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Anna Euerle looks forward to role as state's dairy ambassador

Anna Euerle has spent all 19 years of her life in the dairy industry.

From being born the daughter of Joan and Vaughn Euerle, who own and operate a rural Litchfield dairy farm, to studying agribusiness with a dairy emphasis at Ridgewater College last year, she’s been immersed in the industry.

Given that resume, maybe it should be no surprise that Euerle aspired to be Princess Kay of the Milky Way — Minnesota’s official dairy ambassador.

And on the evening of Aug. 25, aspiration became reality at the Minnesota State Fair.

“You know, this has been a dream of mine for quite a while now,” Euerle said during a telephone interview Saturday. “So when I was crowned, I was just full of pride that this was something I was able to accomplish, to be able to represent Minnesota’s dairy community.”

Euerle was one of 10 finalists from around the state competing to be Princess Kay. The princesses were judged based on their knowledge of the dairy industry, communication skills and enthusiasm.

Runners-up to Euerle were Isabelle Lindahl of Lindstrom and Megan Meyer of Rollingstone.

Other princesses in the field were Kelsey Erf of Oakdale, Emily Leonard of Norwood Young America, Jessica Ohmann of Albany, Alaina Johnson of Dakota, Katrina Thoe of Hayfield, Kesley Kuball of Waterville and Emeliya Dose of Plainview.

Though she knows the industry and has developed strong communication skills through involvement in FFA throughout high school, Euerle said the judging process was tough.

“It wasn’t grueling, it’s just the nerves,” she said. “I was so nervous, especially when we arrived at coronation, and we were waiting backstage. I just, you know, whirlwind of emotions.”

In the 68th year of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition, Euerle became the first woman from Meeker County to wear the crown.

“It kind of feels like a just broke the glass ceiling for the county,” she said with a laugh. “You know, I think looking forward, as our county has future finalists, this will really kind of push them, because they’ve seen that somebody from our county can do it now. And it’s achievable. So it’s really special for me to be able to kind of be the encouraging factor for Meeker County going forward, but of course, yes, I’m so honored to be the very first.”

Euerle also felt a special sense of honor being crowned this year, because of its confluence with history.

One of her first duties as Princess Kay was to have her head carved from a 90-pound block of butter. For the past 50 years, Linda Christensen, a California-based sculptor, has handled the carving. Last year, it was announced Christensen — who was unable to travel to Minnesota to do the carvings — would retire after sculpting Princess Kay this year. And her replacement would be Litchfield artist Gerry Kulzer.

“To be crowned this year, when it’s Linda Christensen’s last year sculpting, then to be able to welcome Gerry Kulzer … into the butter booth, that was just so special,” Euerle said.

She sat in the refrigerated, glass-walled booth in the dairy barn at the State Fair for about 10 hours Thursday and Friday, watching as Christensen transformed the block of butter into Euerle’s likeness. Throughout that time, Euerle said, she and Christensen were joined in the booth by various media from around the state. The experience gave her the opportunity to learn even more about Christensen’s half-century of butter sculpting.

“She’s just such a phenomenal woman, and to be her last (Princess Kay) sculpture is truly an honor,” Euerle said. “You know, that butterhead is going to be a piece of history. That was very cool.

“And of course, (Friday) night we had her retirement ceremony, where I actually got to witness her passing over the sculpting knife to Litchfield’s own Jerry Kulzer, and as I speak right now, he’s carving his very first finalist of the year,” she added. “That’s just been so fun to see. It’s kind of the cherry on top of the entire experience.”

Of course, the entire experience will grow over the next 12 months as Euerle travels the state to promote — and educate people about — the dairy industry. It begins with 12 days at the State Fair, where she will be kept busy with a variety of activities. One of them was judging a butter sculpting contest Saturday, where entries included an ice cream cone, a gallon of milk, a cat, cow and dragon.

The year ahead will bring much more.

“It is a very busy engagement schedule,” Euerle said. “I’ll be doing a multitude of things, from classroom visits to different farm visits. So she (Princess Kay) does quite a bit of things across a broad spectrum. I’m really excited to get started for a year and just do some different things. It’ll probably be crazy, but I’m ready for it.”

