John Sethre is a fixture at the West Otter Tail County Fairgrounds.
The West Otter Tail County Fairgrounds in Fergus Falls is like a second home for John Sethre each summer.
The Carlisle farmer serves on the fair board and, for the last nine years, has been the on-site manager helping prepare the grounds not only for the county fair, but also for special events, like the Birack’s Shrine Circus and exotic animal sale.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Sethre’s community involvement. He serves as a volunteer leader for the area’s Young Life program and is a mediator for the farmer-lender program.
It’s a busy schedule, but Sethre isn’t complaining. He enjoys working with and for people. With his ever-present smile and welcoming personality, Sethre puts people at ease as they focus on the task at hand.
He gained those traits growing up in the Carlisle community and is returning that care and guidance to youth and programs in the area.
Sethre was the youngest of Alvin and Mildred Sethre’s three children. It was a close-knit family that worked together on the 400-acre farm where they milked 38 cows. But there was also another family unit — the village of Carlisle.
“Almost everyone in the community was involved in the same things,” he said. “Almost everyone was in the Carlisle 4-H club. Almost everyone in the immediate community attended the town’s grade school from the first to eight grades. And a large percentage attended the same church. You can talk about it taking a village to raise a child and that’s the way it was.”
Families were involved in the activities of the community. If there was a Parent Teacher Association meeting, the entire family attended. The entire family went to the 4-H club meetings.
“My parents were very supportive of everything that we did,” Sethre said.
He showed cattle and was a member of the second-place 4-H dairy judging team at the Minnesota State Fair that earned a trip to Chicago. His sisters were involved with sewing and baking projects.
Sethre graduated from Fergus Falls High School and attended two years at the Fergus Falls State Junior College. He graduated with a degree in plant and soil science from the University of Minnesota and returned to the family farm.
It didn’t take him long to get involved in the community.
He became a 4-H club adult leader and, for 14 years, was part of the three-person management team for the 4-H Food Stand. Around that same time, he was asked to be a volunteer leader for Young Life and, in the mid-1980s, became a mediator in the farmer-lender program.
Much of his volunteer efforts have focused on youth. His easy-going rapport with teens is a reflection of that community spirit he garnered growing up near Carlisle.
That connection he has with youth is based on his experience growing up near Carlisle.
“There was a lot of communication between the families,” he said. “There was a great deal of care and concern.”
And youth “get it” when adults show a real care and concern, he said.
“You can’t hide that,” he said. “Sometimes people, whether kids or adults, might come with an agenda. They might show that they care, but they want something like the kids to join a baseball team or something like that… Kids can see through those motives…Whether it’s a conversation with young people or adults, people sense when there is genuine care and concern. And, if you look at it from a Christian perspective, you do that because we are all God’s children and we should all have that kind of approach to loving and caring for other people.”
He also keeps in mind a comment a friend made to him.
“Say something as simple as saying to someone as you are walking by, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ can mean a lot to people,” Sethre said. “That might be the only positive thing they have heard that day. That person also said, “Don’t you want to be the person who initiates the greeting instead of being the person waiting for a greeting?” Sethre smiles.
“As hard as it is to believe, I was a kid once, too,” he said. “And if you can think back and think of what might appear insignificant to some but was that greeting, just how much that meant. These kids are so excited about life. I don’t want to be the Scrooge in their life.”