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4-H Ambassador sheds positive light on program

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Heidi Enninga, Fulda, with a market gilt she will bring to the Nobles County fair, is in her last year of showing in 4-H and will be a sophomore this year at St. Thomas.

FULDA -- After 12 years in the Nobles County 4-H program, Heidi Enninga has learned to be an outgoing, involved and skilled leader. She's climbed out of her shell and into a clowning costume, then donned a 4-H Ambassador T-shirt and promoted the program to anyone and everyone who would listen.

Now, Enninga is filled with mixed emotions as she embarks on this, her final 4-H year.

She will exhibit at the Nobles County Fair this week for the last time as a 4-H member. The fair begins Thursday and continues through Sunday in Worthington.

"This has been one of the things that I've done all through growing up that I've been able to keep one more year (after high school)," she said on Tuesday. "I'm definitely sad to be done -- it's just a lot of great memories, a lot of learning and a lot of great friends that I've made."

Enninga, a 2010 graduate of Fulda High School, is approaching her sophomore year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, where she is pursuing a major in journalism and communications. Though attending college made participation in some 4-H activities impossible, her volunteer efforts since returning home this summer didn't go unnoticed.

In the past two months, Enninga has helped with Nobles County 4-H Day Camp, participated in 4-H Ambassador events, attended club meetings and helped out wherever possible.

At the same time, she has finalized her projects for the fair -- from making displays for her citizenship, youth leadership, foods and clowning projects to working with her dairy goats and show pigs.

Not all of the work was pushed off until the last minute, however. Enninga developed some ideas for her non-livestock projects while a college freshman.

For instance, her citizenship project is based on her decision to seek -- and ultimately get elected to -- student senate at the University of St. Thomas this past year.

The undergraduate governmental body includes two students each from freshman through senior class who work with a larger council of 40 individuals.

Enninga credits the 4-H program with her success in student government.

"I don't think that if I went to St. Thomas without any experience in 4-H, I would've had the courage to consider running," she said, adding that moving from a small school to a large university left her wondering not only how she could get elected, but how she could best represent her fellow students. "You just have to draw on the experiences that you've had."

For her, those experiences included 4-H offices at both the club and county level, as well as being a youth leader and 4-H Ambassador.

"It's just hard to put your finger on what it is 4-H possibly could have done, but I know it's there," she said.

While 4-H has taught Enninga, 19, to be a leader, it also led to her occasional transformation into a funny, creative and kind of crazy clown.

"It's one of those really unique 4-H projects," she said with a laugh. "Where would you find clowning but in 4-H? 4-H has probably produced half the clowns in the world."

Enninga and her older sister, Gretchen, were among the early recruits to the 4-H clowning project, and younger sister Bridget followed in their footsteps. In those early years, they donned their clowning costumes for parades, open houses and nursing homes as they developed their characters.

"Growing up and learning who we are as people, and developing as clowns in general, my younger sister and I have decided what we like to do more," said Enninga.

For her, face painting is the most fun, while Bridget likes to work with balloons.

"We love doing birthday parties," she added. "That's how we have designed the project."

Enninga's clowning exhibit at the Nobles County Fair this week is titled, "The Last Laugh." It tells her 12-year story of clowning, from how it has changed her as a person to how she's grown and changed as a clown.

While Enninga is quick to express how 4-H has impacted her, she's a little more reserved when she talks about how she has impacted 4-H. As a youth leader and county ambassador, she has helped to lead the organization with a positive attitude and a vision for the future.

"One of the things I've learned as a leader is you learn to look where the need is instead of just how to address it," she said.

Her youth leadership project this year focuses on the need for more organization in the livestock shows during the county fair.

"With a whole new group of ambassadors coming up, we needed some sort of training or guidelines," explained Enninga. "I came up with roles for ambassadors at the shows ... and we trained the ambassadors at our retreat. Hopefully the shows will be top-notch."

Enninga will hopefully see the outcome of the ambassador training while she is in the show ring with her five dairy goats and four pigs on Friday. As a seven-time Minnesota State Fair trip winner in the swine project, she's hoping for one final opportunity to show her pigs in the state fair arena. She's also hoping for another chance to compete for the county's coveted Premier Showmanship award.

"I've always wanted to win Premier Showmanship -- that's kind of one of the biggest honors you can get at the fair. I've tried many years but haven't been quite successful there."

If it wasn't for her family -- primarily parents Spencer and Leann and younger sister Bridget -- doing chores and caring for her animals while she was away at college, Enninga said she wouldn't have been able to continue in livestock her final year in 4-H.

"4-H is definitely a family thing," she said. "I can count on them to help me out whenever I need help -- whether that's fair preparations or taking care of day to day chores."

The program has become a family activity for the Enningas -- something she speaks fondly of when talking about 4-H.

"For some families, they go on family vacations. For our family, everyone comes down for the fair. Fair is the one time, besides holidays, that we're all together," she said.

While it's difficult to sum up what 4-H has meant to her, Enninga said she hopes more people become involved in the organization.

"4-H gives every single person -- no matter what your interests are or what your skills are or where you live or where you come from -- a chance to learn and grow and make some great friends."

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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