Barten has been intregal in Ole’s Ride success

Krissy Barten

By Robert Williams


“It was very unexpected; my first reaction was to say no. I like attention but I like to be behind the attention, but Sherri (Hanson) read me the letter and it changed my mind,” said Barten.

That nomination letter came from Heather Perrine expounding on the virtues Barten displays through childcare, her thoughtfulness and the work she does with Ole’s Ride, a motorcycle event in honor of her late husband that has raised over $200,000 for Hospice of the Red River Valley.

“She lives and breathes Vergas,” Perrine said. “Over the years, she has welcomed so many children into her home for childcare and still to this day has a strong connection with each one of them. I don’t know too many people who take the time to remember anniversaries and birthdays by sending them a hand written card, year after year. Everybody in Vergas knows, if you need anything; a shoulder to cry on, words of advice, a ride home, place to stay, Kris will be there.”

Hanson and Barten go back to when they ran Sunday School for more than a decade.

“Sherri knows me very well; she schmoozed me,” Barten laughed. “I was very touched by it, but it’s like with Ole’s Ride, I like to be in the background and let my daughter (Jessica Sonnenberg) be in the front.”

Barten’s immediate family of both parents, her brother, daughter, son-in-law and grandson are all Frazee or Vergas natives. Her father joined the Navy after graduating from Frazee-Vergas high school in 1961 and her mother graduated in 1963. They married and Krissy was born in Bremerton, Washington, where her father was stationed. The family returned to Vergas just before Krissy’s second birthday.

In 1983, Krissy graduated high school and was ready for a change.

“I couldn’t wait to get out of here,” she said. “I was engaged right out of high school and we moved to Wisconsin.”

The call to home brought Krissy back to Vergas quickly.

“Seven months later I couldn’t get back here fast enough,” she said. “Never left again; we bought a house in Vergas and we got married right when we got back.”

Barten’s first job was in Vergas delivering the Grit Newspaper on her bicycle in the summers and on foot during winter.

Grit is now a magazine, formerly a weekly newspaper, popular in the rural U.S. during much of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia. It carried the subtitle “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.” In the early 1930s, it targeted small town and rural families with 14 pages plus a fiction supplement. By 1932, it had a circulation of 425,000 in 48 states, and 83 percent of its circulation was in towns of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

From age 13-17 she worked at Stone Hearth and upon her return to Vergas and after her marriage she worked at Grover Lindberg in Detroit lakes.

After the birth of her daughter Jessica, she found out she could not have any more children.

“I just decided I wanted to be with her full-time so I was a stay-at-home mom,” said Barten.

Ole worked for the railroad and was gone during the week.

She began doing daycare for friends, something she did for three decades. 

“I did it that long because I was home,” she said.

As stated in Perrine’s nomination, Krissy had a close relationship with many of the kids she took care of, who are now parents themselves. Many of those people helped out at the end of Ole’s life and continue to assist Krissy and Jessica as volunteers for Ole’s Ride.

“I know with Ole’s Ride what a huge undertaking this is,” she said. “Ole’s Ride would not function without the people of Vergas and all the people that come and make Vergas home for a day.”

Richard “Ole” Barten, 54, passed away Feb. 28, 2011.

“I gave myself five months,” Barten said. “I had to go and get a real job.” 

The first place she applied was Lighthouse in Detroit Lakes, a Certified Corporate Adult Foster Care (AFC) home which includes long or short-term services provided in a residential setting to individuals who need 24 hour supervision.

“I truly felt I was led there,” she said. 

Barten is a Direct Support Professional working with people diagnosed with mental illnesses.

“After losing Ole, I bottomed out,” she said. “Jess was graduating college and engaged to Tyson and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I needed to not stay home. You’re a caretaker for so long and where does that go? I walked into Lighthouse and I’ve been there ever since. It’s an amazing job.”

Krissy will celebrate her 12th year anniversary at Lighthouse this August.

Another big life milestone was what brought a new level of peace to Krissy.

“Jess and Tyson got married a month after Ole passed and Jase was born two years and a few months later; I was in the room and as soon as I locked eyes with him I literally felt my heart come together,” she said. “I had a hold of his foot and I’m walking with the nurse. I didn’t really realize but I just bonded with him. He’s this redheaded, little boy, but he’s got Ole’s black eyes. I’m good with how things are, but I’m broken-hearted that Ole can’t see all the things that Jase does. Ole loved to fish, those two would have been gone all the time, and the racing…”

Jase Sonnenberg, 10, was recently featured in the June 27 issue of the Forum. Jase is an incoming fourth-grader at Frazee-Vergas Elementary School and one of the best motocross racers in Minnesota in his age division. He will be making a remarkable fifth trip to the largest national amateur race in the country in Tennessee at the end of the month.

Between her family and her job, it all makes up for a therapeutic way to deal with losing her husband early in life.

“One hundred percent,” she said. “Something to focus on. Something that needed my attention. I have this job where I feel very needed and I feel like I make a big difference with my clients and my coworkers are amazing. I have this whole new family. I had my daycare family. We had our railroad family. We have our Vergas family, our church family. It was support I didn’t know I needed. Everybody just took me in. I learned so much about myself to stop fighting this pain. Just take it; it’s not going to kill ya. It’s going to do what it is going to do and then it’s going to go away.”

Barten summed up the entire experience with a short, but powerful bit of wisdom.

“Grief is the price you pay for how much you love somebody,” she said.

Krissy also pays a personal price for the care she provides working 12-days in a row, 16-hour shifts, with only two days off each fortnight. 

“My shortest shift is 12 hours but it doesn’t feel like that,” she said. “It’s never the same job. When they have success it’s the best.”

Her fellow staff members also go out of her way every August to allow for time off to prepare and organize the ride, an event that continues to grow. Last year, $30,000 was raised, the largest amount in the past 13 years.

“To do that in our little town just blows my mind,” she said. 

By being Grand Marshal at this year’s Looney Days, Krissy will share the honor with her mother Kathy Wouters, who was Grand Marshal in 2015, although Krissy prefers the title Grand Poobah.

“That’s what everyone at work has been calling me,” she laughed.

Barten is a primary candidate for Grand Poobah given her lifelong contributions to the village and so many of the people who call Vergas home. That sentiment was echoed at the end of Perrine’s nomination letter. 

“I can confidently say, without Kris Barten and her family my ties to the Vergas community wouldn’t be what it is today,” she said.

For Barten, the feeling is mutual when it comes to the impact people have had on her life.

“Vergas, to me, I’ve always thought of it as its own entity; it’s this living, breathing thing and the people are the heartbeat,” said Barten. “You live in a small town. Everybody knows your business, but at the same time, whether it’s something great or bad, they’re there for you.”

This year’s Looney Days will be held Aug. 10-13 and Ole’s Ride two weekends later Aug. 25-26.