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Fair board takes over children’s activity

By Karen Colbenson

kcolbenson@postbulletin.com

A dispute over who should be in control of the children’s farmyard during the upcoming Mower County Fair has left one local group feeling ousted, angry and confused.

John Carroll, president of the Austin FFA Alumni Chapter, said the fair board recently sent a letter stating the alumni group would no longer be involved with the children’s farmyard during the Mower County Fair. Carroll claims he doesn’t understand why the alumni have been excluded.

Fair Board President John Mueller said the decision was made based on what the board believes a former farmyard coordinator would have wanted.

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The Austin FFA Alumni has for several years acted as the superintendent of the farmyard exhibit.

"We’ve been there as a support system," said Carroll. "Why do they not want the FFA Alumni to help run the farmyard? It doesn’t make any sense. What are they gaining by kicking us out?"

Carroll said there also is a dispute over whether the farmyard equipment belongs to the Mower County Fair or the FFA.

The farmyard was created by Carl Kehret, a fair board member, in 1944, and is said to be the oldest continuously operating children’s farmyard in the country.

In 1950, Donald Ritland, FFA adviser and agriculture teacher at Austin High School, took over the project and ran the farmyard through 1981, with the help of FFA members and his own children. According to Lori Volz, finance director for Austin Public Schools, the Austin FFA has a student activity account that is run through a district bank account and follows the accounting regulations of a student activity account.

Last summer, the building was updated by adult volunteers and FFA members and alumni from throughout Mower County. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on the opening day of the fair, and the revamped facility was dedicated to Ritland.

"We’ve got too much time and effort invested in it to let it go at this point," said Carroll.

"We appreciate what the alumni did for a number of years, but we want to get it back to the way Ritland wanted it," said Mueller. "It is still an FFA children’s farmyard. The goal is to focus on FFA youth and keep it youth-oriented."

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Carroll and other members of the FFA Alumni say they don’t understand how their involvement would alter that.

"We’re going to keep our organization going," said Dave Huinker, an alumni member. "We’re a part of the FFA because we support those kids, and we’ll continue supporting them."

With FFA numbers dwindling in the county, Carroll said losing control of the barnyard is "only one less opportunity to spend time and work with these youth."

"That’s one of our main purposes," he said.

Mueller said that the farmyard is a project intended for youth.

"It’s not an alumni project," Mueller said. "Our goal, as a fair, is to encourage the participation of the youth."

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