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A match made at SMSU

February 11, 2012
By Jim Tate , Marshall Independent

After Rod Ask's second date with Karen (Katie) Tusa, "I had pretty much made up my mind that would be it," he said.

There was something in those brown eyes, though.

Both grew up about three miles from one another, but they didn't meet until they attended Southwest State University, as it was known then.

Ask was raised on a farm near Dunnell and graduated from Sherburn High School. Tusa grew up on a farm 3 miles to the west, which placed her in the Jackson school district.

Ask was a year older than Tusa, and chose SMSU on an adviser's recommendation of the agribusiness program.

"I loved farming, and knew that's the direction I wanted to go," he said. He graduated in 1983 with degrees in agribusiness and marketing.

When Tusa graduated from high school, she took a summer job at Univac in Jackson, where she sat close to Ask's sister, Rhonda. It was Rhonda Ask who told Tusa about her brother, and his multi-state camping trip that summer. Turns out that Tusa was headed to Marshall to attend college, too.

Rhonda Ask would later suggest to her brother that he give Tusa a call and the two could carpool when they both would be coming home on weekends.

"I've always been goal-oriented, so I was going home on Thursday nights to farm my second year, so I didn't call her early on," he said. "It wasn't until the winter that I finally called her about carpooling home. I introduced myself, and it turns out we were both going home that next week."

He met her and her friend, Sue Harris, near the Casa Futura residence hall and they drove home.

"Sue was a talker. Karen was much more quiet and introverted,"?he said. "Karen didn't say much, but she had these brown eyes that grabbed my attention.

"After that first trip back, it was just me and Karen after that. It gave me a chance to get to know her. I got the courage up to ask her out. I was a little underdeveloped with girls, especially those I was drawn to."

Their first date was to Godfather's, and "the pizza couldn't come soon enough," said Ask. "She was quiet, very quiet. Nothing negative happened, I was still attracted to her, I just couldn't think of anything to talk to her about. I think it was the next week I asked her out again. As it turns out, it was worse than the time before, because I had asked all the questions on the first date. I had nothing left. I don't know why she went out with me, maybe she was too polite. Her answers to my questions were 'Yes,' 'No' or 'I don't know.'"

Ask thought that was the end of that. The next week, however, Ask's roommate had a female friend drop by. His roommate, Robert Barenwald, wasn't around, so the friend, Mary Kay, stayed and chatted with Ask. Soon, there was a knock on the door, and sure enough, there was Tusa.

"She saw Mary Kay with me, she said a few things and said she had to leave. So I thought to myself, 'So she is interested,'" he said.

You guessed it. A year out of college, they got married on Labor Day weekend, 1984. He asked for her hand while on a picnic.

"I made her a cheese sandwich. She eats like a bird, and I knew that was her favorite sandwich," he said.

They are but one of 1,256 couples that met and married while attending SMSU. The Alumni Office sent out postcards to the couples, asking for their own love stories. The couples were directed to the alumni website. The top stories will receive prizes, and several will have their stories appear in the upcoming FOCUS alumni magazine. Interim Director of Alumni Relations Mike VanDrehle said the contest would continue through the end of the month.

Today, Karen Ask goes by the first name of Katie.

"My brother gave her that name, and it's stuck," said Rod Ask. "But for this article, people who knew her back then would have known her as Karen."

They have two children, Jonathan, 23, and Ryan, 21.

Ask farms 600 acres of corn and beans with his father Alan. He also manages two state of Minnesota welcome centers - the Albert Lea welcome center, as you come north on Interstate 35, and the Dresbach welcome center, located near La Crescent.

Karen - or Katie, whichever you prefer - works as an accountant for AGCO, a Jackson tractor-making company. She is a 1983 alumna.

As for his wife, talk to him long enough, and it eventually comes back to one physical characteristic.

"Her brown eyes still get to me," said Ask.



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