In sickness and in health

Kevin and Deb Klungtvedt
Kristin Burdey

In the spring of 1984, the EF Johnson Company in Waseca, Minn., held an after-hours pizza party for its employees. Debra Wobschall was an independent young woman of 20, working as a ‘lead lady’ on an electric assembly line.

Kevin Klungtvedt, four-and-a-half years her senior, was working his first job as an electrical engineer. Deb’s girlfriends had decided that they were going to attend because there was free pizza involved, and Kevin’s office had encouraged him to go as well. “God must have been pointing his fingers at the two of us,” Deb recalled incredulously. Although unimpressed by Kevin’s cheesy pickup line, the two spent the evening hanging out and even danced a few times.

The next day at work, Kevin surprised Deb with flowers: not just a mere bouquet, but an actual rosebush. Surprised and unable to accept such a generous gift, Deb gave it back. “I was probably super mean,” Deb said guiltily.

Kevin enlisted the aid of the ladies in his department to wear her down. “They told me he had quit eating! I went out with him again, and then I found out how nice he was.” For their first actual date they went out for dinner in Owatonna, Minn. “I had never had Chinese,” recalled Deb. “When I grew up, we didn’t go out to eat much. I felt like I was in a movie!” The young lovebirds grew closer, and Kevin won Deb’s heart. “I thought he was so cool because he could play the guitar,” Deb recalled. “He even taught me how to play my favorite Elvis song: ‘Don’t be Cruel.’”

They took any opportunities they could to be together, especially enjoying concerts, movies, plays, and the outdoors. On one particular adventure, they went on a hiking trip in Glacier National Park. “We were so in love that we weren’t even afraid of being attacked by grizzly bears in our tiny pup tent,” Deb laughed. 

 One evening they were lying on a blanket in the backyard when Kevin asked if Debra wanted to get married. “He didn’t propose like you would think,” she explained with a twinkle in her eye. “It wasn’t all planned out; it was just natural.” The two decided on a simple December wedding. “We had both seen too many gazillion-dollar, big-production weddings, and we didn’t want any part of that,” Kevin explained. “We didn’t have a lot of money, either,” said Deb. “We just wanted to be together.”

Deb had left her job to spend time with her ailing mother, and Kevin had job offers to consider. One was at Rush Products, a factory in a little town called Rushford. Kevin and Deb decided to take a look, and as they descended the hill into town, Deb remembers being blown away by the scenery. “I said, ‘Wow! There’s mountains in Minnesota?’”

 Kevin took the job, and shortly thereafter, they faced their first trial as a married couple: Debra’s mother succumbed to cancer at age 44. The Klungtvedts signed paperwork to become legal guardians for her 12-year-old brother Jimmy and found themselves raising a teenager, and teaching his Sunday School class as well.

Deb attended Winona State University, graduating with degrees in accounting and business finance. “But I didn’t want to do that- that was no fun,” laughed Deb. “I did apply at Edward Jones, but I had kids and Kevin was so good to let me stay home when they were little.” Seven years into their marriage, John was born, and Kate several years later.

The Klungtvedts began another unexpected journey when, just past midnight on New Year’s Day 2019, Kevin experienced a grand mal seizure. They were referred to Mayo, where doctors discovered a grade 4 glioblastoma tumor in Kevin’s brain. He underwent a nine-hour surgery in April, followed by chemo and radiation. In November they discovered that the cancer had spread to Kevin’s spine, so he had another surgery followed by more radiation. He is currently on another type of chemotherapy.

“My friends think he’s a Chia Pet,” Deb laughs, tousling her husband’s fast-growing hair beneath his S.W.E. hat, which Kevin explained proudly. “Kate belongs to the Society of Women Engineers. That’s something we have in common, that we’re both double-E’s.”

Deb knows that their children are just two of many blessings they have received. “This last year has showed us that even if we both died tomorrow, we’ve had the best life. We really have,” she insisted. “It takes a lot of prayer and patience and thankfulness. You can’t focus on what you don’t have, like if we aren’t able to take a trip or whatnot. Nobody can take your memories, so you just have to start thinking about the good times, and when you count them up, there are way more good times than bad.”

Deb said that since Kevin never complains, she has to complain for him. “Well, your mother warned me,” Kevin teased. “She said, ‘She can be kind of crabby.’” Kevin’s positive attitude and sense of humor have helped the couple to weather the storms. “He’s got what you call a dry sense of humor,” explained Deb. “Sometimes you need a PhD to get his jokes.”

“Thirty-five years, and it feels like a blink,” Deb reflected. “Being in love is how it starts, and then it’s being ‘in marriage’. You can’t just live on love.” “Sure ya can,” Kevin contributed.

The strength of their marriage is so clear to see that even the hospital staff asks Kevin for relationship advice. “You have to make compromises to get along, so as long as I do it your way, the compromise works,” he instructed. Deb reflected on how they’ve tended to each other over the years; he waited on her after the children were born, and she waits on him now when he doesn’t feel quite up to par. “You really have to start using your wedding vows.”

“I’ve threatened to write a monogram entitled, ‘Living Life One Hug at a Time,’” said Kevin, explaining the outpouring of love and support, like how he can’t go two blocks without getting half a dozen hugs. “You know small towns – if you need something, it shows up.”

In 2007, the Klungtvedts lost much in the Rushford flood, but today it’s just a memory. “I totally forgot about the flood,” exclaimed Deb. “It just seems so minor now. Despite everything we lost at that time, John was wise enough to say, ‘We still have the most important thing-we have each other.’”

“We are so thankful for every day we have together,” said Deb. “We have been beyond blessed with a loving family and the best friends. Since Kevin is a stubborn Norwegian and I am a bossy German, our marriage has survived with lots of prayers, forgiveness, patience, love, and laughter.”


What a moving story.  May the Lord bless your lives with the best!