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Farmer-artist honors late mother with 4-H wool project benefiting cancer research

February 22, 2019
Pink wool angel with silver halo
Photo courtesy of Wendy Wustenberg

Sixteen years ago, Wendy Wustenberg’s daughter, Lauren, and her mother, the late Ruth Wiberg, created a University of Minnesota Extension 4-H project using wool. The wool came from rare Leicester Longwool sheep the family raises at Windswept Hill Farm, in Farmington, Minn.

The first round of wool angels were Lauren’s 4-H demonstration project for the Dakota County Fair when she was 10 years old.

“It was a hit,” says Wendy (University of Minnesota alumna; Journalism `83; Humphrey School MPA `06 and adjunct faculty). “People in the audience wanted angels, and our family donated the money they gave for them to cancer research.” 

“My grandma was given a terminal breast cancer diagnosis before I was even born,” says Lauren, who is now a law student in Vermont. “Fortunately, she was accepted into a research trial. After she went into remission, she took care of me for three days every week while my parents worked and took care of the business.” 

Wiberg lived with managed breast cancer for 18 years. She and her husband were lifelong members of Masonic organizations and advocates for the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, where she received care. 

The late Ruth Wiberg with arm around granddaughter, Lauren, holding hand-painted doll
The late Ruth Wiberg embraces granddaughter, Lauren Wustenberg, and the hand-painted doll she passed down to her. Photo courtesy of Wendy Wustenberg

“My grandma and I were very close,” says Lauren. “It really hits me now, as an adult, to realize that I never would have known her at all if not for cancer research.”

4-H green plus breast cancer pink

Wendy is an alumna of 4-H in Rice County and served as an adult leader when Lauren was an active 4-H’er in Dakota County. Minnesota 4-H, the University of Minnesota Extension youth development program symbolized by a green clover, encourages projects that promote learning while serving community needs. 

“My grandma was the type of person who, if she had something, she always gave part of it away,” says Lauren. “We had all this wool from our sheep, and we didn’t even knit.”

In 2002, the family was inspired to have wool color-matched to “Susan G. Komen Pink.” Wendy says of her own attempt to dye the same color, “It resulted in something closer to ‘Raspberry Beret,’ so the job of dyeing is now contracted to a professional mill.” 

Angel tradition continues

Three years ago, Wendy helped found North Star Farm Tour, a nonprofit organization aiming to open agri-tourism and farm-to-consumer opportunities. She also accepted invitations for chamber of commerce-sponsored events in nearby towns and at community fairs.

Wendy Wustenberg helps young girl make a pink wool project
Wendy Wustenberg helps a young visitor make a pink wool angel. Photo courtesy of Wendy Wustenberg

“Angels can never be for sale, but people can sit down and be guided through making an angel in about 20 minutes,” says Wendy. “We have numerous colors of wool and ribbons symbolic of other health conditions, causes and holidays to personalize the experience.”

People may take them as a gift or offer a donation. Hundreds of angels have been given as gifts to survivors or caregivers over the years. 

Wendy recently dropped off a gift for $1,200 to Masonic Charities and Masonic Cancer Center, earmarked for scholarships and patient support, and has collected $1,000 of wool angel proceeds toward her next gift.

What started out as a 4-H project has given much meaning to this farm family. 

“Most of all, I love the personal stories told during the process and the look on the face of each maker as they see what they have done with a handful of loose fiber,” says Wendy. “In that moment they see themselves as an artist, and all of our work as shepherds becomes worthwhile.”

Springtime near at Windswept Hill Farms

Lamb seeming to smile for the camera

It's close to shearing time again on the farm. “The U of M Vet School students were out last Thursday with Dr. Emily Burrell to ultrasound my ‘ladies’ and confirm that we expect about 15 lambs in the next six weeks,” says Wendy. Shearing happens before lambs are born, so the family will have another 300 pounds of fiber to process for wool projects and products.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Wustenberg

Not too early to plan for fall North Star Farm Tour

Watermelon colored wool, pink and green skeins

The fourth annual 2019 annual North Star Farm Tour is set for the weekend of Sept. 28-29. This year, the tour will celebrate the global diversity of fiber animals, handcrafts and textiles in Minnesota, actively seeking relationships with producers, artists and organizations representing many cultures. “We each have our own stories to tell, and so do our animals,” says Wendy.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Wustenberg

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