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Fillmore County family carries on a passionate tradition of 4-H

March 9, 2019

For Vern and Kay Ristau, being involved in the 4-H youth development program is a family tradition. One they were glad to pass on to their children and grandchildren too.  

Since the beginning

Vern and Kay both grew up in 4-H and knew they wanted their kids to have the same experience. In 4-H, they built values and strong life skills they used throughout their lives.

Vern and Kay’s children – Sharon, Scott, Todd, and Tracy – all developed a strong passion for 4-H. They were members of the Carimona Cruisers 4-H Club in Fillmore County and participated in a number of learning projects ranging from sheep and dairy, photography, foods projects and performing arts. Each of their projects, along with the leadership roles they held as they grew, developed critical skills including hard work, communication, and public speaking.

What it’s all about

Now Sharon, Scott, Todd, and Tracy all have children of their own. Many of their children have participated in 4-H, and a new generation is finding ways of learning and leading in their local 4-H program.

Over the years, each sibling has contributed time, money and ideas to help youth in their community build the same skills they grew as kids. Tracy, the youngest of Vern and Kay’s children, is a volunteer 4-H club leader, helps with 4-H fundraisers and serves on a number of committees that support youth learning and community service. She spent several years coordinating special learning events for Fillmore County’s youngest 4-H youth, the Cloverbuds. 

“4-H teaches youth to be dedicated to their project or task on hand,” Tracy recently reflected.  “Whether walking a lamb to tone the body or finishing the final touches of painting a fence for a local community pride project, 4-H teaches the importance of volunteering.”

Todd is on the committee that supports youth who are interested in learning about poultry and also helps with the local 4-H sheep show. “4-H instills a strong value system of being able to take pride in your project work,” he responded when asked why he invests his limited free time in the 4-H program. He enjoys working with the members because he sees the joy they get through exhibiting their project learning for the public.

Perhaps you’d think that the Ristau children would only volunteer while their own children were involved, but that’s not the case! Sharon’s kids have finished their 4-H careers, the last in 2013, yet her engagement remains strong. She volunteers on committees that support youth who want to deepen their learning in sheep and market animal projects. She also helps with local 4-H fundraiser efforts. Sharon particularly enjoys volunteering with 4-H because, “it provides me with an opportunity to work with youth, helping to mentor and guide them in the development of their leadership skills.”

“A life changing organization”

Vern and Key’s grandchildren, the third generation of 4-H members from the Ristau family, are carrying on their learning and leading tradition of their grandparents.

Sawyer and Steph have already completed their 4-H experiences, building skills they now use as young professionals and community members. “I learned how to coordinate projects, be a mentor, and a leader,” mentioned Steph. And in the tradition of those Ristaus before her, she finds time to volunteer, empowering the next generation of learners and leaders 4-H is growing.

Some of the Ristau cousins are current 4-H members, engaging in various learning projects and leadership roles in their local club and county.  They credit 4-H giving them opportunities to build skills while serving as mentors, leading meetings and exploring projects with friends.

Tracy’s daughter Taryn already can see just how valuable 4-H has been in her life. “4-H brings a lot of positivity to the community, and has helped me grow as a person,” she said. “I can stand up in front of a crowd and speak, and have learned the importance of responsibility.”

What can you do?

Get involved! Whether you’re an adult or young person, you can learn so many skills by being a part of 4-H. And, according to Sharon, you’ll make many friends and memories along the way.

“4-H is about developing lifelong friendships, and helping others through community service and role modeling.” It really is a great place to grow up. 

Want to have learning and leading experiences like the Ristau family?
Find a 4-H club near you.

Bailey Ruen
University of Minnesota student
Fillmore County 4-H member

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