That, Eurele has proven throughout a jam-packed high school and early college career. She served a year as reporter on the state FFA officer team during her freshman year at Ridgewater College. This past summer, she has worked at three area dairy farms while serving as a Meeker County dairy princess and preparing for the Princess Kay competition.

In addition to helping out on her parents’ farm, Euerle worked at Corstar Farm in Manannah, a 30-cow dairy where she also owns a couple of cows in partnership with Cory and Kristen Salzl. One of those cows was shown at the State Fair Saturday, so even though Euerle’s Princess Kay duties wouldn’t allow her to show the animal, she did go down to watch the show.

Euerle also has served an internship at Ru-be Dairy, a 600-cow operation south of Grove City.

The work has kept her busy, to be sure, but it also offered a glimpse at the diversity of dairy farms.

“To be able to work with three different farm sizes was so unique,” Euerle said. “I definitely referenced that in my judging, and I’ve been referencing that so far as I’ve gotten to visit with different individuals. It’s just so fun to share, you know, how farms work, because there’s lots of misconceptions about farm size and how that varies the treatment of animals. But from farm to farm, what I’ve noticed this summer is that farmers care, whether it’s 600 cows or 30 cows.”

It’s a message she’s eager to share as Princess Kay — and, she hopes, as she pursues a career in the dairy industry after college. Her long-term goal is to work as a milk inspector for USDA in Minnesota.

“Dairy farmers are beyond passionate for what they do,” Euerle said. “I’ve never met a more hard-working group of individuals. They are up and at ‘em 365 days a year, 24/7. To have that kind of passion for your job is just phenomenal.”

It’s an enthusiasm Euerle also seems ready to share herself during the next year as dairy royalty.

Downtown Cowtown's udderly fantastic conclusion

Holy cow, what a fundraiser!

Pardon the pun, but one can’t help but milk this Downtown Cowtown promotion for all it’s worth.

And it was worth plenty. At least $36,500.

That’s the amount of money bid for the 19 imaginatively decorated fiberglass cows that were part of the Downtown Cowtown auction Thursday evening at Litchfield Civic Arena. An amount that left many stunned — in an extremely happy sort of way.

“I was flabbergasted at how much money these cows went for,” said Kevin Hovey, a Litchfield Downtown Council member. “Downtown Council members would all get questions, ‘How much do you think they’ll sell for?’ I thought if a cow hit a thousand bucks it would be something. This was just a great outcome of a really fun event.”

Originally planned for Central Park in Litchfield, the auction was moved to the Civic Arena due to a forecast of rain at auction time. The forecast was accurate as it thundered and poured as the auction began at 5:30 p.m., but the rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of bidders one bit.

Each of the cows was associated with a nonprofit organization. In many cases, those organizations painted the cows themselves; some others were decorated by a supporting business. And the amount bid for each cow goes to each organization.

A cow celebrating Litchfield FFA drew the highest bidding, with a winning total of $6,100. A cow — actually a calf — associated with School of St. Philip received a winning bid of $4,000.

Organizers admitted they didn’t know what to expect from the auction, but they said they were overwhelmed with its success.

“It much exceeded our expectations,” said Jessica Koehnen, advertising coordinator for Steffes Group, which donated its auctioneering services for the event. “It’s never been done before. There were so many things going on that night. I was a little worried, (but) it blew me out of the water. We definitely have some very generous people here in Litchfield.”

Litchfield and beyond, actually. People came from as far away as Osakis and Inver Grove Heights to participate in the auction. The winning bidder of the FFA cow was a businessman from Inver Grove Heights, Koehnen said, who happened to see the cows around town as he was passing through town on his way to an appointment. He later learned more about the promotion and returned to bid on the FFA cow specifically, she said.

“The reach of it was amazing,” Koehnen said.

All that excitement can be traced back to a conversation between Litchfield Downtown Council members several months ago.

Hovey said members of the organization were brainstorming ideas to help promote downtown Litchfield last year. He previously owned and operated a production company in the Twin Cities at a time when St. Paul celebrated Charles Schultz and the Peanuts comic strip with statues of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and others. Hovey suggested that something similar would be fun to try to promote Litchfield’s downtown.

“Someone brought up that it was First District’s 100-year anniversary (this year),” Hovey said, which led to a meeting between FDA management and Downtown Council members. “They (First District) thought it was a pretty good idea.”

