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Ohio 4-H'ers experience southwest Minnesota nice

4-H Interstate Exchange members from Mercer County, Ohio, visited Spomer Classics with local host members Thursday afternoon in Worthington. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON — Seven youths and three adult chaperones were in Nobles County this week as part of a decades-long Interstate Exchange program conducted through Nobles County 4-H.

After spending a week in Mercer County, Ohio, last summer, local 4-H’ers have hosted the contingent since Sunday, touring everything from livestock feedlots and JBS to spending time on the lake and learning about southwest Minnesota. The group returns home this morning.

For the Ohio 4-H’ers, the exchange program offered them their first glimpse of Minnesota. Their consensus: It’s not all that different from Ohio — except for the diversity and the wind turbines.

“It’s deceptively like our county — Mercer County in Ohio — and then seeing all of the diversity and realizing how different it really is; it makes you appreciate home — it makes you appreciate away,” said Ellie Fullenkamp, 17.

Since their arrival early Sunday afternoon, the Ohioans have been kept busy with tours of Pioneer Village, the Bill and Merri Post robotic milking operation near Chandler, the Ryan Thier feedlot near Rushmore, Minnesota Soybean Processors near Brewster, the Dayton House, Pipestone National Monument, Arnold’s Park Amusement Park and JBS. 

On Thursday afternoon, they toured Spomer Classics. Friday was spent on Worthington’s Lake Okabena, boating and swimming and staying for the fireworks at dusk.

In between, there was a potluck picnic, volleyball, a pontoon ride on Spirit Lake and a shared authentic Guatemalan meal served in Worthington. On the day of their arrival, they also visited Falls P ark in Sioux Falls, S.D., and attended a Sioux Falls Canaries baseball game.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Megan Prins, one of the 4-H adult volunteers to lead Nobles County’s Interstate Exchange program. “We’ve had a very fun-filled week. The kids are tired because we’ve been super busy.”

Prins, co-leading the exchange with 4-H volunteer Shelley John, said the purpose of the 4-H Interstate Exchange program is to create relationships with other kids from other parts of the country and extend their 4-H family.

For Monica Hemmelgarn, making the journey to Minnesota with her twin sister, Olivia, the 4-H Interstate Exchange program has been a great experience. Two years ago, the two participated in a Mercer County exchange with a group of 4-H’ers from Massachusetts.

“The exchange is really the best way to experience a different place — you get to spend a week with a family and they show you around,” Monica Hemmelgarn said. “4-H is pretty much the same across the field, from Minnesota to Ohio. I feel like we’re alike — there’s farmers everywhere, no matter where you go. It’s really a 4-H family.”

The Hemmelgarns said their favorite thing about the exchange is getting to spend time with people.

“I like hanging out as a group and getting to know each other better,” said Olivia Hemmelgarn.

Mitchell Homan, who plans to pursue a degree this fall in biology with intentions to advance into veterinary medicine, said the tours while they’ve been in southwest Minnesota have been quite educational.

“The soybean plant was fun … the JBS tour, that was really fun — that was awesome,” he said, adding that he’s also a pork producer.

Andrea Moorman, a 10-year 4-H member from Mercer County, said the trip to southwest Minnesota was her first time west of the Mississippi River. Her take on this part of the country — “People have accents!”

“I’m staying in Worthington and it’s a lot more culturally diverse than where I’m from,” she added.

Meanwhile, Dakota Hucke said Minnesotans are “a lot more friendly than Ohio is.”

The youngest participant from Mercer County was Rebecca Phares, a seven-year 4-H’er who has now taken part in two 4-H Interstate Exchange trips.

“I thought my first one was so much fun,” she said. “I wanted to go meet people from other states, and I just loved it.”

Like Nobles County, Mercer County has a long tradition of partnering across state lines in an Interstate Exchange program.

Elaine Lachtefeld, one of the Mercer County chaperones for the trip, has helped to lead their 4-H Interstate Exchange program for the past 28 years, starting when her own kids volunteered her to help organize the first one.

In the years since, Lachtefeld has traveled with 4-H’ers to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, New York, Wyoming and now Minnesota.

“We’ve just been all over and had such great exchanges,” she said. “I think the main thing all of us get out of it is we really get to see how other people live — we’re not just driving through. it’s a great way to see the country, and it’s wonderful because we stay in contact. We’ve made great friends, and we keep up with each other.”

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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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