The open-sesame effect of 4-H club work

By Harlan Stoehr  

For Minnesota farm youth in the early 20th century the odds of entering a professional position were slight. Many small communities did not have high schools, transportation to towns that had them was rare, and many farm families considered high school an unnecessary option. General expectations were that farm boys would become farmers; girls would marry a farm boy and raise a family. Young women who left the farm usually worked as servants, country-school teachers, dressmakers, housekeepers, and the like.1

For tens of thousands of rural Minnesota boys and girls alike, many of whom had never been more than a few miles from home, 4-H Club work fostered development of technical and social skills and opened vistas to a world far wider than they had dreamed of.

The origins of 4-H date from around 1900, when pioneering midwestern country-school teachers began forming boys and girls clubs to give rural youth extracurricular instruction in the arts and sciences of agriculture and homemaking to make rural life more appealing. 2 Several states, including Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas, had boys and girls clubs before 1904 when Minnesota teachers started clubs in Douglas, McLeod, and Olmsted counties. Club work gradually became popular in schools. About 200 boys and girls were enrolled in 1909, when the Minnesota Legislature established the Agricultural Extension Division of the University and boys and girls club work came under its domain. The Smith-Lever Act in 1914 brought boys and girls club work under sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal Extension Service.3

Verna Mikesh and her siblings as 4-H members.

During World War I club work grew to include clubs in every Minnesota county. In 1919 responsibility for clubs was assigned to Extension’s county agents, who consulted with county superintendents of schools in determining the work to be done.4 By 1920 most Minnesota boys and girls clubs were known as 4-H clubs and the four-leaf clover 4-H emblem was appearing; during the 1920s it became universally used throughout the United States.5

Project work was a boys and girls club staple; members selected a project, such as potato growing, poultry, dairy calf, bread making, garment making, or gardening, did the work required for the project, kept detailed records, and showed the results of their project at the county fair, where their projects were judged. Top county projects advanced to the State Fair and top State Fair project winners often received trips to an annual 4-H Club Congress, for several decades held in Chicago.

From the early project clubs, whose members met in schools and enrolled in a single project, the focus under Extension shifted to community type clubs, whose members enrolled in several projects, usually met in homes, and experienced a program of broader interest, including music, dramatics, and recreation, along with project instruction. From the late 1920s adult leaders, who often were family members, were recruited to provide leadership.6

Among the rural Minnesota young people whose life courses 4-H changed were three women, Verna Mikesh, Evelyn Kern (Dose), and Gertrude Esteros, now in their 90s, who grew up during hard times on widely separated Minnesota farms. Through 4-H work they found opportunities and experiences undreamed of, and attained prominent positions, wide-ranging influence, and satisfying service.


Mikesh: Verna Mikesh, eldest of three daughters, was raised on a farm south of Breckenridge. Bohemian was the family language; Verna learned little English until in grade school. By the 1920s her progressive parents were raising purebred milking shorthorn cattle and Chester White hogs, and had installed running water and a bathroom, a coal-fired boiler with hot-water radiators, and carbide gaslights. They lost it all with their farm’s foreclosure in the early 1930s, victims of prolonged drought and too much credit.7

Kern:  The doctor at Bertha came by horse and sleigh to deliver Evelyn Kern, who was born in a small three-room home on a 40-acre farm in northern Todd County to parents of German, Swiss and English-Irish ancestry. When she was two her parents traded the 40 acres for a 120-acre farm with a three-bedroom house on Highway 71. Both farms had an outdoor privy; neither had running water, electricity or central heating. When the Hewitt bank failed in the market crash of 1929, the Kern family lost first its bank account and then the120-acre farm to foreclosure.8

Evelyn Kern Dose at the official presentation of the Servel kerosene refrigerator to Evelyn and her parents.

