—faith, family and farming.
In 1958, my grandpa, Arnold Wienk, married Carol and purchased his first Charolais bull. He often said, “In 1958, I got the two loves of my life.”
Together, with their shared love of those white cows, Arnold and Carol established an internationally-recognized seedstock business, Wienk Charolais, and they traveled around the world promoting the breed and the beef industry.
Their shared commitment to the cattle industry was reflected in the silver trophies and medals of honors earned that overflowed in their office. However, despite all of their accolades, to me, Carol was simply my grandma — and an amazing one at that.
In between her rows of vegetables and beds of colorful flowers in her massive gardens around the ranch, Grandma’s beloved peacocks danced. She never tired of hearing their calls as they paraded on the tops of the round bales just outside of the bull lots.
Her peacocks are featured in my first children’s book, “Levi’s Lost Calf,” and when I read that story to kids at elementary schools across the country, they sometimes get confused and would question if peacocks are actually found on farms. My response has always been, “At my Grandma’s farm, they sure do!”
She was an amazing cook, and try as hard as I might, I could never match her finesse in the kitchen. Her homemade potato salad, pumpkin bars and pickles were always a hit at the annual bull sale held on the ranch. And I dare anybody to compete with her holiday sugar cookies—cut into the shape of a Charolais cow with a Christmas wreath around its neck, of course.
Her welcoming spirit extended far beyond the family tree that her and Arnold had grown together. Over the years, they welcomed foreign exchange students, livestock judging teams and cattle friends from around the world to their home. There was always room for one more, or a dozen more, at Grandma’s kitchen table, and her house was often filled with joyous laughter and loud chatter as people stopped to visit.
She loved going to basketball games at South Dakota State University and spending time at the cabin on Lake Poinsett. She always seemed to have the time for the people she loved, and she somehow made everything look so effortless.
One day, I called her, exhausted and frustrated about the challenges of raising four young kids so close together in age.
I asked her, “Grandma, how the heck did you do it all?” She just laughed and told me not to sweat the small stuff. “It all goes so fast, Mandy. Don’t blink. Your kids will be grown and gone before you know it.”
I’m thankful for the life lessons Grandma has taught all of us. I know she impacted each one of us uniquely in her own special way. For myself, she was a huge influence in guiding the direction of my career in the beef industry.
She was there when I gave my first speech at age eight at the South Dakota State Fair, and she took me to my first South Dakota Junior Beef Ambassador Contest at age 10.
She cheered me on when I won the National Beef Ambassador contest at age 18, and she was my biggest fan in writing my farm-themed children’s books.
I’m so thankful that in her final days, my mom was able to read to her a new manuscript I had written, and it means so much that she was able to know that I had dedicated that book to her.
Yes, Grandma Carol was a special lady—one that has inspired, motivated, encouraged and loved all of us. She has reminded us all that life is short—too short—and although we will always have a million things to do in our busy days, the most important thing we can do in life is to slow down enough to enjoy the people who matter most.
This summer, I hope you find time to carve out some memorable moments with your people. Life has a way of passing us by while we are busy doing what needs to be done, but be sure to fill up the scrapbook with photographs of a life well lived along the way, too.
Rest in peace, Grandma Carol. Eternally grateful for having been loved by you, sending all of my love to heaven, your granddaughter, Amanda.
Amanda Radke is a fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State University with a degree in agricultural communications, education and leadership, Radke is a blogger for BEEF Daily blog.