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Dethlefsen helping grow young minds in agriculture

Cheryl Dethlefsen, of Stickney, was honored with the Minnie Lovinger Award for her years of dedicated service to the educational 4-H program.(Matt Gade / Republic)

STICKNEY — Since she was a little girl, Stickney resident Cheryl Dethlefsen has been drawn to South Dakota Farmers Union youth camps and 4-H.

After 25 years of service at the Farmers Union grassroots educational program, Dethlefsen was recently honored with the prestigious Minnie Lovinger award.

"It's cool to receive this award," said Dethlefsen, Aurora County Farmers Union education director. "It goes to an educator that has promoted and done important things for the kids. And it's nice to get this recognition."

Minnie Lovinger, who died 70 years ago, laid the foundation for Farmers Union education efforts. Historian Lyn Oyos wrote in his history of South Dakota Farmers Union that Lovinger "snatched the thorny chance and broke the trail that others followed. Her soul has never left them in their sowing and reaping."

Dethlefsen grew up on the family farm near Woonsocket. Her parents were active Farmers Union members and her mom, Pat Larson Carsrud, served as an education director for 35 years. Farmers Union's mission is to promote the interests of farmers and ranchers.

"I have been involved in Farmers Union camps since I was 6 years old," Dethlefsen said. "As soon as we were old enough, our mother Pat made sure we went to camp."

As a teenager, Dethlefsen received the Torchbearer Award, the highest honor young leaders can achieve in the Farmer Union's youth program and later served on the Junior Advisory Council (JAC) of the program. Members of the council are elected by their peers each year honing their leadership skills, assisting with camp themes. At camp, children are educated about the importance of local cooperatives, their impact on communities and about food production.

"Our farm kids around here, of course, know where our food comes from," Dethlefsen said. "But town kids also need to know that food comes from farmers and producers in the region."

Audra Scheel, an extension officer and 4-H youth program adviser, has worked with Dethlefsen for the past decade and praised her dedication to the organization.

"Cheryl has been on my leader board since I began," Scheel said. "I've always enjoyed working with her and her get-it-done attitude."

After investing decades of her life in supporting the farming community, Dethlefsen is thinking about passing on the torch of leadership in the farming community to her kids.

All four of her children went through the Farmers Union Youth programs, received awards and have gone on to serve on the union's Junior Advisory Council.

"It's important to educate our youth," Dethlefsen said. "We want our kids to know about farming so when they do go out into the world, they can explain it to people that don't have a clue."