Esteros:  Gertrude Esteros, born Kerttu Esteros to parents who emigrated from Finland, grew up on an 80-acre farm, 40 acres of it a swamp, at Saginaw, Minn., north of Cloquet. Her father, a man of many capabilities and a strong thirst for knowledge, had no formal education. Her mother had three years of school before employment by a farm family in Finland as a milkmaid and housekeeping assistant. On her first day of school Ms. Esteros’s teacher said, “Kerttu is not a good English name; translated it would be ‘Gertrude,’ so you will be Gertrude.” Returning home she happily announced, “I have a new name!” To her father, who had morphed his name by stages from Enokki Gustaa Österöos to Gust Esteros, a name change was a minor matter; thereafter she was Gertrude Esteros.9

Gertrude Esteros at about age 12 in her vegetable garden.

Connecting With 4-H

Mikesh:  Verna Mikesh, born in 1915, grew up as “mama’s girl,” helping with the cooking and housework. Her exposure to 4-H began with an attempt by a district 4-H leader to organize a canning club at the Doran School. The club quickly faded. Then teacher Esther Harrison organized a 4-H club that offered bread baking, cake baking, thrift (making clothing from feed bags) and other projects, and Verna signed on.

“In the early 1930s Ellen Moline took charge and 4-H really took off at the Doran Club,” Verna recalls. “We took part in play contests, had a harmonica band, went to the Morris Encampment, went to County Fair with our exhibits, and gave demonstrations at county and district achievement days. Eugenia Rehm and I put together a roll-making demonstration that took us to State Fair. We went to 4-H week at University Farm and got our first exposure to the University. The Soo Line (railroad) paid for the trip to Minneapolis; my father took me to Fairmount, N.D., to catch the train. It was a big trip in the Model-T Ford.”

The local bank sponsored a 4-H poultry project, supplying 25 baby chicks at minimal cost. Verna brought all 25 to maturity. She went on to the calf project and the frightening experience of training calves to stand and lead. “They could take off with a poor, scared kid hanging on for dear life, hands burned by the rope, and hoping the calf wouldn’t disappear forever over the prairie,” she remembers. “Record keeping was a challenge in coordinating reality with expectations.”10

She continued 4-H work through high school and after graduation; the cutoff age then was 21. In August 1935 the county agent informed Verna she had won a $75 Minneapolis Journal4-H scholarship. “I didn’t realize what it meant and set it aside. When a call came saying ‘Take it or give it up,’ I decided to take it. My mother and I cried over the decision, and in a couple of days I was on the train, bound for the University. I found a place to work for my room and board, registered late and went through the physical exam late. The whole process was so awful I thought I would die.” 11

Kern:  Evelyn Kern was 10 in 1929 when Carroll Blakeslee came to Wadena County as agricultural agent and began organizing 4-H clubs in rural schools. Her school, Lone Oak, was in Todd County, which had no county agent, but the Lone Oak District adjoined Wadena County’s England Prairie School District and Blakeslee allowed Lone Oak students to participate in the Wadena County club.

The 25 members named their club “Ambitious 25,” planning to change the number annually to correspond with membership. While the membership number was dropped decades ago, the club continues to this day as the Ambitious 4-H Club.

Evelyn and her sister, Anne, two years older, enrolled in the clothing project, learned to use a pattern and cut cotton cloth for dresses, sewed them on a foot-treadle-powered sewing machine, and exhibited them at the Wadena County Fair. While they won no ribbons they were proud to have their dresses displayed.

At 10, Evelyn cherished the monthly club meetings held in member homes and thrilled to reciting the 4-H pledge along with the older members to open each meeting. Meetings were held the third Saturday afternoon of each month. No home had enough chairs for the members and leaders, so members sat on the floor. A second family would assist the host family with refreshments: usually red Jell-O with sliced bananas in it, Kool-Aid and homemade cookies.12

Evelyn was 12 and in her third year of 4-H when she and Anne gave their first clothing demonstration, “Choosing Shoes,” at the Wadena County Fair. Borrowing a foot-measuring device from Joset’s Shoe Store in Wadena, they focused their demonstration on choosing shoes that fit properly and gave good support to the feet. Their first-place award entitled them to demonstrate at State Fair.

