ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
On their recent trip to Grand County, Wisc., the strangest food eaten by members of the Marion County 4-H Exchange Program was cheese curds.
“It’s like chunks of fried cheese that squeak when you eat them,” said Gina Andrews of Hillsboro. “It was like a snack-they were good.”
Four sponsors and 11 teens, from different 4-H clubs in Marion County, participated in an exchange program June 27 to July 3. The trip included two days of travel by van and five days of activities with 15 Wisconsin 4-H teens and their families.
“In 4-H, there are local clubs the kids can belong to, but there are also county project clubs they can belong to as well,” said Gina Kimbrel, leader of the exchange club.
“So that’s what the Marion County 4-H Exchange Program is-it’s a county project club, and the project is the exchange.”
Sponsors traveling to Wisconsin were Kimbrel, Becky Nuss, Billie Goossen and Arlo Goossen.
Teens, between the ages of 13 to 18, were Gina Andrews, Wade Kimbrel, Kody Borg, Kaleb Borg, Laura Klenda, Kristin Mueller, Andrea Carlson, Sarah Davidson, Scott Nuss, Alex Nuss and Cody Pankratz.
The exchange club, initiated by John and Marlene Goentzel, has in the past hosted and visited other states, such as Georgia and South Dakota. Last year, they hosted Wisconsin teens, and this year it was their turn to visit that state.
The Marion County exchange-group youth participate in fund-raisers from January to the end of the school year to raise money to attend or host each year’s exchange program.
“We have concessions for the Marion County 4-H Club Days, the Beef Show at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro, and we sell the 911 emergency signs,” Kimbrel said.
They also plan to sell Krispy Kreme donuts at the Marion County Fair this year.
The trip by van to Grand County took about 11 hours, and during the visit, youth and sponsors stayed in the homes of host families.
The five days of activities included the following:
– Friday-settling in, getting to know the host family and sight seeing.
“The first day we went to the Grotto, which is this little garden by a Catholic Church,” Gina said.
“They had a building made out of these little tiny colored rocks.”
– Saturday-tubing on Grant River, a truck pull and an overnight campout.
Individual and double-occupancy inner tubes were used to float the river. Afterward, the teens could choose to watch a truck pull or go on a camping trip.
Wade chose to go to the truck pull and said he was surprised how much money participants put into fixing up their trucks, which would be damaged in the pull.
“They pulled this big weighted sled as far as they could,” he said. “A lot of times the trucks would get broken, or they would break an axle.”
Wade said he was also surprised to see concession stands selling the cheese curds at the truck pull.
“They sold them like cotton candy.”
– Sunday-cookout with the host families and fireworks in Cuba City, Wis.
One host family cooked hamburgers, and the other families brought pot-luck dishes.
“An interesting thing was they also had ‘brauts,’ which was something we might have at a cookout around here,” Kimbrel said. “And that was kind of typical for their area, too.”
The fireworks in the evening were not as eventful as the bats along a hedge row, where the teens were sitting, Wade said.
“Every time the fireworks would go off, the bats would fly out.”
– Monday-visiting the Wisconsin Dells. The Dells is one of the oldest resort areas in the state, and the group spent the day at Noah’s Ark Water Park on the complex.
“It’s America’s largest water park,” Gina said. “For me, that was the ‘funnest’ day. They had all kinds of different slides, and it was a lot bigger than any of the water parks around here.”
– Tuesday-a trip to Stonefield State Historic Site, including Nelson Dewey’s Home and the Wisconsin Agriculture Museum.
Dewey, the first governor of Wisconsin, originally lived on several thousand acres in Cassville, Wis. The current site, open to the public, is on 800 of those original acres and includes the Dewey home, barns, machinery and a small village.
“It kind of reminds me of Cowtown in Wichita,” Gina said. “It had those little buildings, the museum and a barn with tractors.”
Later that day, Gina’s host family took her to Pike’s Peak, Wis.
“It’s kind of different,” she said. “There was a bridge, and you look out and there was the Mississippi River. And we went on a one-half-mile hike and saw a waterfall-that was pretty cool.”
Wade ended his last day in Wisconsin going fishing for bullheads and blue gil.
“We caught about 40 little pan fish,” he said. “We started to clean them, and then we decided to put all the live ones back in the river because it wasn’t worth it.”
Comparing Wisconsin with Kansas, the two students and Kimbrel said they noticed marked differences-the religion, weather, the highways and the landscape.
It seemed like the Wisconsin group was predominantly Catholic, compared to the predominantly Mennonite community in Hillsboro, Gina said.
“And the weather was a lot cooler there than it is here. It was still kind of humid but for the most part, it was a lot nicer.”
The farming area visited by the group is in a state of transition, Kimbrel said.
“There were some interesting comments that the Amish from Pennsylvania were moving in and buying up some of the farm land,” she said.
“And they would use Amish and Mennonite almost interchangeably as if they were the same-that was different to me. So I told them a little bit about the fact that Mennonite and Amish aren’t exactly the same.”
The five-day experience was an “eye opener,” Gina said. “It was a learning experience to find out how different states run their 4-H programs and their farms.”
The group has not determined what state they will offer to host next year. Two possibilities, New York and Pennsylvania, are being considered. And the group hopes to raise about $1,000 to $2,000 to be able to host the exchange.
Kimbrel said she encourages more 4-H’ers to join the exchange project group and said anyone interested can contact the Marion County Extension Office at 620-382-2325.
“I think it’s a good experience for the kids,” she said.