Dairy banquets are history, but awards continue
Tonight would have been the once popular 4-H dairy banquet and awards night at the Olmsted County 4-H Building on the Rochester fairgrounds.
It would have been the 54th annual get-together when we honored County 4-H dairy project winners, first on the local scene and also for Minnesota State Fair exhibitors. Why no longer? Times change, and that’s OK.
This summer at the Olmsted County Fair, the 4-H Council decided to have the event as a big pizza party right there on the fairgrounds following the livestock auction.
And why not? For over half a century, families met on a Friday night in early November for the program while competing with high school football tournaments. Some of the senior 4-H members had already started college, and it meant a special trip home.
Some years ago we moved the banquet back to Thursday nights to remove the "football angle." When I say "we," I am speaking of the sponsoring organization, the Rochester Area Ag Committee of which I’ve been a member 35 years.
It wasn’t always the Rochester Ag Committee that sponsored the 4-H dairy banquet. Until 1996, it was the Chamber Ag Task Force that did the grunt work. When I became heavily involved in 1981, as a committee we worked for donations of cheese at Elgin Cheese Shoppe, butter from Land o' Lakes in Pine Island, ice cream from Marigold Dairies and 2 gallons of mixed veggies from Seneca Foods. Usually that was peas and carrots. A caterer would do the rest, and with all those donations, it cut down on our costs. Some fine caterers were Ray Hasley, Rueben, Irene Wegner and, in recent years, Fred Regal.
Those great awards at the end of the night used to be preceded by a well-known speaker. I recall in 1982 our inviting Paul Giel, former University of Minnesota football player and later a professional baseball pitcher, to give the address.
As time went on, the speakers role was ended, and more emphasis was put on the kids. There were cash awards from dairies such as AMPI, Foremost Dairies, Land o' Lakes and more. Jeanette Sheehan and Olmsted County Extension educator Dave Kjome presented dairy judging stories and trips to the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
An outstanding 4-H dairy member was given the Dr. Frank Mann award for excellence in every phase of dairying. Mann and friend Dr. Hiriam Essex of the Mayo Clinic traveled to dairy shows across the country, always working to improve the blood lines in their herds. Mandan farm was 1 mile south of Pleasant Grove on County Highway Road 1. Frank Mann owned that farm from 1942 until his death in 1962. Essex's farm was where Essex Park is. His partner was Howard Heins. Dr. Mann’s farm operator was Walter Bigelow.
The Mann award was started in 1963 as planned by his widow and daughter Ruth along with Dave Kjome. First winner was James Schroeder. Fifty years later, this summer, Meghan Connelly, of the Salem Sailors Club, won. Two other awards from the Harold Frost Family, of Pine Island, and the Richard Siem family north on U.S. 63 continue to be awarded annually. This year’s Frost Memorial winner was Anne Culbertson. The Doug Siem Memorial Scholarship went to Kyle Borst.
Our committee thanks so many for volunteering over the years, including Dale Heintz of Land o' Lakes at Eyota and Jeanette Sheehan. Sheehan and a committee added beautiful autumn decorations to the 4-H building. "I’ll miss the family reunion type atmosphere we always had at these banquets," Sheehan said.
The event will continue as a pizza party at the county fair.