The dairy cooperative’s management wanted it to be something more though. So, working in partnership with the Litchfield Downtown Council and others, they planned a promotion that celebrated the dairy industry and also would raise money for nonprofit organizations in the Litchfield area.

The fiberglass cows were paid for by contractors who worked on an expansion of the FDA plant, which is expected to increase the plant’s milk processing capacity from 5.8 million pounds to 7.5 million pounds per day. When they arrived in Litchfield earlier this year — after a weeks-long delay due to the Suez Canal being blocked in March — the cows were prepared for decorating at Hovey’s building at 129 N. Sibley Ave. Hovey applied white primer to give the artists a blank bovine canvas upon which to work, and the cows went out to be decorated.

Once completed, the cows came back to Hovey’s building where they received four coats of clear coat lacquer to protect their design. And, finally, in late June, a crew of city and FDA employees placed the cows at 16 locations around town, each with information about the organization associated with it.

The life-sized cows and calves — eight adults and 10 calves — were a popular attraction throughout the summer, especially in the early weeks after they were placed, with many people posting selfies with their favorite cow to social media.

And the promotion culminated Thursday with a last roundup of sorts, with the entire herd of 18 — plus one adult cow with a seat — were corralled in the Civic Arena and auctioned off one-by-one for a good cause.

Koehnen said the first-of-its-kind event for Litchfield created a lot of uncertainty about just how much interest the auction might generate. But a couple of days before the auction, phones at the Steffes office began to ring with questions about the cows.

“The morning of the auction, people were calling in to see if they could place absentee bids,” Koehnen said. “They wanted to know how much money to bring. That’s when I started to think, ‘This is going to be bigger than I thought it was going to be.’

“You don’t get an opportunity to do this kind of auction very often,” she added. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. We’re glad we had the opportunity to participate.”

School board takes stand against 'mask shaming'

Two weeks after approving a back-to-school plan that would not require masks, the Litchfield School Board last week discussed at length how to head off so-called “mask shaming.”

Chairman Darrin Anderson said he put the item on the board’s agenda, because he wants students to wear masks — or not — as they choose, without fear of reprisal or teasing from classmates or others.

As students headed back to the classroom Monday, Meeker County has seen COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with 2,843 cases reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, including 46 deaths in the county. The case rate declined in slightly in recent weeks, however, as MDH reported the infection rate in Meeker County at 13.4 for the most recent reporting period (Aug. 8-14) after a rate of 15.2 the previous week.

Statewide, according to MDH, there have been 16,095 cases among children 0 to 4 years old; 21,962 among 5-9-year-olds, 31,401 among 10-14, and 52,214 among 15-19.

The Litchfield School Board did not need to take any official action, Anderson said, since “mask shaming” would be covered under other anti-bullying policies already in place in the district. However, he said he thought it important to reinforce that it was not OK to criticize a student for their decision to either wear or not wear a face covering.

Board member Greg Mathews agreed, but he thought the board needed to make a stronger statement.

“I don’t want us to simply pay lip service to this,” Mathews said, adding that school staff “should look for this.”

Teachers and other staff should discuss the topic and be prepared to deal with it quickly and appropriately if it comes up “so that it doesn’t take off,” Mathews added.

Mask wearing has become both a “medical and political thing,” Mathews said, and he has “seen this sort of thing before” where children feel forced to make a bad decision.

Other board members challenged the idea that school staff would not react expediently to any issues regarding masks.

“We can’t allow any of that to go,” board member Alex Carlson said. “This is where I trust Mrs. (Superintendent Beckie) Simenson and administration and teachers to enforce policies. We don’t stand for any sort of bullying of our students, whether for masks or other reasons.”

Anderson agreed, saying that policies are in place to prevent bullying.

“We have followed the Dragon way for years,” Simenson said. “I don’t see that it’s any different (from) from reporting a bullying situation.”

But Mathews persisted, saying, “We’ve got to do more than wait until the victim comes forward.”

In related action later in the meeting, the board approved a safe return to school plan acknowledging the district will following Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidance that masks are recommended in school. The district’s policy is subject to change, according to CDC and MDH changes in guidelines, Anderson said.

The only area where masks are still required — in according to federal regulations — is on buses as students are transported to and from school.