Sauer looks for sweet ending to 4-H career
LISMORE -- A few days ago, as one sister pinned her bug collection for an entomology display and another put the finishing touches on a horseless horse exhibit, Alissa Sauer stacked up her stash of completed 4-H projects and made a mental note of everything she had yet to do.
The days leading up to the county fair can be described as organized chaos for 4-H'ers with a lengthy list of projects; and after 12 years in the program, Sauer seems to have mastered it well.
"I'm just doing what I do every year," she said with a grin, surrounded by poster boards, sewing projects and an array of artwork just days before the 2012 Nobles County Fair was set to begin.
While Sauer, the daughter of Barry and Kerry Sauer of rural Lismore, enjoys every single one of the 12 project areas in which she's enrolled, she has her favorites. Fine arts tops the list, followed by a very close second in quilting.
"I love sewing. I can sew or do art all day long without being bored -- that's how I define favorite," said the 19-year-old Sauer.
Now an art major and history minor at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, she brought five pieces she made for college art classes to the fair on Wednesday for 4-H conference judging. Today, she will learn if any of them were selected to advance to the Minnesota State Fair in early September.
If it were up to her, the piece Sauer fondly refers to as Iron Man will make the trek with her to the Great Minnesota Get-Together. The life-size, life-weight man of machines is about 6 feet tall and weighs more than 150 pounds.
"Our professor ... wanted us to have our theme dictate what materials we use," said Sauer. "I tried to think of something creative and witty; I love working with metals, and I love junk.
"I came up with the theme, the human body as a machine," she added.
Over Easter break, Sauer gathered up old iron from the farms of her grandfathers, Bill Sauer and Keith Schroeder, as well as from her uncle Marvin Schroeder. She also collected some items from home.
"Once I got into my Grandpa's workshop, I started laying stuff out and seeing what would work for the body parts," she said.
Grandpa Sauer and an uncle taught her some basic lessons in welding, and she honed the skill as she transformed a heap of old iron into a masterpiece.
"Bing badda boom, after 21 hours, I got myself a six-foot-tall iron man," she said with a laugh.
It took two people to load him into Sauer's Chevy Lumina to transport back to college. For ease in transport, she put him together in a way that allows Iron Man to separate into two pieces.
Iron Man earned Sauer an "A" in class, but perhaps more noteworthy was its selection for an award at the Spring Art Show at Bethany Lutheran College. Sauer said it is somewhat unusual for a freshman art student to receive the coveted art awards.
"(Iron Man) is my favorite," she said. "If I get a (state fair) trip on my guy, I'm definitely going."
The Iron Man is one of five projects Sauer will exhibit in the fine arts project area in 4-H, and one of 25 projects she has scattered between Benton and McCarvel halls on the fairgrounds.
Sauer's interest in art began at an early age -- so early, in fact, that she doesn't remember.
"Mom remembers me, instead of going outside to play, she'd find me drawing all the time, coloring," she said. "In kindergarten, I was drawing princesses riding unicorns with great detail when everyone else was still drawing stick people. I had it in me."
Her art teacher at Adrian, Christine Tromblay, provided the encouragement, and 4-H offered the outlet for her inspiration.
With her fine arts projects completed during the school year, holidays and her summer break were filled with finishing the rest of her projects.
"I left my sewing machine at home because I would have been sewing all the time and never gotten anything else done (at college)," Sauer said with a smile. "I saved my sewing for Christmas break and when I got back home this summer."
Sauer is enrolled in clothes you make, clothes you buy and quilting, but her interest stretches far beyond art and sewing. Her other projects are entered in citizenship, foods and nutrition, food preservation, home environment, health, photography, self-determined and youth leadership.
Sauer said she considered cutting back this year because of college, but when it came right down to it, she couldn't part with any of them.
"I'm interested in so many things," said the member of the Elk Tip Toppers 4-H Club. "I learned how to do welding!"
Sauer's projects, and those of more than 100 other 4-H'ers, will be on display today through Sunday.
As she reflects on her final 4-H year at the fair, Sauer is amazed by the opportunities that were available to her through her 4-H career.
"It starts off with your parents coaxing you to be in it ... and then you end up learning new things in all the different project areas you can pick from," she said. "Even just the friends you can make by going to meetings, participating in softball over the summer -- it was just such a fun program to be involved in."
For the Sauers -- Alissa has one older sister and two younger sisters -- 4-H has always been a family activity.
"We work together and help each other out and encourage each other to get stuff done," she said. "We've never had livestock, and a lot of people in our club are livestock members. We don't live on a farm, yet we don't live in town either. We have space to do all of our stuff."
After the fair, Sauer's last 4-H responsibility is to finish her records. Then, she said, she's looking forward to being "less busy." After Labor Day, she will begin her sophomore year at Bethany Lutheran College, where she will pursue her licensure to teach high school art. She also participates on the college's cross country and track teams, is a member of STORM (Serving Through Outreach, Relief and Missions) on campus, and is involved in the community service group with the Student Leadership Society (SLS). She also does work study in the art department.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.