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BEAVER DAM - One of the biggest benefits of 4-H and other youth organizations is having leaders who inspire and motivate youth in a positive way.

During the last 19 years Bonnie Borden has been an inspiration to many people. She worked with volunteers and teachers to mold the 4-H and FFA youth of Dodge County into outstanding citizens.

This summer she announced that this would be her last fair in her position as UW-Extension Dairy and Livestock Youth Educator and that she planned to retire before the end of the year.  

While she is leaving her official job in UW-Extension she is not giving up her volunteer involvement guiding and inspiring youth. She will continue to be involved in the organization she has enjoyed since her youth when she was a 4-H member.

Borden honored

She was honored recently before the dairy youth auction at the Dodge County Fair by the many people whose lives she has touched over the years.  

On hand to surprise her were numerous members of her family, including her husband Leo and her children and grandchildren and her parents.  Former dairy agent Bob Kaiser was also there to help honor her.

Those who were involved in dairy projects during her tenure remember most the sandwiches she made at home and took to State Fair to feed the hungry youth setting up for the show. That wasn’t a part of her official job description. She did it because she understands teenagers and their appetites.

Mandy Sell, Dodge County Junior Holstein Advisor said, “For whatever reason, those sandwiches tasted better than any other ham and cheese sandwiches we had all year.”

She credited Borden for building what she calls, “one of the best dairy youth programs in the state. She keeps us organized, on track and always goes the extra mile.”

She recalled a particular fair when some of the dairy exhibitors showed up the morning of the junior show wearing shirts that said, “Keep calm and call Bonnie.”

Some of the youth described her as the lady in the goofy hat and sunglasses, role playing a fair-goer. 

Borden said she always tried to stress the importance of talking with fair-goers, treating their animals well and letting the fair-goers know how much they care for their animals.

Barb Natzke, in her award presentation, described her as someone who has given unselfishly to create, teach and implement some type of educational program for someone.

“She gained the involvement, respect and friendships of the kids in this county,” Natzke said. “She has a way to make the unteachable, teachable and the uninvolved, involved.”

Emphasize the positive

In a society that thinks in terms of punishing for doing wrong, Borden always rewarded for doing good.

Each year at the fair she and her assistants distributed “Caught Doing Good” coupons to youth who went the extra mile to do good things at the fair. Their reward was ice cream from the Wisconsin Women for Agriculture group who enthusiastically supported this gesture.

She was always able to find dairy youth willing to help work in the ice cream booth, too.

As the mother of one of those youth, Natzke, said, “It was amazing how she could get 16- and 17-year-old boys to help out."

They might complain a little,  but would never admit it and they looked forward to doing it again the next year, Natzke explained. 

"They still remember that the stand likely lost money on their shift as they had contests to see who could make the biggest sundae,” added Natzke.

Even when things didn’t go so well at some youth activities and she needed a referee shirt and whistle, she somehow always managed to put out the flames and get everyone moving in the right direction again.

It wasn’t only county fair that kept her busy. She was also busy working with youth involved in judging contests, Area Science Days, and dairy learning events.

She started and organized ag career trips each year, helping young people see the career opportunities in the numerous businesses that are involved some way in agriculture. She has also helped design programs that help students get a better understanding of where their food comes from.

 A popular annually offered program started by Borden in 2002 is "sausage making" class. Each year up to 50 youth and adults make three different sausage types and take home the products. Borden brings in meat specialists from the university and sausage making experts and she also supplies many of her personal sausage-making tools that she uses for her family’s sausage-making events.

Borden, together with retired Dairy Agent Bob Kaiser, led the committee hosting the Alice in Dairyland finals in 2016 Dodge County.   

She is best remembered, however, for helping to build the strong youth dairy program that exists in Dodge County today.

Natzke said, “This is evident by the success the dairy kids have had in various areas. They have won the state dairy judging contest three times, the state dairy bowl twice and represented Wisconsin at the national contests, winning the national dairy judging contest. She traveled with the team when they competed in the international contest in Scotland.” 

Borden said the youth she has worked with and what they have accomplished stand out the most in her memory. She said youth who have participated in the Dodge County dairy and livestock programs have gone on to leadership positions in the agriculture industry and include a Wisconsin Fairest of the Fair, an Alice in Dairyland, veterinarians, international dairy fitters and more.

She noted, “Watching a youth grow in his learning and skill development is one of my greatest joys. Education, in whatever form it takes, is what has driven me to create new formats in which learning can be achieved.”

Before joining the UW-Extension staff Borden was a parochial school teacher, serving schools at Neillsville and Oconomowoc.

Borden’s work with youth has not gone unnoticed. She has received numerous awards for her contributions including several communicators’ awards in 2016 from the Wisconsin Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals at their annual conference.

With Borden’s pending retirement, things are set to change in the county’s youth programs.

“My position is one that’s been targeted with budget cuts: UW-Extension has downsized and they can’t afford it anymore. Right now, I’m the only one like me in the state,” she said.

Although she has not set an official retirement date, other than to say it will be about November when she has completed projects for this year, she has already started grooming the volunteers in the county to take over her duties.

While Borden will likely continue her involvement with Dodge County 4-H as a volunteer leader, she is looking forward to spending a little more time with her husband camping and doing things at home.  She will be missed, but she promises she will not be abandoning the youth she continues to care so much about.

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