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Kandiyohi County 4-H program director announces departure

Jodi Bakke, who has led Kandiyohi County's 4-H program for the last decade, was in the arena Thursday morning during the 4-H beef show. Bakke announced this week she is resigning and her family will be moving to Mora. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- Like she has for the last 10 years, Jodi Bakke has spent nearly every waking minute of fair week at the Kandiyohi County Fair.

She has made sure that judges, 4-H'ers and their projects are where they need to be and that, while blue ribbons are being awarded, lessons are also being learned.

But this will be last year that Bakke will watch over the 4-H program at the county fair.

In an email she sent to 4-H families on Monday -- as 4-Hers were no doubt putting final touches on fair projects prior to entry day -- Bakke announced that she is leaving her decade-long post as coordinator for Kandiyohi County's growing 4-H program. Her last day is Thursday.

Bakke said her family is moving to Mora so her husband, Nick Bakke, who had been a social studies teacher at Willmar High School, can take a job as the assistant high school principal.

"I am thankful to be able to celebrate one final county fair and celebrate all the accomplishments of the 4-H members over the past year," Bakke wrote in the email.

In a brief interview this week as she watched the 4-H beef show, Bakke said working with the county's 4-H program had been her "dream job" but said she's thrilled to make the move because her husband now has the chance to have his dream job and she'll have more time at home with her four young children.

Bob Byrnes, director of field operations for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, said 4-H program needs in Kandiyohi County will be filled with interim or temporary staff and having current staff picking up extra duties while a search for a permanent replacement for 4-H coordinator is undertaken. The regional Extension system will also provide assistance.

"Kandiyohi County has a very strong Extension program, including 4-H, and we'll make sure it's supported as it should be," said Byrnes.

It will take at least six weeks before a replacement is hired, he said.

"We will certainly miss Jodi and she has made great contributions to the 4-H program in Kandiyohi County," said Byrnes. "She did an excellent job and was very innovative in growing the program and helping people in the 4-H youth program to learn."

Ten years ago the 4-H enrollment in Kandiyohi County was around 220. It's now at about 300.

"I have enjoyed watching timid Cloverbuds grow into vibrant, outstanding youth leaders. The youth, parents and volunteers have made this job a dream," she wrote in the email. "I have been blessed to work with all of you."

Although the 4-H coordinator is a U of M Extension employee, the position is funded entirely by the host county.

Kandiyohi County currently funds the 4-H coordinator position at 80 percent of full time.

The Kandiyohi County Commissioners have been "very supportive of the 4-H youth program" and consider the educational component an essential service, said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl. "We have a good partnership with Extension."

Bakke isn't the only recent departure from the local Extension program.

Linda Kutzke, who provided office support to Kandiyohi County's Extension office, including the 4-H program, also resigned. Her last day was Friday.

And Darrell Cox, who had served as regional director of the Southwest Regional Extension office based at the University of Minnesota Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center in Willmar, left that post Aug. 3.

Byrnes said the three individuals resigned for personal reasons and the timing of their departures in August is unrelated and coincidental.

He said Extension is "moving quite rapidly" to fill the regional post, with applicants to be considered for the job by Aug. 24.

The county's Extension advisory committee is expected to meet on Thursday to discuss options for filling Bakke's and Kutzke's positions.

The county currently budgets $165,400 for 3.3 fulltime positions in the county Extension program, which also includes nutrition and horticultural services. Kleindl said the county may look at ways to integrate the programs to enhance services without duplicating them.

"We need to put the resources where they're best utilized," said Kleindl.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750