“Dad drove us to the fair,” Evelyn relates. In 1931 the State Fair 4-H building was yet to be built; 4-H members stayed in dormitories on the University’s St. Paul Campus. Evelyn’s father rented a campsite adjacent to the fairgrounds and slept in his car for the four nights they were there. “There were evening assemblies for all 4-H delegates on the campus. One evening we were bussed to a banquet at the Nicollet Hotel, and saw the Foshay Tower, tallest building in downtown Minneapolis. For two girls from rural Minnesota, this was a big-time experience.”

In 1932 Evelyn and Anne switched to 4-H food projects. Anne Thornbeck, a home economics student at the University, came to Wadena County as summer 4-H club agent, became Evelyn’s ideal, and fostered a long-shot but persistent goal: to become a 4-H club agent.13

The Kern sisters completed eighth grade together in 1933 in the depth of The Great Depression – Anne, two years older had been delayed because of infantile paralysis – but did not start high school that fall. There was no rural school bus service, no money to pay for lodging in town, and no concern by their parents, who considered a high school education nonessential. The county superintendent of schools, learning that the Kern sisters were not in school, arranged through a program for children with handicaps to reimburse their parents to drive Anne to and from Wadena High School. Evelyn could ride along. In their fourth year both girls lived in Wadena, each doing housework in exchange for room and board.14

Graduated from high school in 1937 and with little hope of college, Evelyn moved home. She continued 4-H as a junior leader and won the county bread-baking championship but declined the State Fair trip when she became employed, doing housework for a Wadena family and, on Saturdays, cashiering at the Ben Franklin store.15

Late that fall a telegram told her she had placed first in Minnesota and second in the nation in 4-H food preparation; her expenses would be paid to 4-H Club Congress in Chicago. Better still, the national award included a Servel kerosene-powered refrigerator, perfect for Evelyn’s non-electric farm home, and a $300 Servel scholarship. On returning from Chicago she registered for the winter quarter at the University.16

Esteros:  Gertrude Esteros, born in October 1914, completed eighth grade at age 12; she had skipped the third and sixth grades. To attend high school would mean finding a place to stay in Cloquet where she could work for room and board, an unlikely prospect for a 12-year-old. At 9 she had joined the 4-H club at her school, a life-changing experience. “4-H opened the world to me,” she says. When 12 she and her friend Myrtle Dalton worked up a 4-H food preservation demonstration on preparing five different fruits and vegetables for canning.

Their demonstration, Gertrude’s first and “the most complicated I ever did,” required differing preparations and amounts of time, such as blanching beans and making sugar syrup for the fruit. They wore white 4-H uniforms with breast pockets and green trim. When the demonstration and its obligatory question period finished the girls produced harmonicas from their pockets and announced, ”If there are no more questions we will close our demonstration with a harmonica duet.” Whether for demonstration technique or sheer grit, their demonstration won the girls a trip to the Minnesota State Fair.

They were housed in dormitories on the University’s then “Farm Campus,” adjoining the Fairgrounds, to Gertrude a new and exciting environment. There she learned of the University’s School of Agriculture, a boarding school designed for rural youngsters. Its fall semester started late and winter semester ended early, enabling students to be home for fall harvest and spring planting. Her community had no high school so, she decided, the School of Agriculture is where she belonged and where she would go. She so informed her parents on her return.

Age was a major drawback; she would be 13 that fall, the School of Agriculture’s enrollment age was 17. Undaunted, she determined to work at home, earn some money and enroll when possible. Worried that lack of formal study might atrophy her brain, she borrowed books from childless neighbors who gave her access to their library of classics and popular fiction. She assigned herself a reading schedule, began with “Plutarch’s Lives,” followed it with Mary Roberts Rinehart’s fictional  “Circular Staircase,” and read her way, a classic followed by fiction, through the library.

