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4-H club turns 75

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:03 PM

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PINE ISLAND, Minn. — Members of the New Haven Sodbusters filled the gathering space at St. Michael's Catholic Church, projects spread out on tables before them.

All ages clustered around the tables, parents helping younger children; teens and tweens working at their own pace.

One goal of the evening was to finish decorations for the club's upcoming 75th anniversary celebration. The club will mark the occasion with an open house from 2 to 4 pm. Nov. 4 at the New Haven Town Hall, 9024 County Road 3 NW, Oronoco. There will be a program at 3 p.m.

Many things have changed since the New Haven Sodbusters held its first meeting in 1937. Mrs. Roy Sykes and Mr. and Mrs. Richardt were the first leaders. The families all lived in New Haven Township near the Sykes' place.

Today, the club meets at the church. Connie Bogard is the leader. Members hail from a greater distance, including Rochester, Pine Island, Douglas and Oronoco.

Yet, the sense of accomplishment a 4-H'er feels after earning that ribbon at the county fair remains unchanged.

The projects the 4-H'ers earn those ribbons from may have changed, though.

Grace Rucker, 9, may take her cat to the fair next year. She is definitely taking pictures and artwork. She'll probably take produce from her garden. She's thinking she may bring up to 10 projects.

She earned merit awards at the 2012 Olmsted County Fair, the first time she was eligible to compete.

Fellow 4-H'er Nick Rossman, 8, is taking a pig to the fair next year. It will be his first chance to compete as a 4-H member.

"I just want to get a ribbon for it … see what kind of ribbon I can get," Rossman said.

Rucker said if she works hard on her projects, it will end up super good at the fair.

Both enjoy working with their 4-H peers on other club projects, be it cleaning road ditches or assemblies.

The club is active in several community service projects, said past club leader Jan McNallan. Aside from Adopt-A-Highway, they participate in a March food drive to benefit the Pine Island Food Shelf, carol at the Pine Haven Care Center, hold a Cancer Telethon Bake Sale, collect Toys for Tots and contribute to Channel One.

"I think we still have a very larger and very active club," said Sally Kohlmeyer, whose children are second generation Sodbusters. The club has close to 50 members.

She credits McNallan, aka the 4-H lady, for being a driving force behind the club.

4-H has another component that's attractive to Kohlmeyer. It brings her family together.

"We do a lot more things together" because of 4-H, she said. Those things are likely community service projects that bring out all the club's members and adult volunteers.

The club's longevity is due, at least in part, to the adult volunteers who have generously given of their time to guide the next generation.

"This club … we've been fortunate to have a lot of parent involvement and support continue through the years," said Tony Rossman from the Douglas area. He was in the club in the 1980s and 1990s. His children are now involved.

He paused, using his phone to take a photograph of his son being introduced as a new club member.

There's more diversity in projects than when he was a 4-Her, Rossman said. 4-H has done a good job of adding to its traditional livestock projects.

"I thought 4-H was for animals and we don't have animals," said Pat Cook of Pine Island.

Her three sons became involved in the club through McNallan and she's been coming to meetings for 12 years now.

Her sons took diverse projects, including computer and aerospace. Her oldest son went to state speech competition, thanks to the training he received in 4-H, she said.

"I can't tell you how valuable I feel 4-H has been for my boys," Cook said. "4-H is invaluable for any child to go to."

Corey Allen didn't grow up on a farm, but he wanted to have cattle. That's what attracted him to 4-H.

His father paid for the feed and he used it to build his beef herd to about 20 head of cattle by the time he left for college. His cattle earnings financed his college education.

Allen, now of Pine Island, remembers well those carefree days spent away from his parents' watchful eyes at the county and state fair with his beef projects.

He still does business with the friends he made in 4-H. It was a different group of people than at his school, John Marshall in Rochester.

Now, he's the parent of three boys who are just beginning their 4-H careers. He looks forward to them learning the responsibility of caring for their 4-H animals.

It used to be that 4-H was what kids did in the summer, said Joy Kaul of Oronoco. Now, many are busy with sports and other activities.

Yet, 4-H is still providing the same opportunities to learn and make amazing projects that it did when she was a member in the 1980s.

She remembers having to develop a whole roll of film to see if she had the perfect photo for her 4-H project. Now, 4-H'ers have only to look at the screen of their digital camera.

Her children, ages 14 and 16, have done projects they will treasure for years to come.

"You can be as busy as you want to be (in 4-H)," Kaul said.

4-H provides an opportunity to explore areas of interest, said Ryan Kohlmeyer, 15, club president. Kohlmeyer, a sophomore at Rochester's Century High School, said he discovered an affinity for aerospace, electricity and community service through 4-H.

Asked to reflect on the club's 75th anniversary, current officers expressed pride and optimism.

"I think it's really, really cool," said secretary Kristina Allen, 17, Rochester. "So many clubs don't make it beyond the first year. I see no reason why this club won't make it to 100."

"It's pretty amazing the club has stayed together," added Andy Bogard, 14, club photographer.

Club vice president Emily Kaul, 16, said the club's anniversary celebration spurred a discussion with her grandmother about all the clubs that have gone away.

"We can be proud that we have a strong group," Joy Kaul said.