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Reed-Boniface honored for 50 years of fair involvement

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 09/11/2013 10:40 AM

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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- It was opening day of the Minnesota State Fair, and Juanita Reed-Boniface was seated in a tent interviewing 4-H'ers in the beef project.

To those who know her, that's no surprise. Reed-Boniface has been a part of 4-H at the Minnesota State Fair for 50 years. She, Mike Caskey of Holland and Beth Russell of Montevideo were honored for their 50-year involvement at the fair in a ceremony on Aug. 27.

"The Minnesota State Fair just kind of grows on you," she said.

Back in 1963, Reed-Boniface was a young professional looking for a job in the Twin Cities area. She had relocated to Minnesota from Nebraska, where she had participated in 4-H and had worked in Extension. She hoped to get into Extension in Minnesota. The state 4-H people knew who she was and invited her to judge 4-H demonstrations at the Minnesota State Fair.

Three months later she was hired as a graduate assistant on the state 4-H staff three months later. She was employed half time and worked on her master's degree. She was hired for a full-time position in 1966.

At that time, it was uncommon for mothers with small children to work outside the home and Reed-Boniface encountered discrimination. She wasn't hired for one county position because she had children and the other candidate didn't.

But, she was persistent and figured out a way to make it happen.

Reed-Boniface was encouraged to apply for the 50-year award by a state fair board member from her district. The fair has an application form a person can fill out when they've reached 50 years of involvement in the Get Minnesota Get-Together.

As she put everything together, Reed-Boniface admits even she was slightly surprised.

"I looked back and said I can't believe I've done all this," she said, but then she reminded herself it wasn't all in one year, rather half a century.

From 1964 through 1966, Reed-Boniface was co-coordinator of 4-H registration in the 4-H Department.

"This was before the days of 4-H encampments, preregistration and online registrations," she wrote in her application. "Work was done by hand or electric typewriters and money was collected, receipts given and books balanced daily."

Her primary responsibility from 1968 to 1976 was 4-H communications and publicity. She worked with print, radio and television reporters to cover feature stories about the 4-H program. For eight years, she hosted a daily feature on WCCO-TV's Clancy and Carmen Show from the fairgrounds. She was a regular guest with 4-H'ers on WCCO Radio with Maynard Speece and often made appearances with 4-H'ers on other media.

It was during this time that she initiated the Minnesota 4-H Ambassador program.

The idea for the program came in conversation with Speece, farm director at WCCO at the time. Speece told Reed-Boniface that she needed young people with media training to be spokespeople for 4-H.

She took the idea and wrote a proposal to present to the state 4-H faculty. It wasn't accepted the first year, but she didn't give up.

"I'm one of these very determined people," Reed-Boniface said.

She reworked the plan and brought it back. It was accepted and the program marks 45 years this year.

The 30 to 32 4-H'ers would greet and welcome 4-H members from around the state, work in the Information Booth in the 4-H Building, emcee demonstrations and make numerous radio and TV appearances around the fairgrounds.

One of her ambassadors way back when was Caskey, who received his 50-year award this year with her.

By 1977, her role at the state fair changed. She coordinated the 4-H Fashion Revue during the first days of the fair and then when the livestock came coordinated the beef, sheep and swine shows. The 4-H Lamb Lead, 4-H Fleece Show and the consumer

judging contest were added between 1977 and 1985.

From 1986 to her retirement from 4-H in 1992, Reed-Boniface was superintendent of the 4-H Department.

In 1993, Reed-Boniface faced state fair withdrawal so she created a new role for herself.

"I joined my husband's career interests in sheep and wool and together we became consultants, sales staff and vendors with the Minnesota Lamb and Wool Producers commercial booth," she said. "Willie the Wooly Worm is our signature novelty item that we designed and produced. We continue to supply worm to the booth."

Reed-Boniface has coordinated the Speaking Up for Animal Agriculture program for 4-H exhibitors since 2007.

"The intent is for 4-H'ers to make intentional efforts to connect with fair visitors and tell their story," Reed-Boniface wrote.

She works with a team of college-age students who work with 4-H members. This year, for the first time ever, her team is single gender.

She trained four young women to be peer mentors.

That speaks to the increased openness to women in agriculture, Reed-Boniface said.

She planned to be at the fair for five days this year, down from the years when she literally lived at the fair in a camper.

Her husband, Dick Boniface, accompanied her some of those days, including for the 50-year celebration.

The couple have been going to the fair together for 30 years. Their first date was at the fair.

It was in 1983 and in those days, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture put on a dinner in Baldwin Park, Reed-Boniface said. Dick invited her to the free dinner at the suggestion of one of his friends. The story goes that he figured he wouldn't be out too much if it didn't work out.