She learned to drive the family’s old Buick, hitched to the hayfork to lift hay from the wagon into the barn haymow. She drove slowly down the narrow cow lane to pull the hayfork up into the haymow, and then backed slowly to the barn so her father could retrieve and re-set the fork, and the process repeated. Backing a car became second nature.

Mature beyond her years, Gertrude convinced the School of Agriculture’s director that she deserved early entry because her community had no high school. She was admitted at 14 and lived on campus in the schoolgirls’ dormitory. Spring and summer she worked at home, also doing summer 4-H leadership projects and teaching demonstration skills. She completed the School of Agriculture’s three-year program with her sights set on college, which would require another two quarters of pre-college work. She completed it in one quarter and enrolled at the University of Minnesota to major in home economics.17

On to college

Mikesh:  Enrolled at the University in home economics, Verna Mikesh found housework providing room and board, and additional work through the National Youth Administration program scraping dishes in the St. Paul Campus cafeteria. That income, her $75 Minneapolis Journal scholarship, and savings from the sale of her 4-H calves, carried her through the year. The cafeteria connection led to a summer job at Glacier National Park, where she saved enough for her sophomore year to offset her scholarship support as a freshman.

And so it went through her college years; Verna majored in foods and business. To maintain her 4-H connection Verna joined the campus Gopher 4-H Club, Clovia, the 4-H sorority, and stayed in touch with the state 4-H office, located on campus. She completed college in Pearl Harbor month, December 1941.18

Kern:  For Evelyn Kern, college began with winter quarter in January 1938. She found employment through the YWCA, a housework job providing room and board and $3/week, and settled in to her studies and her goal of becoming a 4-H agent. Like Verna Mikesh, she joined the Gopher 4-H club and Clovia sorority. In spring quarter 1939 she found part-time work in the campus cafeteria and moved into the Clovia sorority house on Raymond Avenue. Throughout her college years she would be active in campus organizations.19

She, too, found work at Glacier National Park, spending the summers of 1939 and 1940 there. Applying as a home economics student, her interviewer asked if she could cook; she could, and was hired as second cook under the chef at Going to the Sun Chalets. The job paid $60/month, housing, food and round-trip train fare, a bonanza back then.20

Elected president of the campus YWCA in spring 1941, she was recommended for, and wished to attend, a summer retreat for Midwest college campus YWCA officers at George Williams College Camp, Lake Geneva, Wis. The option to attend and work for room and board and $20/month was disappointing compared with the $60/month at Glacier. Yearning to go but needing more income, she reluctantly declined. The YWCA executive secretary, knowing of Evelyn’s Glacier Park cooking experience, negotiated her a position as summer head of the Camp’s salad department for room and board and $75/month.21

Evelyn graduated with a degree in home economics education in March 1942.

Esteros:  Gertrude Esteros was one of the four Minnesota 4-Hers – two boys and two girls –to attend the National 4-H Encampment in Washington, D.C. in spring 1933, while a college freshman in home economics, The bus, with other 4-Hers from South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, stopped en route at the Chicago World’s Fair, where the 4-Hers visited the World of Tomorrow.

In Washington they were housed in a tent city below the Washington Monument. “It was early in Franklin Roosevelt’s first year as president,” Gertrude recalls. “Eleanor Roosevelt came in a little, open-top roadster. She sat down very close to me and visited with us; I was entranced. Her eyes were the most beautiful blue. She was so interested in us, and we opened up to her …”

During college Gertrude worked for room and board in the home of Wylle McNeal, then director of Home Economics. McNeal and the fabled Goldstein Sisters, Miss Harriet and Miss Vetta, who nurtured the division of related art in the home economics department from its inception, became Gertrude’s mentors. Miss Vetta was her undergraduate advisor and Miss Harriet her graduate school advisor.

