by Jim Boyle


When COVID-19 struck, Arabelle Rohs, of Zimmerman, turned to her passion for scrapbooking to pass the time.

The then Zimmerman Middle School student began chronicling the pandemic and how it was impacting life, not realizing life as people knew it was about to get turned upside-down in countless ways.

“It occurred to me early on what I was experiencing was so different from everyone else around me,” she said. “I wanted to document that in some way.

“The end product would be a time capsule or a letter to my teacher.”

Like most 4-H projects, it turned into something much more. Rohs was one of 110 4-H exhibitors at this year’s Sherburne County Fair, a number that’s down largely due to the pandemic. But her work and the work of her peers was no less amazing. The past year has been a mix of virtual 4-H meetings and in-person ones as the pandemic’s grip has loosened. This past weekend was a chance to gather a community to celebrate and  make memories at the 2021 Sherburne County Fair.

When these kids grow older and become parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, they will still be talking about 2020 and 2021. Rohs will also have her scrapbooks to reflect on if and when her memory fades.

“It has always bugged me when things are not documented properly,” Rohs said of her first major experience scrapbooking. It started on a family vacation.

“I was making sure to get photos of everything and I was journaling in a diary,” she said.

For the COVID-19 scrapbook she sought contributions from more than 200 people and got about a 14% return rate.  

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but each person sent me text,” she said. “I was hoping for scrapbook pages. That did not happen, so I turned each of these pages into a layout.”

She added pictures, artwork and her own creative flair. She highlighted what people did to keep their spirits high, what it was like not to be able to hold hands with loved ones and the many challenges that surfaced. She included headlines ripped from newspapers, offered comparisons of COVID-19 with other health crises around the world and shared how the boundaries between work and home blurred. She also included postcard responses she got and information that came via letterhead from local businesses.

And when she filled one scrapbook, she started another. Little did she know she was embarking upon a project that would span three calendar years.

She won a grand champion ribbon for her efforts at the 2021 Sherburne County Fair this past weekend, but she’ll pass on entering it into the Minnesota State Fair until next year when she plans to add chronicles for the rest of 2021.

“I do not think I would have done it if I known it was going to be this big of a project,” she said. “I need to set an end date and just be done so I am not doing this the rest of my life.”

Rohs won reserve champion ribbon for a separate scrapbook she made to see how many scrapbooking techniques she could try.

“It’s essentially a diary,” she said.  “Each week I did four entries, mostly on 4-by-6 cards,” she said, noting it was only her second paper scrapbook. Most of hers have been digital scrapbooks. She won a state fair grand championship for a scrapbook at the last Minnesota State Fair.

There are six 4-H clubs that participated in the Sherburne County Fair: Refuge Rangers, Super Fun Seekers, Home Explorers, Trail Blazers, the STEM Club and Busy Bees. The Sherburne County 4-H program will send dozens to the state fair this year with everything from craft projects and woodworking to livestock.

At its core, Danielle Ganje, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator in charge of 4-H Youth Development for Sherburne County, says 4-H is all about helping kids find their passions.

“It gives them a chance to explore their interests and dive deep into areas they find that they’re passion about,” Ganje said. “We have a saying that it’s all about helping kids find their spark. I feel like my job is helping to facilitate that.”

The philosophy that underscores everything is learning by doing.

“It’s hands-on learning opportunities,” Ganje said. “And having fun without realizing you’re learning along the way.”

Along the way, the youth involved develop leadership skills, whether they are vocal leaders or they serve as mentors or leaders to younger kids.

“Even if you’re involved with animal project you’re learning just as much about leadership as you are about training the animal,” said Ganje, who talks of her 4-H’ers with the pride of a mother.

Rohs, who also entered her llama in livestock this year, is a shining example. She learned that’s a much bigger commitment at the fair, having to be there when the fair opens, when it closes and for all four days. It was also the most fun she had at the fair.

“You develop a friendship and look out for one another,” she said of her peers. “I also love getting my llamas out. They’re like a magnet. As soon as they’re out, there are all these people interested.”

Rohs is not the only shining star. Ganje also raves about others like Noah Savage, who constructed a strawberry planter that is sending him to the state fair; and Katy Berning, who won a grand champion ribbon for a photo of the hands of her sister, mother and grandmother just days before her grandmother’s death to have a cherished keepsake from her last visit with woman she was named after.

Ganje even had a favorite cow at the fair. It was Goergie, who was presented by an 8-year-old girl named Kaitlyn Frank, of Baldwin Township.

The kids with rocketry projects and robotics also win praise from her. The list goes on.

Fairgoers will have Rohs’ scrapbooks to look at to review 2021, and many more projects and livestock to see. Provided the pandemic doesn’t rear its ugly head again next year.

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