Like thousands of young people before them, these four built skills to lead for life.
These three Minnesotans credit their foundations in Extension’s 4-H youth program with how they live and give today. Meet rural doctor Diane Kennedy, Peace Corps volunteer Ellie Bauer and Met council member Robert Lilligren.
Diane Kennedy: Rural doctor
Growing up in Pipestone, Dr. Diane Kennedy had a veterinarian father who was a renowned breeder of Suffolk sheep. Joining 4-H and showing sheep was a natural thing to do. “You learn a lot working with animals,” she says. “Things don’t always go your way, and you have to stick with it.”
She enrolled in the University of Minnesota at the same time as her high school sweetheart, Mark Dahl. Kennedy initially enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts, intending to become a biology teacher. She joined the crew team and has happy memories of rowing on the Mississippi River and working as a student advisor in the honors program. She appreciated how the program offered “a small-group experience even though it was such a big school.”
When her interest turned to medicine, Kennedy transferred to the College of Biological Sciences on the St. Paul campus, where Dahl worked in the barns as he studied agriculture. They married in 1986 and she graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1990. They bought a farm near Luverne and raised three daughters, Jessa, Kat and Ellen.
Naturally, the daughters joined 4-H and Kennedy volunteered as a 4-H club leader. “I’ve been to the Minnesota State Fair every year of my life since I was 3 or 4,” she says. “And I always go to the beef show.”
Today, she practices family medicine and also serves as coroner and emergency services director at the Sanford Luverne Medical Center. In 2018, The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians named her Family Physician of the Year.
No matter how busy, Kennedy and Dahl have always found time for 4-H. “You learn to lead and solve problems, and you learn about deadlines and completing projects,” Kennedy says. “A lot of things we start today we never finish, but in 4-H you have to. Whatever your passion, there’s an avenue to pursue it.”
Ellie Bauer: Peace Corps volunteer
When Ellie Bauer tells her story about how she became interested in food security, she always cites her Speaking Up for Animal Agriculture experience in 4-H. It was at the Minnesota State Fair, and her group showed the public what a balanced human diet looks like and how it connects with nutrition in feeding animals.
Leadership was important to Bauer and she joined her 4-H county federation board and Green Team. Her involvement in 4-H did not stop when she graduated as a member. As a University of Minnesota student, Bauer worked in the Minnesota 4-H state office.
“I became known as the ‘Twitter girl.’ I ran the state social media accounts and captioned YouTube videos for the hearing impaired,” she says. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2017, Bauer began her journey as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia.
“The project I am a part of is called nutrition-sensitive agriculture,” Bauer says. “It improves garden, poultry and bee management through household visits.” Bauer works with farmers and families to improve community initiatives. She blogs about it at ellieinethiopia.wordpress.com.
Bauer draws upon her 4-H experiences in her work with the Peace Corps and aims to create inclusive language in her work environment.
“I’m learning so much about being a global citizen,” Ellie says. “It’s made me realize how important it is to be willing to change your mind, listen to other points of view, and assume the best in people’s actions.”
By Janelle Hueners, communications intern and 4-H alumnae from Chisago County.
Editor's note: This story was written before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the evacuation of Peace Corps volunteers.
Robert Lilligren: Public servant
“I pledge my hands to larger service” is the third line in the 4-H pledge. When Robert Lilligren said those words more than 40 years ago, they stuck. He became a lifelong public servant.
Lilligren represents District 7 in Minneapolis on the Metropolitan Council. A member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and former president of Little Earth United Tribes, he currently serves as an executive of the Native American Community Development Institute. He served on the Minneapolis City Council from 2001 to 2014, and on many city council and Metropolitan Council committees.
Housing is one issue close to Lilligren’s heart. He and his husband Steve work with neighbors to keep housing available on their block and promote “a community where children feel safe to learn and grow.” Transportation is also important to him and he can often be seen riding his bicycle around town.
He grew up the sixth of seven children in Ham Lake Township (Anoka County) as a member of the Glen Carry Gophers 4-H Club, showing horses and participating in 4-H performing arts.
“I learned a great deal about meeting structure and how to respect others while waiting for a turn to speak,” Robert says. “Those skills grew so much during my years as a councilperson, but that growth was on the foundation 4-H had laid.”