August 10, 2022 at 2:47 p.m.
Uhlenkamps reflect on years of area volunteer work
A couple of days before the Stearns County Fair, Lyle and Marilyn Uhlenkamp got a phone call from Marianne Walker, the 2021 Minnesota Outstanding Senior Citizen, letting them know they had been nominated as the 2022 Stearns County Outstanding Senior Citizens. On July 28, the Uhlenkamps took to the Heritage Stage at the Stearns County Fair in Sauk Centre to receive their plaques and well-earned applause.
Because the Outstanding Senior Citizen awards are no longer being held at the state level, the Uhlenkamps will not be advancing in competition. However, they are happy with the recognition they have received, even though they do not consider their work to have been anything extraordinary.
“We just figure it’s normal,” Marilyn said. “We haven’t done anything so outstanding; we just figure that’s what you do if you belong to a community like ours.”
One of six children, Marilyn grew up in and graduated from Sauk Centre; after a year of working in the Sauk Centre High School office, she moved down to the Twin Cities.
Lyle was raised in Westport on a dairy farm as one of 10 children, later working in the Twin Cities before getting drafted in 1961, returning to the cities a couple of years later to drive truck.
“I got out (of the military) on the day Kennedy was assassinated,” Lyle said. “It was a little scary; everybody that got out that day thought, ‘We’re going to get called back,’ but that didn’t happen.”
Lyle and Marilyn met in the Sauk Centre Coliseum; they married in 1966 and, with the help of Marilyn’s family, they began dairy farming near Sauk Centre in 1972. Their three children attended Holy Family School in Sauk Centre and eventually got involved as third-generation 4-H members; Marilyn’s father had been part of 4-H before her, and Lyle had also been involved as a child.
The Uhlenkamp children’s 4-H involvement led to Marilyn starting as a project judge in the 1990s and, with Lyle’s assistance, she was soon judging at the county and state levels. They did not really think of their work as volunteer service.
“It’s just something you did as a family,” Marilyn said. “With 4-H, everybody in the family is involved. There’s no time for boredom when you’re in 4-H.”
Marilyn continues judging 4-H projects today; she mainly judges Stearns County but has helped in other counties as well. She mainly judges food, clothing, creative arts and Cloverbuds projects, staying out of areas like robotics and photography as they are not within her area of expertise. Marilyn remembers that, when she started judging, there were more children whose submissions involved gardening, clothing and model rocketry.
Around the same time, Lyle was serving on the Ashley Township Board. He held the position for a few years before his resignation.
“(The township meeting) was always on Tuesday, so you couldn’t cut hay on Monday because you had to go to that meeting,” Lyle said. “It puts you back to only Wednesday. When my son was home, it worked, but when he left for college, I just couldn’t do it.”
In 4-H, Marilyn also served on the advisory committee and was the club leader for several years; she and Lyle also helped make the food stand in the 4-H building at the Stearns County Fairgrounds. Outside of 4-H, Marilyn was a member of the Stearns County Extension Homemakers and was their president for a year, and she was also a township election judge. After their children had moved out, she worked at the then-new Alexandria Target for nine years, and in Sauk Centre, she taught religion at Holy Family School and worked on a number of parish committees.
Marilyn has been a member of the Foster Grandparent program for 17 years. Additionally, Lyle donates his time at his daughter’s daycare, where the children often call him Grandpa Lyle.
“I’m grandpa to I don’t know how many,” Lyle said. “In fact, I was grandpa to a kid who is now our lawyer.”
The Uhlenkamps maintain a close relationship with Holy Family School; not only did their three children go to school there, but so did three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren will be there in the fall. Lyle has made wooden items for the HFS Springfest sale, and the school will call on Lyle if they have woodworking projects such as bookshelves, chests of drawers or benches.
“They pay for the material, and I just donate my time,” Lyle said.
Lyle and Marilyn have also been involved with the Sauk Centre Area Historical Society for many years, Lyle serving as treasurer for six years. Closer to their front door, the Uhlenkamps sometimes drive their neighbors for doctor’s appointments and other needs, and they help maintain the flowers around Lynx National Golf Course.
Additionally, the Uhlenkamps are part of the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, helping with their booth at the Stearns County Fair and their annual rummage sale. Finally, they are both lifelong members of the Minnesota Adult Volunteer Association.
While they are honored to be recognized for all they have done and continue to do, the Uhlenkamps do not consider their efforts to be anything special.
“There are a lot of people in our community who probably do more than we do,” Marilyn said. “A lot of people are behind the scenes; you don’t know that they’re doing it. We don’t feel we’ve done anything that outstanding.”