Slayton man wins state award with 4-H volunteerismSLAYTON — Dennis Opdahl of Slayton was honored with the state’s 2011 Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer award during the Minnesota 4-H Adult Volunteer Association (M4-HAVA) annual forum Saturday night in Willmar.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
SLAYTON — Dennis Opdahl of Slayton was honored with the state’s 2011 Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer award during the Minnesota 4-H Adult Volunteer Association (M4-HAVA) annual forum Saturday night in Willmar. Opdahl, who was presented a wooden plaque, will now have his name submitted for the North Central Region award. Regional award winners will be selected earlier this summer to then vie for the National Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer.
Murray County 4-H program coordinator Margie Anderson said Opdahl has been volunteering for longer than the 25 years she’s been leading the county organization.
“I don’t think he took a breath from the moment he was no longer a member,” she said. “Every chance he gets, he promotes 4-H through volunteering and fundraising. He sits on the fair board — he’s just always, always looking out for 4-H.”
Opdahl was nominated for the state honor by Anderson, along with Regional Extension educator David Bau. Opdahl’s sons, Chris and Alex, along with about a dozen Murray County 4-H’ers also played a role in the nomination process.
“I’ve always been in love with 4-H — I probably bleed green,” said Opdahl with a laugh on Monday. “It just goes back to when I was in 4-H — I had just a fantastic experience.”
The oldest child in his family, Opdahl remembers having to beg his parents to let him join the local Badger Lake 4-H Club when he was a kid growing up in rural Murray County. They finally gave in when he was 12 — as an experiment of sorts, he said. He was the oldest of five kids.
“(4-H) was the organization in those days,” he recalled. “Living on the farm, almost all of the neighbor kids were in it.”
His first 4-H project was rabbits, but quickly mushroomed into other areas — dairy, swine, conservation, junior leadership and tractor.
As a 4-H youth, Opdahl served several terms as a club officer, including two consecutive years as club president. He was involved in county committees and the 4-H softball competition.
“I never did get a county officer (position) — there was a lot of competition back then,” he said.
Today, Opdahl is a full-time farmer and 38-year state employee — he works for the Department of Natural Resources doing equipment repair and machinery operation at the Talcot Lake Game Refuge. He also spends his winters working with landowners on long-term and perpetual conservation easements through his role with the state’s Board of Water and Soil Resources.
Opdahl graduated from the 4-H program in 1971, and enrolled as a 4-H adult leader the following year. With the exception of his stint in the National Guard, he’s been busy guiding the youths of Murray County 4-H for 38 years.
Opdahl and his wife Janet — another former Murray County 4-H’er — both serve as adult leaders in their club and county, with Dennis also active on the board of directors of Murray County 4-H Inc., the Murray County Fair Board and the Murray County Extension Committee. He also is a 4-H softball coach, co-manages the eat stand during the fair and serves on the county 4-H fundraising committee.
Since 1996, Opdahl has been the organizational leader for the Badger Lake 4-H Club, where youngest son Alex is still a member. Though their club’s membership has dwindled to about half a dozen youths, he remains optimistic the club — the oldest in the county — will persevere.
“Chris is going to put in his application to become an adult leader, and he’s concerned too that we need to ramp (up membership),” said Opdahl. “Out in the country, in the Avoca area, there’s just not kids there anymore.”
If there’s one thing Opdahl is known for in Murray County, it’s promoting the 4-H program “constantly.”
He talks to kids, he talks to their parents, he shows them the broad array of different projects they can get involved in, and he responds frequently to the parents’ main concern — the time commitment.
“I still do stress we’re not going to demand you have to do every last thing — you put into it what you want to get out of it,” said Opdahl. “You can do whatever you want to do and as much as you want to do.”
The Opdahls lead by example, though, having been named the top fundraising family in each of the last eight years for the county’s 4-H Fruit Sale. This year, the family sold $7,126 worth of product, bringing their 11-year total (starting when Chris joined 4-H) to $48,425.
Opdahl said the fundraising effort kicked into high gear a decade ago, when he and others decided they needed to replace their antiquated eat stand on the Murray County Fairgrounds.
“Our goal was to get a new 4-H eat stand, and we ended up getting a new exhibit hall to go along with it,” he said.
Nearly all of the proceeds from the county’s 4-H fundraiser are put back into programming, whether it’s to fund scholarships to send 4-H kids to camp or youth leaders to state leadership-building events and Citizenship Washington Focus, or to send kids and their exhibits to the Minnesota State Fair.
Having a volunteer like Opdahl in Murray County “makes all the difference in the world,” said Anderson. “It takes volunteers to make this program go. Financially, what they’ve done as a family in fundraisers has benefitted 4-H’ers. There’s so many ways that he has impacted a lot of kids. Some of the kids don’t even know who he is and have benefitted from his support.”
Opdahl has no intentions of reducing his volunteerism in the 4-H program once youngest son Alex graduates from the 4-H program in another four years. He’s already been giving it some thought.
“I think it’s going to be business as usual — I plan on staying in 4-H,” he said. “It was just unbelievable the people I met and the places I got to go (when I was in 4-H). I want to help kids have the experience I had — I always liked working with kids.”