Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Newell receives Bruce Cottington award

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 01/02/2013 3:30 PM

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WAITE PARK, Minn. — Promoting the dairy industry is more than a job for Sherry Newell.

The Midwest Dairy Association's communications director has an enthusiasm that's infectious. She tells farmers' stories and gets others involved. Whether its promoting the appearances of Princess Kay of the Milky Way or highlighting the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, Newell gets the word out.

The Minnesota Milk Producers Association has presented Newell with the Bruce Cottington Award.

Newell grew up on an Iowa dairy farm. With her sister, Linda, Newell joined 4-H and purchased registered Ayrshires. Her family connection to dairying continues as her father, Eugene, and brother Dan milk 60 cows.

Newell attended Iowa State University and earned a degree in ag journalism and dairy science. She dreamed of becoming a farm broadcaster and having her father listen to her show. The dream came true when she interned at WMT in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Newell wanted to broadcast in a dairy area and moved to St. Cloud to do farm reports. After 12 years, she took a job with the American Dairy Association of Minnesota.

Newell envisioned working in both farm broadcasting and dairy promotions and that goal was achieved.

She notes with interest that Bruce Cottington had held her ADA-Minnesota position before her. Cottington's dairy promotional efforts had also been honored by MMPA when he received the organization's Friend of the Industry award. MMPA later renamed it to honor Cottington's work.

Cottington and Newell had worked together when she volunteered with the Regional Dairy Day events in St. Cloud.

Newell worked more with local organizations. Through her role as producer services coordinator, Newell worked with more than 80 counties as the industry relations manager for Minnesota. She collaborated with other ag groups throughout the state as she reached out to dairy industry leaders.

The association changed when Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota combined their promotional organizations in 1993 to form the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council of the Upper Midwest. By 2000 another change occurred when the association joined the Midland Dairy Association to form the Midwest Dairy Association.

Over the last five years, she's had a less visible position with Midwest Dairy as its director of communications. She's utilizing more of her communications skills to get dairy farmers' stories to the public.

Newell is also committed to supporting youth activities. She was an intercollegiate judge working with dairy. When her daughter Elinor got older she helped coach dairy knowledge bowl teams. She's also helped with the dairy princess program. She continues to be a mentor to students.

"It's always disappointing to me when kids with outstanding ag backgrounds don't stay engaged in promoting agriculture," she said. "They are advocates and can continue to spread that message no matter what they do through their everyday acquaintances. I feel that if they have good mentors and role models that they will stay more involved."

Newell lives with her husband, Joe Optiz, on 11 acres near St. Joseph. Ayrshire heifers often occupy their pasture. The cattle are among several animals owned by Elinor.

Her sister, Linda and husband, Mike Hanson, operate a dairy farm near Thief River Falls.

But Newell has the next best job — she gets to tell their stories and those of other dairy farm families throughout the region.