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Dedicated volunteer: Engelkes honored for 35 years as 4-H leader

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Arla Engelkes was honored Saturday night with the Sapphire Clover award during the Nobles County 4-H Achievement Banquet. The Sapphire Clover represents 35 years of adult leadership.

RUSHMORE -- During the Nobles County 4-H Achievement Banquet Saturday night in Worthington, Arla Engelkes was presented the Sapphire Clover -- an honor bestowed on those who have served 35 years of adult leadership in the 4-H program. Engelkes is the first Nobles County 4-H volunteer to receive the high honor.

For Engelkes, the award represents the years she has stood by her family -- beginning with two daughters who went through the Nobles County 4-H program, and then her three grandchildren. All were members of the Rushmore Central Hustlers 4-H Club.

Engelkes has been a fixture at club meetings and activities ever since her oldest daughter, Brenda, joined 4-H in 1969.

"The whole neighborhood went to 4-H," said Engelkes, who was introduced to the leadership-building youth organization at that time. Forty years ago, the club had more than 70 youth members between the ages of 8 and 18. Today, there are less than 10 kids in the club.

For the first time in four decades, Engelkes will not have a family member in the 4-H program after this year, with granddaughter Sadie Groenewold's 4-H graduation next fall. Despite that, Engelkes said she expects to still be an active leader.

"I'll probably continue to keep the Rushmore club going. We don't dare let it die," she said.

The Rushmore Central Hustlers is the oldest club in Nobles County, getting its start in 1927. Although Engelkes has spent her entire life in the Rushmore area, she herself was never a 4-H member.

After Brenda, and later Sandy, joined the program, Arla faithfully brought them to their 4-H meetings and activities, including the county fair.

"(4-H) is a family organization," Engelkes said. "You just don't dump your kids off at the door. You have to be with them."

That philosophy carried over to her children. Brenda Groenewold has been a 4-H adult leader for 18 years, while Sandy Brandt is a 20-year adult volunteer. Grandsons Daniel and Bobby Groenewold have seven and four years, respectively, in volunteerism in the Rushmore 4-H club; and granddaughter Sadie already plans to become an adult leader. While in 4-H, all five served as county 4-H ambassadors.

"Our family believes in helping others -- passing the knowledge on," Engelkes said. Her grandsons help specifically with the county 4-H beef program, while Brenda is the club leader this year -- a post Engelkes has had for more years than she can remember.

The 4-H program teaches youths valuable leadership skills and responsibility, increases their knowledge about everything from aerospace to wildlife management and encourages them to make a difference by getting involved in their communities. At the same time, it has a positive impact on the parents and adult leaders.

"You work with a lot of kids and adults," said Engelkes. "You learn through the projects and you learn from the projects. You learn by checking the kids' records."

There's a lot of fun, too -- especially at the Nobles County Fair each August. For many years the family brought a camper in and parked it on the fairgrounds during the four days of livestock shows.

"The fair is always fun -- and working in the foodstand," Engelkes said. For 40 years, she has worked her shift with the Rushmore Central Hustlers, and for several years she has worked a second shift as a Nobles County 4-H Director. In all of those years, Engelkes was the one ringing up food purchases at the cash register.

Most of the time, however, fairgoers can find Engelkes in the beef barn, sitting between show boxes and feeder cattle with family members.

"I'm usually the go-fer," she said with a laugh. In fact, some in the county 4-H family have taken to calling her "Granny the Go-Fer."

While the fair is the highlight of the 4-H year, Engelkes said the Rushmore Central Hustlers club keeps busy year-round. There are roller-skating and pizza parties, a Valentine Bingo event they host in February, a 4-H dinner they serve each May in Rushmore as a club fundraiser and promotion in the schools during National 4-H Week. Each December, club members also do Christmas caroling to the elderly in Rushmore, including visits to the homes of former 4-H members.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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