The faces in Zach Wesley's 4-H exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair are gone now, with the passing of the last known World War II veterans from his hometown of Dassel, an hour west of the Twin Cities in Meeker County.
Wesley memorialized the men of what's been called "the Greatest Generation" in a series of panels depicting the 13 soldiers in uniform and, for most, later in life.
Most poignant are the photographs of those who never again saw Dassel, their forever-young faces a reminder of the supreme sacrifice.
"They were all the models of selflessness," says Wesley, now a likely aerospace engineering major in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. "They did it for everyone, including the people in Germany and Japan. It was to protect democracy, but it went beyond that."
Attention to detail
In addition to the veterans' photos and accompanying descriptions of their service, Wesley created models of the Dassel veterans' aircraft and ships, their painstaking accuracy a reflection of his research. The decade leading up to World War II marked spectacular advances in aeronautic technology.
"Until just a few years leading up to World War II, airplanes were practically made of sticks, strings and fabric," says Wesley, adding, "I've wanted to be an engineer for as long as I can remember."
Wesley started college courses during high school through a program with Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. He's in his last year of 4-H, a youth development program administered by University of Minnesota Extension, as a member of the Forest City Livewires 4-H Club and is also an Eagle Scout.
Wesley's project earned kudos first at his county fair before going on to state fair judging. He'd previously displayed it at the Dassel History Center, where volunteers helped connect him with resources.
"Self-determined projects help 4-H'ers pursue interests that don't fit neatly into existing categories," says Cassidy Martin, Extension 4-H youth development educator in Meeker County. "Zach's project is very tied to his community, and that's something 4-H generally does a good job of supporting in kids – building that sense of community service."
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