To earn tuition she worked a summer as vegetable cook at a northern Minnesota camp – it would be known as a resort today –where she peeled many potatoes, scraped many carrots, made white sauces, and dried many dishes. Another summer she demonstrated cooking with a pressure cooker at the big Sears store on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

The next summer saw her in an intern role at the Richards Treat Cafeteria in Minneapolis, operated by Ms. Richards and Ms. Treat, who had taught cooking before opening their foods and institutional management business. Known for the quality and goodness of its food, the Cafeteria served only luncheon. As intern, Gertrude replaced the regulars on vacation, which meant a different job every two weeks. She began at the counter carving meat, then made salad, then pies, then cakes, then breads, and, finally, worked the snack bar. Gertrude considers that internship a valuable lesson: “It taught me not to go into the institutional food business.”

At the end of her internship Ms. Richards and Ms. Treat said, “We want to talk to you seriously – we believe you would do well in food management and will pay your tuition for your senior year if you will return to the Cafeteria.”  “Thank you, but I have decided to pursue the art world,” Gertrude replied. She received her bachelor’s in home economics education, with honors, in 1936.22

Entering professions

The 4-H pledge, adopted nationally in 1927, usually was recited at 4-H meetings:

I pledge my head to clearer thinking,

my heart to greater loyalty,

my hands to larger service, and

my health to better living,

for my club, my community, and my country.23

The line “My hands to greater service…;” left a strong impression on 4-H members, who observed its application by both professional and volunteer 4-H leaders. Not surprisingly, Verna Mikesh, Evelyn Kern and Gertrude Esteros, hard-earned college diplomas in hand, embarked on lives of service.

Mikesh:  Out of college as a foods and business major in December 1940, Verna Mikesh aspired to become Betty Crocker. Two impediments stood in the way, the job wasn’t open and city life did not appeal. Learning of a 4-H agent position to jointly serve Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties, she hurried to the 4-H office, interviewed with State 4-H Director A.J. Kittleson, and was hired to begin Jan. 1, 1941.

The job required a car and working alternately two weeks out of Ortonville, then two weeks out of Madison. At home in Breckenridge for the holidays, Verna faced three pressing problems to solve by New Year’s Day: (1) she had no money, (2) she had no car, and (3) she did not know how to drive.

Her father found a used Model A Ford, she borrowed $300 to buy it and bought a driver’s license for 25 cents; there were no driving examinations then. Her father attempted to teach her to drive, gave up, drove her and her few belongings to Ortonville, and took a train home. Verna arranged to live on credit at Ortonville’s Orton Hotel, eat on credit at the Korner Café, and buy gasoline on credit at the Standard Oil station until her first paycheck.

County Agent Roland Abraham taught her to drive the Model A. Abraham, a victim of early hair loss who later became director of the Minnesota Extension Service, explained that he had a thick head of hair until teaching Verna Mikesh to drive. Verna saw herself as a quick study: “I learned to drive in a hurry and scared a lot of people out of their wits. I kept the auto body man in business that first winter.”

Verna drove thousands of miles to local 4-H meetings and made countless lifelong friends while serving the two counties from 1941 to 1945, when she left 4-H for a broader role as Lac qui Parle County home demonstration agent. She transferred to Perham, in Otter Tail County, for a similar position in 1953.

In 1955 she joined the state Extension staff as Extension foods and nutrition specialist, developing food and nutrition programs for youth and adults that were carried out by Extension home economists throughout the state. She also worked as a resource to 4-H, writing bulletins 4-Hers used, helping the 4-H staff with project leader training, and judging 4-H exhibits at county fairs and State Fair.

