Farm Horizons, May 2006

An inside look at the McLeod Dairy Association

By Liz Hellmann

Roger Rolf of Lester Prairie holds a life-long commitment to the dairy industry. In fact, he was nominated for it.

Rolf has been serving as a board member of the McLeod Dairy Association since he was first nominated for the position in 1993, and he has a feeling he’ll be there for awhile.

“Once you get on the board, you don’t get off – you’re on until you die,” Rolf said with a laugh.

But that doesn’t bother this man, who has been involved with dairy his whole life, beginning with his family’s farm.

Life on the farm

Like all young children, Rolf learned to walk, talk, and then took the next step of natural progression for any country boy – he started helping with the crops and milking cows.

His parents, Arduin and Ruth Rolf, owned a 45-cow dairy farm in between Lester Prairie and Silver Lake.

In addition to cows, they grew soybeans, oats, and corn.

After graduating from Lester Prairie School, Rolf stayed true to his roots, continuing in his love of dairy.

“My interest lies with dairy cows. I’d sooner do something like that outside than sit in an office,” Rolf said.

Even though his parents sold their farm, Rolf found the kind of work he wanted at Mike Hoernemann’s in Winsted.

His job as a herdsman on the 85-cow dairy farm keeps him busy milking, caring for calves, mixing feed, record keeping, artificial insemination, vaccinations, and monitoring the health of the herd.

Dairy industry will never be the same

As a dairy association board member, Rolf keeps his finger on the pulse of the dairy industry, which is rapidly changing in Minnesota.

Rolf estimates that since he became a board member 13 years ago, at least half of the dairy farms in the state have sold, a trend he doesn’t see changing.

“The ones that are big will probably get bigger, and there will be fewer and fewer farms,” Rolf said.

Especially farms like Rolf’s own parent’s 35-cow operation.

But even though the landscape of dairy in Minnesota is changing, the McLeod Dairy Association is doing its part to promote the industry, no matter what its form.

Other board members serving with Rolf include Wayne Rusch, Peggy Engelmann, Julie Heinen, Janice Konerza, and Malinda Kuensel.

“You get to know the board members, it’s almost like a family,” Rolf said.

The board meets about 10 times a year to discuss upcoming events, promotions, and fundraisers.

A major part of the board’s activities hinge around the McLeod Dairy princesses and ambassadors.

There is even a princess committee devoted to taking care of organizing the coronation banquet, parade and community appearances, and recruiting.

Konerza, Karen Thalmann, Heinen, Tammy Mathews, and Kelly Winter are currently serving on the princess committee.

Day-to-day as a board member

The busiest time for the board members kicks off with the annual McLeod dairy banquet, at which time the new dairy princesses are selected.

Last year was a special year for the county, when its own dairy princess Becky Dammann received the state honor of Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

Rolf has gone to almost every Princess Kay coronation the last 15 years, and will never forget the moments when one of the McLeod princesses was chosen.

“The highlight of being on the board has been having Sarah Olson in 2002 and Becky Dammann last year getting Princess Kay,” Rolf said.

When they’re not cheering on their princesses at coronations, the McLeod Dairy Association board members work on promoting dairy through year-long events, many of which are packed into the summer months.

June is dairy month, and understandably one of the busiest times.

The dairy association gives a dairy basket to the first baby born at the Glencoe and Hutchinson hospitals in June.

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Billboards are put up in the county advertising dairy month. Board members and others volunteer to serve cheeseburgers and shakes in the Hutchinson Cash Wise store during Cheeseburger Days June 15 through 17.

The association sponsors the Region 7 Dairy Show in Howard Lake in June to give children involved in 4-H and FFA a chance to show their cows and learn more about dairy.

July is the time to celebrate ice cream month – a fun way to get one of the recommended three servings of dairy a day.

Any good organization needs a fundraiser, and August is that time of year for the McLeod Dairy Association.

Board members take their turn alongside other volunteers to man the malt stand at the McLeod County Fair, selling shakes and milk.

Getting back to those they represent

After the busy summer has subsided, Rolf and the rest of the board regroup and report to the dairy farmers they represent during the annual meeting.

The meeting usually takes place at the beginning of January. McLeod and Carver counties conduct a joint meeting to inform area farmers of what is being done at the state level for dairy promotion.

There are currently two vacant seats on the board, which Rolf encourages people to think about filling themselves, or nominate someone else.

For those who would like to get involved, but not at the board level, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer from committees to serving shakes at the county fair.

“I have really enjoyed doing things for the dairy association. It’s where my interests lie, and you meet a lot of new people,” Rolf said.

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