'Farmer Wants a Wife' TV series echoes western Minnesota town's 'bachelormania'
Many of the marriages arising from the attention Herman, Minnesota, received in the mid-1990s didn't last. But, there are exceptions.
HERMAN, Minn. — FOX TV's "Farmer Wants a Wife" is a reality show that features rural bachelors looking for a romantic connection.
The plot line was similar 30 years ago, when single men living near the rural community of Herman in western Minnesota let the world know they were looking for women interested in forging a life together.
Soon, national media from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to ABC's "20/20" began fanning the flames of what came to be called bachelormania.
The 1994 Grant County Fair served as a focal point for the excitement, when women from around the country showed up to find, if not a Prince Charming, at least "a whole lot of nice guys," according to one woman who was quoted in a Forum story from July of 1994.
At least seven of Herman's approximately 78 bachelors found wives, according to published reports. "Herman USA," a movie inspired by the town's experience, was released in 2001.
Many of the marriages arising from the attention Herman received didn't last.
However, there were exceptions.
The union of Gary and Rhonda Findlay is one.
Gary, along with his brother, Dan, another Herman-area farmer, were bachelors in 1994 when the nation's attention focused on Herman.
In Gary's case, he received phone calls and letters from hundreds of women.
But it was a missive from Rhonda, who grew up on a dairy farm in nearby Underwood, Minnesota, that captured Gary's attention and ultimately his heart.
During a recent phone interview, Rhonda let her husband do most of the talking, but in an interview she gave a few years ago, she said that given their similar farm backgrounds, she had a feeling she and Gary would hit it off.
It turned out she was right about that, and today the Findlays have five children who they are happy to talk about.
Tiffany, 25, is an attorney, while Megan, 24, is a teacher.
Benjamin, 22, will likely take over the family farm someday, according to his dad, and Jennifer, 20, is going to school to be a chiropractor.
The couple's youngest, Amber, is 19 and studying law at the University of Minnesota.
Amber said her parents are an inspiration, and she describes their marriage as a model of what a good partnership looks like.
"If you're able to find a type of love that is half as amazing as what they went through, it would be an accomplishment," she said.
Dan Findlay's marriage to a woman named Bonnie, who moved to Herman from New York state, is also still going strong.
Bonnie and Dan connected after Bonnie placed a singles ad in the town paper after she watched a "20/20" segment that featured Herman and its bachelors.
The person often credited with kicking off bachelormania is Dan Ellison, who was Herman's economic development coordinator in 1994.
At a meeting with town officials early that year, Ellison said Herman needed to create more job opportunities for women, and he noted that a poll of area high school students found that none of the 25 girls planned to stay in Herman after graduation, according to a story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
He warned that that dynamic, combined with Herman's 8:1 ratio of bachelors to single women, could lead to the town fading away.
Ellison's observation was published in the weekly Herman Review, and from there other media outlets seized on the story.
When The Associated Press wrote about it, the story was picked up around the country and the world, including coverage in the Times of London.
As one of the Herman bachelors, Eillson was among those who found wives following the attention the town received, though that marriage ended in divorce.
He has since remarried, and he said in a recent phone interview that his present partnership is a happy one.
"I found a great, great wife," Ellison said, adding that the publicity Herman received in the mid-1990s was so intense the town appears to have secured a permanent place in the country's collective consciousness.
"Probably the biggest thing that happened as a result of it, besides someone meeting someone and getting married, it kind of made Herman famous," Ellison said.
"You still run into people from other parts of the country that when you say the name Herman, they kind of perk up," he added.
Ellen Wilts agreed.
Wilts moved to Herman from Fargo in the late 1990s after answering one of the bachelors' personal ads.
She married Doug, a Herman-area farmer.
Doug passed away in 2019.
Their daughter Carrie, 23, is a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, while daughter Kellie, 21, attends college at South Dakota State University.
Wilts said moving from a city like Fargo to a community the size of Herman, population 390, took some adjustment, but she said the rural life has its charms, and she remains happy to call the place home.
While interest surrounding bachelormania cooled long ago, there are still singles in the Herman area looking for partners, according to Rhonda Findlay, who has donned the matchmaker mantle and says she has names and phone numbers of men ages 20 to 28 she is willing to share with interested parties.
Said interested parties may reach her via email at email@example.com.