by Jim Boyle
The Sherburne County Fair has been around for 124 years, and Marion Salzmann has been part of 61 of them.
No. 62, which starts on Thursday, will be the Elk River woman’s last.
Her contribution to the 125th anniversary celebration includes publishing a history book of the Sherburne County Fair and supervising the open class building for the four-day event. The book will be on sale there, and Salzmann will no doubt be walking down memory lane with people who come by the building to visit.
“It’s sad but good,” she said. “I have been told there is life after the fair.”
Her long run started in 1951 when at the age of 11 she entered the fair as a 4-H participant. The Madison, Minn. native had become a ward of the state two years earlier and a farm family from Elk River took her in as a foster child.
The Bowe family, who had four children of their own and another five foster kids over the years, treated Marion Phyllis Ganseveld as one of their own, and assimilated her into the life of a busy farm girl.
“Being a foster child is not a great solution, but I wouldn’t trade my life for another,” she said, noting her marriage that would have never been and having a family and continuing the circle of life. She and husband Tom Salzmann have seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
She could have pursued a degree from the University of Minnesota on a scholarship as a ward of the state, but she decided her first year there that college wasn’t for her and opted to have and raise a family with her husband.
Eventually, she also became a materials manager for Tescom Corp. in Elk River.
“I never would have gotten that job without 4-H,” she said. “It taught me people skills and common sense. It gave me a good head start.”
She credits her foster parents for getting her involved in youth programming at the Methodist church they attended, the Grange and in Sherburne County 4-H.
She excelled in 4-H.
“I enjoyed the challenge of learning,” she recalled. “It fit me and became a huge part of my life.”
Indeed, she completed between 13 and 20 4-H projects a year while growing up in the program. She said 4-H taught her to accomplish things, how to care for things and how to respect things and people.
She was awarded the 4-H Key Club Award in 1957. This award recognized citizenship, leadership and community service.
She also won at the age of 16 in 1956 the Frank Blair Junior Achievement Award, which recognized her planting of more than 2,500 trees in Sand Dunes State Forest, the construction of eight bird feeders and a deer feeding station she installed as well as tours given to younger 4-H members.
She became the first female to win this award, and helped set a new standard so both boys and girls were selected for the award in the future. She also was featured on television for this award.
Salzmann married at the age of 18 and she and her husband got involved in 4-H leadership immediately. They continued on while raising their own children.
“I think it taught them to stand up for themselves,” she said. “Bullying was never part of the program. They (participants) all had respect for all of life.”
Tom Salzmann was on the fair board for 25 years, while Marion Salzmann was a leader who worked with the youth and served for six years on the fair board when she gave up her role as horse project leader.
And come fair time, the whole family worked the fair.
She says kids who are kept busy don’t have time to get into trouble.
“I think kids nowadays have too much free time, and electronics hasn’t helped,” she said. “Programs like 4-H, Scouts and others challenge people to do better.”
Salzmann was one of the seven Ganseveld children to become wards of the state. Five of them were adopted, including two who were placed almost immediately into families wanting to adopt. The oldest, 11 years old at the time, was taken in by a foster family that lived on a farm in Annandale.
It was a rough couple years for Salzmann, who remembers running away after becoming homesick. She slept in a window well of a building off of St. Anthony Park.
Now, she can’t imagine living anywhere other than Elk River. “I am proud to be part of this community I love,” she said.
All four of Salzmann’s children grew up in Elk River and graduated from Elk River High School.
All of her biological siblings have been reunited and gather every so often.
Her next venture is to serve on the Sherburne Historical Society’s board of directors, where she will offer her people skills, common sense and zeal for all things history.
She’ll never forget her years with 4-H.
“What makes me smile inside the most is watching a 7-year-old child pick up their entry with a purple ribbon and don a smile that just doesn’t quite end. It’s all about the next generation.”