Aaron Dufelmeier is living the dream, just down the road from where his Extension journey began.
Dufelmeier manages the Extension program in Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott counties. In April, he hosted Dr. Kim Kidwell, dean of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson, interim director of U of I Extension.
From Dufelmeier's Chevy truck, Kidwell and Nickols-Richardson saw rolling fields, Christmas tree farms, peach orchards, ferries, bustling industry, and small communities, including Arenzville, home of the world-famous Arenzville burgoo. Dufelmeier pointed out the area's largest employers, including Nestle, Reynolds, and JBS Meat Packing, which processes 20,000 hogs a day.
Dufelmeier oversees educational programs for five counties he describes as "family oriented, tradition-based, and legacy-ag driven."
Dufelmeier, who grew up on a grain and livestock farm just miles down the road from the Morgan County Extension office, was a 4-H member. "So many opportunities were provided to me, and now I get to fulfill some of those same opportunities and dreams for others," Dufelmeier said.
Dufelmeier believes that being a member of the livestock judging team in 4-H, FFA, Jr. College, and at the University of Illinois helped prepare and shape him into the person he is today.
"We all know and understand the value and importance of decision making and communication," he says. "This is exactly what being part of livestock judging teaches young people."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager
Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.
He says he believes that to be an effective leader it is essential that we learn to be transparent and articulate, and that we must provide factual justification for the decisions we make. "Young people that are part of a livestock judging team evaluate animals and their differences both phenotypically and genetically," he adds. "With the combination of visual assessment in concert with the genetic or performance data of the animals, these students then provide an oral set of reasons or justification for why they placed a class the way they did, and that's a tremendous life skill."
Dufelmeier coaches the 4-H members throughout Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott Counties who wish to enhance their knowledge of the livestock industry and their ability to evaluate the differences in the livestock. He coaches these teams to be confident and competitive all while mentoring these youth to be outstanding young leaders.
Whether it is livestock judging or building a robot, Dufelmeier believes it is the 4-H program that allows young people to pursue their passion and foster their purpose as they mature into adulthood. "Our 4-H members know and understand that each day, they have the opportunity to inspire others," Dufelmeier says. "Our members know there is no greater feeling of satisfaction and no greater reward in life than knowing when you have helped someone in need."
Dufelmeier models the behavior he expects to see from his members. "For nearly 20 years, I have personally witnessed the impact we have on young people's lives and future," he says. "Our 4-H members exemplify a positive 'can do' attitude, with a spirit of enthusiasm and creativity in their work. We believe we can enhance skills like communication, leadership, and responsibility, fueling our youth's passion, compassion, patience, generosity, and dedication."