Dodge County finalist stays grounded

CLAREMONT, Minn. – When she was growing up, Mikaila Klejeski couldn’t have imagined she would be so involved with the dairy industry by the time she was 18. Now she’s a Dodge County dairy princess and finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way...

Makaila Klejeski is a Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalist from Claremont, Minn., representing Dodge County.

CLAREMONT, Minn. — When she was growing up, Makaila Klejeski couldn't have imagined she would be so involved with the dairy industry by the time she was 18. Now she's a Dodge County dairy princess and finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way who plans to make dairy her career.

Klejeski grew up in the small town of Claremont, but she didn't particularly have any agricultural connections. Her parents, Jon and Kim, didn't grow up on farms and had town jobs. However, they did have farming friends. What started out as Klejeski and her younger brother going out to Glenn Johnson and Deb McDermott-Johnson's Owatonna farm to do chores evolved into eventually showing cattle by the time she was in third grade.

Klejeski's family eventually farmed in partnership with the Johnsons for several years and moved out to the farm. Her involvement there lead to her becoming the Region VIII Star Farmer and a finalist for state Star Farmer with FFA in 2015.

"It's amazing what I've learned over the years," Klejeski said. "One day we put calves on halters and people told us, 'This is how you show cows.' I went from being terrified of cows and to now they're my life."

She is making plans for the dairy industry for a long time, though she's still working out exactly how. After taking courses at Northeast Iowa Community College online this year, Klejeski will move to Calmar, Iowa, in August to finish her degree in dairy science technology. After originally thinking she would like to work in dairy nutrition, Klejeski wants to see where her degree might take her through internships, whether it involves genetics, herdsmanship, nutrition or something completely different.


While she's home, Klejeski has been working at Naatz Dairy near Mantorville. There, she primarily helps with milking, but has also been called on to clip cows. The roughly 230 head of Holsteins milked at Naatz Dairy is little different from the 75-cow Brown Swiss and Holstein herd she had grown up with at the Johnsons, but Klejeski likes the variety.

"It's beneficial because I get an all-around look at other farms," Klejeski said.

Klejeski had served as a junior ambassador and then dairy princess for Steele County. When her family moved off the Johnson farm earlier this year, Klejeski wasn't sure if she wanted to pursue becoming a dairy princess in Dodge County. She had an advocate on her side, however. Karen Naatz is Klejeski's boss at Naatz Dairy and happens to be the Dodge County dairy princess program coordinator. Naatz encouraged Klejeski to run, and now she's glad she did.

"I like representing dairy farmers," Klejeski said. "It's such a positive way to get out there and interact with the public. My favorite part is talking to kids. I can connect really well with kids, and I like hearing what they have to say."

Klejeski's interest in connecting children with agriculture extends beyond her princess activities. One of her goals is to create an organization that is all about agriculture but geared toward children in day cares and elementary schools. FFA does a great job of bringing middle and high school-aged kids together around agriculture, but it lacks the funding to reach younger ages, Klejeski said. She sees an opportunity to get kids interested in farming when they are quite young and wants to take it.

Part of Klejeski's inclination for reaching out to kids may come with being the oldest child in her family. She is the first of Jon and Kim's seven children. She hopes her interest in dairying has rubbed off on her siblings. She sees some curiosity from her 11- and 12-year-old sisters, who Klejeski hopes will join FFA.

This was Klejeski's second year attending the May development event for county dairy princesses. Last year, she went to learn. Hearing other dairy princesses' stories was inspiring, Klejeski said. This year, she was nervous, but she put her hat in the ring to become a Princess Kay finalist.

"I had dreamed about it but realized I could represent the dairy industry without a crown," Klejeski said. "I gave it my all, and I'm glad it paid off."


Her parents, boyfriend and his parents all traveled to St. Cloud to see the finalists being announced and send Klejeski positive thoughts.

"We've never been through anything like this," Klejeski said. "They're very supportive."

As her name was called as a finalist, Klejeski could feel her face turn red. Now, she still has a hard time believing she hasn't imagined it. When the event ended, Klejeski went straight to her mom.

"I said, 'I get the butter!'" Klejeski said. "That was my biggest excitement. I kind of want to keep it forever."

Whether she ends up as Princess Kay or not, Klejeski knows dairy farmers are to thank, not just for milk, but for the county and Princess Kay programs to exist in the first place.

"I really admire all their hard work," Klejeski said. "Princess Kay may wear the crown, but they really get the word out to the public."

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