The 'perfect job': Olson finishes her last Wadena County Fair

“I am a gardener so that was an interest to me, love working with the kids and the thing with extension it’s not just this every day’s the same. Every day is different, all year long,” said Bunni Olson, University of Minnesota Extension office manager for Wadena County for 35 years.

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At her 34th and last fair, office manager Bunni Olson categorizes results from the 4-H shows on June 17, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal

If you’ve received a 4-H ribbon at the Wadena County fair, Bunni Olson has made sure you’re registered, had the ribbons ordered and sent your results on for the state fair. She’s worked as the University of Minnesota Extension office manager for Wadena County for 35 years.

Alongside 4-H youth development educator Kim Dailey’s first fair, the 2021 fair is Olson’s last before she retires in February.

“I’m kind of excited, and then when I think about it sometimes … I’m sure I’ll miss parts of it but … after 34 years it’s nice to pass the baton onto somebody else,” Olson said about her number of fairs.

When Olson joined the extension office in 1987, she started learning the ropes of everything extension related—and now she offers the next person two massive, guiding binders on running the office year-round. She hopes they will be able to just walk through her detailed notes.


Olson (left) works through one of her binders at the fair. Photo courtesy Wadena County 4-H, 2021

The extension office highlights outreach and research including on horticulture, insects, home economy, food preserving and 4-H. The county originally had two educators, for home economy and agriculture and horticulture, who both worked on 4-H. When the extension moved to regional offices, a big shift of educators retiring or moving left the county “alone,” as Olson said. She also decided to step into the role of answering horticulture questions as a Master Gardener .

“Not that I’m an expert by any means but it gave me an outlet to research that for them,” Olson said.

Each March, the work for the county fair begins as ribbons are ordered and judges are set. In the weeks before the fair, Olson enters projects, prints exhibit cards and judges’ sheets and many more aspects that fill a binder. During the fair, the registration continues, exhibits are organized and champion and reserve winner lists are shared.

“Bunni is the best ‘behind the scenes’ person that I could ask for, and I'm so blessed to work with her,” Dailey said in an email. “She knows the people, the community, the ins and outs of 4-H protocol and the yearly schedule of events. She has meticulous organizational skills and keeps me on track with what should be done in a timely manner. Wadena County 4-H will miss her terribly!”

A sign in the Wadena County 4-H building thanks Olson for her time with 4-H. Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal

There are far too many friends and memories to count from her 34 fairs, but the fair following the 2010 tornado is a special one. After the destruction of over half the fair buildings, the fair went on about one month after the tornado.


“We thought, ‘OK this is it. We’re sunk, the county fair’s going to be done,’” Olson said. “Everybody rallied together, cleaned up the grounds, and I think we had one of the best fairs we ever had.”

The 4-H exhibit hall was one of the buildings destroyed, though the food half of the building remained intact. In the hall’s place a large white tent went up for the food side, and the non-livestock projects went into the food building.

“We had just people packed in there just sitting there, visiting, they loved it. So many people came out to see, I think, the damage,” Olson said.


While there are a lot of spreadsheets Olson spends her time with, she loves the creative opportunities like posters and fliers.
“This has really been the perfect job for me,” Olson said. “I am a gardener so that was an interest to me, love working with the kids and the thing with extension it’s not just this every day’s the same. Every day is different, all year long.”

Throughout the year, you’ll also find Olson working on 4-H fall enrollment and their awards program, the fair board, answering questions as a Master Gardener and supporting home study groups. Wadena County has 11 home study groups, which Olson does fall enrollment, copies of monthly lessons and mailings for.

“Bunni would type the information and prepare the lesson booklets, check for mistakes, and even double check with professionals in the field making certain, our information was correct,” Sandra Gould, retired President of the Wadena County Home Council, said in an email. “She went beyond what was expected, helping to educate the women of Wadena County with up-to-date information in the lessons we enjoyed at our meetings.”

When Olson officially retires in February 2022, she plans to spend time at their lake cabin with her husband Ross, relax and visit their grandchildren more.



Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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