Verna was author or co-author of 17 nutrition publications and a chapter of the 1969 Yearbook of Agriculture. She took a sabbatical in 1959 to complete a master’s in rural adult education, with a minor in meats, at Oklahoma State University. She retired as professor on Jan. 1, 1971, the 30th anniversary of her Extension Service employment. 24

Kern:  Evelyn Kern did her student teaching assignment at Hinckley prior to college graduation in March 1942. Returning to campus she learned of a full-time 4-H agent position – her life’s goal – opening in New Jersey. But she had met Victor (Vic) Dose two years earlier at a Clovia date party and they had become college sweethearts. New Jersey seemed too far away; she would stay in Minnesota and apply for a teaching position.25

Two weeks later the Extension Home Demonstration leader called and asked why she had not applied for a county home demonstration agent position. “Because I understand that two years of teaching experience is required, so I will apply for a teaching job,” she replied. The leader affirmed that policy, but said she wished to try teaming a prospective home agent with an experienced one in Faribault County for a six-month training period. Evelyn finally met her goal – an Extension position. She would graduate March 1, 1942, and report for work at Blue Earth April 1.

Like Verna Mikesh, Evelyn needed a car and had neither car nor money. Writing her parents for advice, she learned that their insurance agent’s brother had joined the armed forces and left his 1937 Plymouth with the agent to sell. The agent would take $500 with $100 down and finance the balance if the car were insured with him. When electricity reached their farm that year the Kern’s quickly purchased an electric refrigerator to replace the kerosene-powered Servel and rid their home of the kerosene smell. Her father had just sold the Servel for $100. As her Servel scholarship had enabled college four years earlier, the Servel refrigerator now enabled acquisition of the Plymouth.

The day after graduation Evelyn took the bus to Wadena, bought her 25-cent driver’s license, and had a quick course in driving a car with steering-column shift from the insurance agent, who financed the $400 balance. She drove alone down Highway 10 back to St. Paul.26

After only two months in Faribault County Evelyn was asked in June 1942 to transfer to Farmington in Dakota County to work under the home agent there until September, then fill that position while the agent took a year‘s study leave. She remained in Dakota County until summer 1945, when offered a position with the state 4-H staff at $300/month.27

Evelyn Kern married Victor (Vic) Dose in September 1945 and resigned her 4-H position in 1948 to raise sons Dexter and Greg. As they grew older she sometimes judged 4-H projects, and in the 1960s renewed her teaching certificate. She taught tailoring and clothing construction in the Mounds View Schools Adult Education Program and served as a substitute teacher in the St. Paul secondary schools for several years, then taught homebound students.28

In 1970, the year she was president of the University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics Alumni Assn., Evelyn returned to Extension work, serving as Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (EFNP) supervisor in Ramsey County. There she worked with agencies connected with welfare recipients, public housing, the county nurse program, maternal infant clinics, the Food Bank and Food Stamp programs, the Model Cities Center, and the American Indian Center.

She encouraged the hiring of Native American, Hispanic, Hmong and Cambodian staff to facilitate EFNP work with its wide-range of clientele, and fit cultural foods into the Basic Four Food Guide familiar to nutritionists. Young people served through the program were accepted as 4-H members and entitled to exhibit at the Ramsey County Fair. After 14 satisfying years with the EFNP, Evelyn Dose retired in 1984.29

Esteros:  After college, Gertrude Esteros took a teaching job at a southwest Minnesota high school where a year seemed an eternity. Teaching in a high school was, she decided,  a mistake. Offered an instructorship at the School of Agriculture, Morris, she reconsidered. There she lived in and supervised the junior girls’ dormitory, and taught home furnishings and art in everyday life for a year, enjoying the experience.

Recruited by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she was assistant instructor there from 1938 to 1940, when she returned to the University of Minnesota to serve as an instructor and to earn a master’s in related art. She was instructor at Lindenwood College, St. Charles, Mo., from 1941 to 1942.

