[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here with permission a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on June 13, 2015.]
MOORHEAD — Some know him only by his public persona, “Dancing Bo Janssen,” the record-spinning disc jockey who helps keep things hopping in the afternoons at the local variety radio station 104.7 FM.
But others are privy to the fact that “Bo” lives a double life, sometimes even venturing out of the country to accomplish the tasks at hand.
To his accomplices in this other world, he is known by his given name, Kurt. And in this alter-ego capacity, he spends time turning not records but young souls toward Christ as the youth director at Christ the King Lutheran Church.
“He’s really got the best of both worlds,” says Kristi Janssen, his wife of nearly 26 years. “He’s always wanted to be an educator, but he also loves radio, and at the same time he has always made time for family and friends.”
“I went to school to become an elementary education teacher,” Kurt explains, “but I got into radio in college and have been into it ever since.”
Whether on air sharing about a community fundraiser, guiding a youth mission trip to an obscure corner of the world, or just offering fatherly advice to his two daughters, Taylor, 20, and Jayda, 17, Kurt instructs — but with a side of zest, according to those who have crossed his path.
Jason Quaife first observed these qualities up close in Puerto Rico, where the two were helping guide a high school mission trip in 2011.
“I try to pick out people, especially men, who have some attribute that I can emulate, and Kurt is definitely one of those people,” Quaife says. “The way he builds relationships with the kids, helps foster their faith, and teaches them about giving back and stepping out of your comfort zone — he goes the extra mile and really tries to connect with them. And he makes it fun.”
Quaife says Kurt’s radio gig, “where he needs to be very charismatic,” lends itself well to his church youth work. “He knows how to talk and he can keep conversations going with these kids.”
Quaife’s daughter, Kelsey, 20, also went to Puerto Rico, and says that given Kurt’s upbeat nature, “There was never a dull moment.”
One of her favorite memories happened the last day, when Kurt woke at 5 a.m. and quietly tapped students who’d missed the chance at an ocean swim to follow him to the beach to experience a sea splash before their morning flight home.
“He’s just a really great guy,” Kelsey says, noting that even though she’s two years into college, he still checks in with her and others who have graduated.
The Rev. Matt Valan, senior pastor at Christ the King, met the Janssens in 2000, when the family first showed up and settled in a pew toward the front of the church.
“They would sit there nearly every Sunday, and I couldn’t help but notice how engaged they were, and how evident their love was for each other and for others,” Valan says.
In 2004, when the church’s part-time youth director position opened, Valan and his wife, Kathy, also a pastor there at the time, prayed about a replacement. The Janssens came to mind, and Kristi agreed to assume the role.
“We brought Kristi on board, and almost immediately, got both of them,” says Valan. “The kids were just naturally drawn to them.”
But not right away, Kurt says. When Kristi asked him to accompany her on a mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico, in 2005, he agreed, but the trip started on a sour note, he says, leaving him feeling like he wasn’t connecting with the kids, and wondering why he’d even come along.
“I was sitting on the tailgate of a pickup questioning, ‘why am I here? I don’t feel like I’m clicking,’ ” he recalls, adding that in desperation, he made a deal with God. “I said, ‘Give me a sign or I’m checking out,’ and within two minutes or less, all the kids were sitting around the pickup wondering what we were doing next.”
He realized then, he says, that he’d been the one holding back. “I just hadn’t opened up enough, so I put my guard down and stopped expecting and put a better foot forward, and it turned out to be one of the greatest trips ever.”
His passion for leading kids to God now ignited, he continued helping. In 2008, he stepped into Kristi’s role, becoming youth director and family minister, and she transitioned to director of missions support.
Geoff “JT” Thaden, operations manager at the radio station, says Kurt’s multifaceted life only benefits the station and community as a whole.
“We’ve had to work out some different ways for him to be able to go on his youth trips,” he says, “but I think those life-changing experiences, all of that’s relevant when you come back and you’re talking on the air.”
Greg Ressler, Kurt’s co-worker of 20 years, calls him “a man of integrity” and a “fascinating” conversationalist. “I appreciate all the different aspects he brings to the radio environment,” Ressler says, noting that Kurt is “a good guy to come to for advice and he will take advice just as well.”
Kristi will never forget, back in their dating years, watching her future husband interacting with her nieces with a tenderness that seemed rare.
“I think I knew right away that he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He’s the most caring and kindhearted person I’ve ever met,” she says, noting that Kurt has always been attentive to all who have walked through the doors of their home as they’ve raised their girls.
And Kurt’s the first person she turns to when she has something to share, she says. “I just feel lucky I met someone who is my best friend and also my spouse. Of course, he’s not perfect, but I love him,” she says, adding, “and he’s a pretty great radio announcer, too.”