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A young life lost too soon

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe In this March 2009 file photo, Andrea Ruesch holds up signs promoting 4-H at the University of Minnesota Extension office in Lakefield.

JACKSON -- Andrea Ruesch, a spirited, enthusiastic worker in 4-H programs across southwest Minnesota, died suddenly as a result of blood clots in the heart Sunday, at Sanford Health Center, Jackson.

Ruesch, 37, graduated from Worthington Senior High in 1991, received a bachelor's degree in mass communications, with a focus in public relations, from Moorhead State University in 1995, and earned a master's degree from the University of Minnesota, Morris.

While attending college, she served as a 4-H intern in Chippewa County, helping organize the county fair, reaching out to youths through summer day camps and assisting 4-H'ers with fair projects. After graduating from college, she became an Extension educator in Chippewa County before working for Minnesota State University Student Association in St. Paul, where she lobbied on behalf of state colleges.

Ruesch worked for 4-H programs in Cottonwood, Watonwan and Murray counties, finishing her 4-H career in October after working as the Jackson County 4-H Program Coordinator for more than four years. She recently began working with Jim Nesseth at Extended Ag Services.

Ruesch was a dedicated 4-H'er all her life, graduating from the 4-H youth development program and participating in many 4-H activities as a child. She believed 4-H shaped her and her career choices, and told her parents one of the best gifts they'd ever given her was allowing her to join 4-H.

"We are all still reeling from the shock of Andrea's passing," 4-H Youth Development Educator Cynthia Celander said in a press release. "She will be greatly missed by her fiancé, family, and the many 4-H families and the community organizations she worked with and all who knew her."

Holli Arp, the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Director, remembered Ruesch as happy, enthusiastic and excited to work with people, with boundless passion for children and for 4-H.

"She would always have a very cheery spirit. No matter what the situation was, it seemed she was finding the positive side of it," said local farmer Matt Widboom, a Ruesch family friend. "It could be 106 degrees and everything (was) going wrong at the fair, but she always had a smile and remained as positive as possible."

Widboom and Ruesch were in rival 4-H clubs, Widboom belonging to the Elk Tip Toppers and Ruesch belonging to the Lorain Livewires. When Widboom went to high school as a sophomore, he found Ruesch was one of the few seniors who would speak to him.

"I think she epitomized what we were put on earth to do -- to give with all we have, and she certainly put every ounce of passion she had into 4-H and whatever she was doing, serving different roles throughout the Extension system," Widboom said.

When Widboom became a parent, he saw Ruesch's enthusiasm for 4-H from a different angle.

"Her first interest was in knowing what the kids were doing and talking to them ... she was more interested about what they were doing in (daycare) and kindergarten than in what I was doing," Widboom recalled. "The kids are really going to miss out on the person that was able to touch their lives, and even though she had taken a different career path, she was still going to be involved in giving to the community."

Celander remembered Ruesch's uncanny ability for remembering people's names and faces, and how Ruesch greeted each child, sibling and parent by name.

"She had an infectious laugh that radiated throughout the room," Celander said. "She was a gift that we will always remember, and we will all miss her."

Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. today and from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Jackson County Central Middle School Auditorium, Lakefield.

The service will be 10:30 a.m. Thursday at JCC Middle School Auditorium, Lakefield, with the Rev. Bart Mueller officiating. Burial will be in Lakefield City Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to local 4-H programs and to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Lakefield.