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Four family generations celebrate century of Dakota County 4-H Clubs

The Nordling farm family of Randolph is proud to celebrate 100 years of Dakota County 4-H this week at Dakota County Fair. Family patriarch Bob Nordling (left) stands with his son, T.J. and his wife Nora and daughter, Reese, 10, (far right). In the front are daughters, Regan, 5, and Rowan, 9. (Photo by Kara Hildreth)

Each 4-H Club youth is proud to recite a 4-H pledge of allegiance at club meetings.

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.”

In 2016, Dakota County 4-H Clubs will celebrate 100 years or a century of fun competing and learning life’s character lessons such as responsibility, hard work, cooperation and competition.

As longtime Dakota County 4-H Club members, the Nordling farm family of Randolph has exhibited a cow at Dakota County Fair every year since 1970. That is nearly a 50-year commitment to Dakota County 4-H programs.

T.J. Nordling and his wife Nora have been busy all summer gearing up for a busy week to help their three daughters compete in Dakota County 4-H programs during Dakota County Fair in Farmington that runs through Sunday, Aug. 14.

“This is the moment you show off what you have done all summer at the fair,” T.J. said.

As a farmer in Randolph, T.J., 33, carries fond memories of family and friends in 4-H. He remembers spending the night inside the cattle barn near the cows under blankets with cousins nearby when he was only 10 years old. Back then he was a member of the Hilltopper 4-H Club in New Trier.

T.J. and wife Nora have been busy getting their three daughters prepared and ready to compete this week. The girls are exhibiting all kinds of 4-H projects and dairy cows at Dakota County Fair. The couple’s daughters are Reese, 10, Rowan, 9, and 5-year-old Regan. Each girl was busy Sunday washing, scrubbing and brushing their dairy cows so they would be ready for 4-H competition.

As a third-generation Dakota County 4-H Club member, T.J.’s father Bob Nordling joined a 4-H Club back in 1967, nearly 50 years ago. This year in 2016 marks the 100 year anniversary of Dakota County 4-H programs.

“In 4-H, the main thing we showed at the fair were dairy cows and we also did dairy steers and other non-livestock things in shop and food projects and stuff like that,” T.J. said.

When it came time to put together a 4-H demonstration or speech, T.J. was always prepared.

“Public speaking skills are important to have and 4-H also teaches you responsibility because you are either consumed to take care of projects or animals and that is how you spend all summer,” he said.

“4-H also gives you a sense of pride because you learn to build or make something or take care of something – then you are rewarded for it in the end,” T.J. said. “It gives a kid a good understanding and work ethic that will help them down the road.”

Each summer of fair 4-H meant he would be able to spend quality time with family, especially his grandparents, Dick and Mary Lou Nordling of Farmington. Most years, T.J. selected some kind of 4-H wood project to tackle.

“This was my opportunity to spend a week with grandma and grandpa, and my grandpa would coach me on how to build and the ins and outs of woodworking,” T.J. said.

Since his grandfather passed away, today he cherishes all those childhood hours and summers spent together learning woodworking tips and tricks.

“Back when my father was a kid, my grandfather signed up his kids and they became very involved in 4-H in Dakota County – they did not know what they were getting into and they turned out to be lifelong 4-H Club members, and now we have put a lot of time and effort into Dakota County,” T.J. said.

Each year his grandparents and parents showed up to the fair 4-H exhibits and competitions to watch their grandkids and great-grandkids show and compete with their cows.

“Grandma and grandpa were there for all the shows and had great pride in their grandkids,” T.J. said, recalling fair mementos and a box of winning 4-H ribbons.

Each year the fair time in August meant time spent with family getting the cows ready in the cattle barn and hanging out with cousins.

“Back then, we did not have Facebook or cell phones, so the fair was a good time to spend time together – we had fun sleeping over all night at the cattle barn to keep an eye on the cows and have fun with our cousins,” he recalled.

This week, the fourth generation of the Nordling family is spending almost every day at the fair.

“We are usually out here every day – we help volunteer in the 4-H building as ambassadors or we are always helping out with something,” T.J. said.

This year his wife Nora will volunteer to lead the couple’s girls in the 4-H Club as an adult leader for the Hampton B&B 4-H Club. Each girl will show calves as part of her Dakota County 4-H Club dairy project.

“We are focusing on that with the kids and getting them involved in the non-livestock area because they are very crafty and they like doing that,” he said.

The girls will all exhibit fine arts and crafts in the 4-H Club building and each looks forward to taking home a few winning ribbons.

The Nordling family invites area parents to consider getting children involved in a Dakota County 4-H Club, especially if youth have not grown up on a farm. Youth can always visit farms around the country and learn to take care of all kinds of farm animals.

Youngsters can also enter all kinds of fair 4-H open class competitions without being a member of a 4-H Club. Youth can enter summer or school projects in the areas of art, science, woodworking, robots, computers, gardening and foods, in addition to many other categories.

Dakota County 4-H clubs welcome youth and adult volunteers to check out a club or visit a meeting. Go online at

“All the lessons you learn in 4-H about responsibility as a kid translate through to adult life, and all those lessons give you a greater understanding of how to run a business or be a good employer or employee,” T.J. said.

Dakota County 4-H Clubs are strong but membership must continue for the 4-H programming to celebrate the next 100 years.

“It seems the numbers are down, but I think it will start growing again – I hold out hope that 4-H Clubs in Dakota County are going to have a bright future because I know I learned a lot about life and life lessons during my involvement,” T.J. said.

To celebrate 100 years of Dakota County 4-H programs, the public is invited to an old-fashioned chicken barbecue dinner. The meal is planned from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, in the picnic shelter located on the north end of Dakota County Fairgrounds. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Dakota County Extension office in Farmington, next door to the fairgrounds.

Dakota County 4-H programs are asking former and current members to share memories with words and photos about how 4-H impacted their lives on social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by using the hashtag #dakota4h100years.