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A passion for service rooted in 4-H

March 2, 2019

Robert Lilligren grew up in Ham Lake Township in northern Anoka County as a member of the Glen Carry Gophers 4-H Club. 4-H was a key factor in his trajectory toward a life of service.

Young and ambitious

From a young age, Robert enjoyed helping others. He is the sixth of seven children, whose parents gave them their start in 4-H. 

The Lilligren family gardened and raised horses. They were active in service, most notably with the North Central Morgan Association and the local fairboard.

As a 4-H’er, Robert entered many projects for judging at the fair including vegetables, arts, and baked goods. He also showed horses, developed instructional demonstrations and performed in Share the Fun, a performing arts experience for 4-H clubs. Before he was old enough for drama clubs in school, 4-H at the fair was Robert’s only opportunity to perform.

In every step of his growing up, Robert discovered new skills, abilities and love for serving others. Those slow and steady discoveries eventually lead into a career.

Uniting passion and career

Robert feels like he’s been reciting the 4-H pledge since he could first talk.

He’s always felt especially moved by the third line, “I pledge my hands to larger service.” Now as an adult, he has used 4-H skills for twelve years in his service on the Minneapolis City Council.

“As a 4-H’er I learned a great deal about meeting structure, including Robert’s Rule of Order and how to respect others while waiting for a turn to speak,” recalled Robert. “Those skills grew so much during my years as a councilperson, but that growth was on the foundation 4-H had laid.”

After his service on the city council concluded, Robert’s elders encouraged him to use his skills for the benefit of the native community. He then worked with Little Earth of United Tribes, an organization that creates affordable housing in South Minneapolis, with a preference to Native Americans.

In 2007, Robert served as the founding board chair for the Native American Community Development Institute, now currently serving as President and CEO. Here, he raises funds to work on projects that help Native individuals and groups pursue a good life, whether it’s putting on a leadership training program or organizing a gallery show of their art. 

Service doesn’t end when the work day is over

Not only does Robert commit his professional life to service, he also finds ways to serve in his personal life. 

Robert and his husband Steve, work with three other neighbors in their Phillips West neighborhood to keep safe, regular housing available on their block. 

Robert says he wanted to develop, “a community where children feel safe to learn and grow”. 

“Building something with one another, rather tearing each other down, will lead to a better life for all of us,” reflected Robert.

Growing up along with his siblings in 4-H started Robert on a pathway of confidence, skills, and passion for service. 4-H showed him how to be part of a larger whole and give what he has for the benefit of his community.


What's next?

What’s on the horizon for Robert? He is being appointed by the governor and lieutenant  governor to the District 7 Met Council seat, which coordinates and set policy priorities for regional transportation planning. 

Learn more about 4-H expressive arts & communications projects.
Interested in building your passion for service?  Find a 4-H club in your area.


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

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