Wishing to serve her country during World War II, she left Lindenwood to join the American Red Cross as hospital recreational worker and was assigned to the SW Pacific. She arrived in Australia just before Christmas 1942, caught up with the 37th Field Hospital in New Guinea, and worked to set up recreational activities for ambulatory military patients. She then was assigned to the Philippines, near Leyete Gulf, where she worked with the seriously ill and wounded, and the most difficult cases, those seriously burned. She was on Panay Island, in the Philippines, when the Japanese surrendered.

Gertrude returned to the States just before Christmas 1945. While visiting friends at the University’s St. Paul Campus, she was asked to re-join the home economics related art faculty. Unsure of her future course, she agreed, with the condition that she might leave when she pleased. With various time-outs, she remained for 34 years.

In summer 1946 she went with a friend to Guatemala to visit fabric designers at work. In 1947 she bought her first automobile, a new two-door Ford. In 1948 took leave to serve with an American Friends Service Committee work group in Finland, helping Finnish families displaced from Karelia to build new homes. Fluent in Finnish, she also served as an interpreter.

In 1949 she succeeded Harriet Goldstein as head of Related Art at the University of Minnesota, and in 1953-54 took a year’s leave to complete an Ed.D (equivalent of a Ph.D) in fine arts education at Columbia University, New York City. During her 34-year tenure design grew from a small unit into the Department of Design. She oversaw two building additions and development of the Goldstein Gallery, which has costume, textile and decorative arts collections. Gertrude Esteros retired from the University in 1980.30

Retirement decades

Together, Verna Mikesh, Evelyn Kern Dose and Gertrude Esteros have lived for more than 281 years and enjoyed 95 years of active retirement.

Mikesh:  Verna Mikesh joined the Madison, Minn., Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPWC) in 1943, was a founder and first president of the Perham BPWC, joined the St. Paul Chapter in 1955, and was cited for 60 years of active BPWC membership in 2003. She has decades of service in the Minnesota and American Home Economics Associations, judged State Fair open class food exhibits well into retirement, and for many years freelanced in home economics and foods nutrition.

Her travel beyond the United States and Canada includes France, England, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Egypt, Russia, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Czechoslovakia, where she attended the VIII International Congress of Nutrition in Prague.

Long active in her church, in retirement she has led a Bible study group, served as lector at Sunday Mass, and in social justice and legislative advocacy committees. She is a charter member of Minnesota St. Joan’s, Christian feminists whose goal is equality for all within the church, and a founding member of the Ramsey Co. Women’s Political Caucus.

In 1978, while chapter treasurer of the alumnae chapter of Beta of Clovia, the 4-H sorority on the University’s St. Paul Campus, Verna was deeply involved in acquiring Clovia House at 1499 North Cleveland Ave. She then lived there for nearly 30 years as rental and maintenance manager and unofficial confidante to Clovia sorority members. Her popularity spread next door to Farm House Fraternity, whose members began to come by for Verna’s advice. 31

Kern had been living in an assisted-living facility in St. Anthony Park before her death in September 2011. At the time she was interviewed for this article, she reflected on a good life fostered by her $75 4-H scholarship and the philosophy that one is placed in this world to serve others and to help them to do well.

Kern-Dose:  Evelyn Dose’s husband, Vic, was active in Kiwanis, and in retirement Kiwanis activities became an important part of her life. With Vic she attended Minnesota-Dakotas district conventions and international conventions in the U.S, Austria, Canada and France. Other international travel included Italy, China, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland.32

By 2001 what once had been the University’s Division of Home Economics had become, in turn, the Department, then College of Home Economics and then the College of Human Ecology. Evelyn Dose was named one of the “Centennial 100,” to be recognized at the College’s centennial celebration for contributing to its success.

In the mid-1990s Vic Dose fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease; he died in 2002. Surgery in fall 1998 for a blood clot on her spinal cord left Evelyn a paraplegic. Through physical therapy and determination she mastered a walker and continues an active life, aided by Metro Mobility.

