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The brother-sister team of Sam and Annika Keller pose with their dog, Ranger, with some of the awards they’ve won in hunting dog competitions. The Keller family has started selling fudge in hopes of helping Sam raise enough money to start his own hunting dog training business.

Sam Keller is 16, and he’s already quite certain what he wants to do with his life. 

With a passion for waterfowl hunting and dogs, his goal already is in sight – to own his own hunting dog training school.

Keller got his first hunting dog, a black lab named Ranger, a few years ago. That passion for hunting, along with training his furry and loyal companion, quickly followed.

“I wanted a hunting dog for a long time, and I really love waterfowl hunting — mainly ducks and geese,” said Keller, who recently moved to the Elk River area with family and attends Maranatha Christian Academy in Brooklyn Center. “I got the dog and wanted to bring it to a trainer because I didn’t know what to do. But I decided to train him myself. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and I found I’m good at it. I love to do it.

“For one thing, the dogs don’t talk back to you. They never get mad at you, but they’re also kind of like people. You can see their emotions, and they understand you. They’re good companions and they act like people a lot, too.”

It didn’t take long for Keller to realize his talent for training dogs.

He quickly rose the ranks from beginner to senior level in high-end hunting dog competitions.

That’s where his entrepreneurial spirit, which admittedly comes from his mother, Janet, comes in. With long-range hopes of opening and operating his own dog training facility, the Kellers knew the next step was raising money. The question was: How?

Time to raise money

The family threw around some ideas and ultimately decided to try selling fudge. The results have been nothing short of amazing, Janet Keller said.

“We started brainstorming and talk about how we can raise some money to get you started. We came up with fudge. We gave it a test run and started asking people ‘What do you think about selling fudge?’ The first response we always get is if we have any with us. I’ve gotten to a point where I carry a cooler with me because everybody always asks.

“The response has been phenomenal. It’s been more than we ever thought it would be. I didn’t know what we were getting into, and it’s been fun. The best part is talking to all the people. It opens up doors for us to go in and talk to people and meet the community.”

After finding a company that makes homemade fudge, the next step was knocking on doors of local businesses in hopes of getting them to agree to sell it.

Weeks of legwork, and providing samples, and “Rangers Homestyle Fudge” was officially in business. The first to agree to help the cause was Jeana Thompson of the Pease Café.

“They came in here as customers and the kids asked me if they could sell the fudge here, and I said ‘absolutely,’ ” said Thompson, who owns the popular restaurant just off of U.S. Highway 169 in Pease. “The customers love the fudge. We treat everybody here like family when they come in, and we love having fun.”

Other businesses soon followed, such as The Pease Mercantile, Prince Gun Shop of Milaca, Merlin’s Family Restaurant and K-Bob Café in Princeton, along with Kemper Drug, Spike’s and Central Auto of Elk River. The owner of Aspen Exteriors in Ramsey heard what the Kellers were doing and donated $500 to the cause.

“We just wanted to say thank you to the community, to Jeana and her family and everyone here in Pease that has been supporting us,” Janet Keller said. “We just moved to the area on Oct. 15. Prior to that, we came in here in August. We came into the café after we found our new home and checked out the local café, and we loved it; Gina and everyone else here has been so great — the businesses and the community that have been so welcoming.”

Sam and sister Annika, who attends Elk River, are the faces of the company. Annika is also known as “Bird Girl” as she helps Sam train Ranger by throwing dummies. The ultimate goal is to raise $100,000, which Janet said would go toward the construction of barns and kennels on the property.

The family continues to look for additional businesses willing to sell the fudge, which is also available on their website (rangershomestylefudge.com).

“My mom has helped a lot. She’s very supportive and wants me to be able to do what I love, which is training dogs and hunting,” Sam Keller said. “If I didn’t have to do anything else, I could just do this. Ultimate goal is to open up my own kennel and do that the rest of my life.”

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