She has served as a Goldstein Gallery volunteer, earned the National Association of Extension Home Economists Distinguished Service Award and chaired the Minnesota Home Economics Association History Committee. Her greatest pride is her family – two sons, daughters in law, three granddaughters, and a grandson. For them she wrote and published the story of her life, a 224-page profusely illustrated volume, “Humble Beginnings.”33

Esteros: A generalist who taught many courses while heading the Department of Design, Gertrude Esteros, grew keenly interested in housing, especially its cultural aspects. From experiences and information and photos gathered in European, Central American and Eastern countries she began teaching the cultural aspects of housing in the 1960s, later expanding it to a two-quarter course: Housing in World Perspective. She was a founder and president of the American Assn. of Housing Educators.

In the early 1980s she drew from her housing background to take a leading role in developing 1666 Coffman, a 93-unit condominium housing community near the St. Paul campus for people 55+ who worked at the University at some time in their career. She was the first to purchase a home there.

In 1993, Gertrude Esteros received the Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest honor given to a University of Minnesota graduate.  34


About the author

Harlan Stoehr was assistant professor and agricultural bulletin editor at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s and went on to Midland Cooperatives, the Farm Credit Banks of St. Paul and a Minneapolis advertising agency. He writes of connections with rural Minnesota now and then.

End notes

1. U.S. Census data, 1920.

2. Franklin M. Reck, The 4-H Story, Ames, The Iowa State College Press, 1951

3. Roland H. Abraham, Helping People Help Themselves: Agricultural Extension in Minnesota, 1879-1979. St. Paul, Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota, 1986, 33, 37, 45, 51, 61.

4. Abraham, 109.

5. Reck,

6. Abraham, 110.

7. Verna Mikesh to Harlan Stoehr, Feb. 11, 2009.  Mikesh, Verna, To You, unpublished manuscrip15

8. Dose, Evelyn, Humble Beginning, St. Paul, self-published, 2009, 1, 2, 5, 14.

9. Gertrude Esteros to Harlan Stoehr, Sept. 22, 2009.

10. Mikesh, 14, 15, 17, 18.

11. Verna Mikesh to Harlan Stoehr, Aug. 18, 2009; Mikesh, 19.

12. Evelyn Kern Dose to Harlan Stoehr, Sept. 16, 2009; Dose, 18.

13. Dose, 19, 20.

14. Dose, 23, 24.

15. Dose, 26.

16. Dose, 32, 33.

17.Miller, Ralph, The History of the School of Agriculture 1851-1960, St. Paul, University of Minnesota Institute of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics, 1978, 46; Esteros to Stoehr, Sept. 22, 2009; Feb. 10, July 2, 2010.

18. Mikesh to Stoehr, 2009.

19. Dose, 33, 37; Dose to Stoehr 2009.

20. Dose, 39.

21. Dose, 44.

22. Esteros to Stoehr, 2009, 2010.

23. Reck, 217.

24. Mikesh, 19, 20; Mikesh to Stoehr, 2009, Feb. 11, 2010.

25. Dose, 50.

26. Dose, 51.

27. Dose, 58, 65, 76.

28. Dose, 101, 102.

29. Dose, 104-107.

30. Esteros to Stoehr, 2009, 2010.

31. Mikesh, 20-23, Mikesh to Stoehr, 2009, 2010.

32. Dose, 124-130.

33. Dose, 198, 199; Dose to Stoehr 2009.

34. Esteros to Stoehr, 2009, 2010; Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Archives, Vitae, and Esteros papers, Faculty Information Form, 6 pp, undated.

1 Response

  1. Jackie Fritsch

    I have been searching for a Harlan Stoehr that took a photo of the Reese Farm outside of Humboldt, MN. There article mentions the great grandfather of Howard Reese and names his grandmother Rose Edkins (married John Reese). Just want to know what paper it may have been printed in and if he has any memory of taking the photo. I have the newspaper clipping because my grandmother, married to an Edkins, saved a recipe or something on the back.

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