NFU All-States Camp Stories

While we count down to the kickoff of the 80th Annual National Farmers Union All-States Camp, take a moment to read some memorable stories about how impactful All-States camp has been from some of our past All-States campers. Check back each week through June 21st for more stories from our campers!

Camp Stories from the 1930s & 1940s

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Viola Davy

1937 All-States Leadership Camp, Kansas

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“All States Camp to me was a fair example of what Cooperative Democracy could be. The citizenry of this fine institution were neither subjected to dictatorial rule nor allowed to thrive in anarchistic desire. Mutual understanding and tolerance characterized the relationship between students as well as the administrative staff.

Cooperative business, democratically owned and successfully directed by the group, became an integral part of this Cooperative Democracy. The comradeship, the joyful good times derived from a well-directed program of cooperative recreation was apparent.

There was ‘Beauty Around Us’ – memories of the sublime, tall, magnificent Ponderosa Pines, silhouetted against the brilliant glow of the moonlight – the zephyr of pure, warm air passing over the group in worshipful silence while assembled for the early morning Sunrise Service — the crimson skies at eventide above a green carpet of valley and wall of tree-clad hills, furnishing a beautiful, natural stage-setting for the pageant, ‘March of the Plow.’ These things were part of the Cooperative Democracy I had been privileged to live in for but ten brief days. How I wish it might have been permanent.”

-Taken from a letter to the editor, Salina Jounal, September 23, 1937

Pauline Cowger

1938 All-States Leadership Camp, Kansas

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“One is kept busy going from one most important thing to another most important thing. There are three most interesting classes in the morning with capable and competent instructors. In the afternoon, there is a most interesting assembly, and some leisure time for sports, handi-craft, etc., but it is usually developed that one cannot find the leisure to do the other things.

I would say the key of the camp is ‘knowledge is power.’ I believe there are 11 states registered in so far. Five came all the way from Oregon, and several states have 21 and 20 juniors. Some are well over 1,000 miles from home.”

-Taken from a letter to the editor, Kansas Union Farmer, July 21, 1938

Camp Stories from the 1950s & 1960s

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Alvin Gross

1957 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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Alvin Gross attended All-States camp in 1957 – a week-long vacation from farming, he recalls. That year, getting to camp was challenging. He remembers at one point in the trip the more powerful of the two buses having to push the other bus through the mountains.

Once at camp, Alvin played ball, and attended the dances that were held every night. He played polkas on the accordion for dancing and singing of the camp songs, including the traditional Farmers Union song “Union Button.” To this day, Alvin is a talented accordion player.

A favorite camp memory of Alvin’s was listening to the guest speakers and learning about national agriculture, government and the history of National Farmers Union. One speaker that stood out the most was a World War II prisoner of war. “You could learn so much at camp,” he recalls. He also fondly remembers the close friendships he formed at camp.

Alvin went on to serve as the secretary for his local Farmers Union chapter and continues to support cooperative agriculture in his community.

Ben Vetter

1959 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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Ben Vetter was at All-States Camp in 1959, back when the camp was located at an army base. He remembers the staff showing the campers where the new camp would be built for the following year – the location it still stands today. From the old camp location, they could see the well-known Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Ben remembers guest speakers coming to the camp and teaching the campers about several subjects. One speaker gave a talk about problems with polluted water and the need to protect the environment. At the time, Ben said, he and the other campers didn’t think too much about the speakers’ point of view, but looking back, he recalls the speaker accurately predicted a lot of the environmental problems experienced on our planet today. And the first place he learned about pollution and the environment was at All States Camp.

Ben went on to attend the National Farmers Union convention two years later as a delegate in Washington D.C., though he didn’t think he would make it to the convention, he jokes. Apparently, the bus driver had gotten lost, and they ended up arriving eight hours late.

Ben is married, the father of eight children, and a grandpa to many grandchildren. Fifty-seven years later, he continues to be active in Farmers Union, and is proud to see his children and grandchildren involved in the organization. Ben recently retired after fifty years of farming.

Gaylon Amonett

1964 All-States Leadership Camp, Texas

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“I attended a number of camps but one of my funniest memories was the year I worked as a counselor and I was up late at night and suddenly heard some commotion not too far away. I walked outside with a flashlight to see what was happening and came face to face with a fairly large, hungry black bear. I quickly returned to the hall and the bear ran off as well, obviously as scared as I was. Another funny memory was when I was urged to get up and try my skills at public speaking, some of the folks from the northern states told me that “I spoke with a broken tongue,” referring to my West Texas accent.

I made some lifelong friends at All States Camp, some of whom I’m still in touch with today. The camp changed the direction of my life, pushing me to be more involved than I otherwise would have been with Farmers Union. I’ve remained involved over the course of my life and recently served as a delegate from Texas at the national convention in Wichita.”

Camp Stories from the 1970s & 1980s

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Roger Johnson

1971 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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Roger Johnson attended All States Camp immediately after his senior year at Turtle Lake High School. Johnson had been active in Farmers Union as a youth for years, following the footsteps of his father. Johnson remembers sitting on the bus heading to camp in the Rocky Mountains, and looking forward to meeting people his age from other parts of the country who shared his interest in Farmers Union. “I had immediate feelings of camaraderie and friendship from the first second I stepped foot in camp,” noted Johnson.

Johnson explained that for many campers, All States Camp was the staging ground for leaving the nest and venturing out on their own. “We were all transitioning in our lives from high school to college, or the workforce, and All States Camp was a great stepping stone to that next life adventure,” he explained. Johnson says that his experience getting elected to National Youth Advisory Committee (NYAC) by his peers at All States Camp was one of the first leadership milestone in his life. “As a NYAC member, I attended the Farmers Union National Convention in Houston, and it was honestly a surreal experience,” he said. “I was in awe of the trappings of the national convention and the public policy debate.”

After finishing college, Johnson went on to become the Farmers Union county president, Chairman of the Board at the Turtle Lake Farmers Union Oil Cooperative, and an active member of North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU). “Eventually, that lead to my election as the North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, where I served for 12 years,” said Johnson. He noted that as commissioner of agriculture for the state, he worked closely with NDFU, and they strongly encouraged him to run for president of National Farmers Union. “I won my election, and I love this position that I still hold today,” he said.

Beth Olson

1988 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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“I attended All State’s Camp in Bailey, Colorado during the summer of 1988. I was one of the many North Dakota kids that filled the bus for a long and memorable ride to and from camp.

Twenty-eight years after my camp experience I found myself prepping my daughter for her first trip to All State’s Camp. One memory I shared with her was the story of the “kissing bridge!”

During my time at camp, the camp counselors started telling us on the first day of camp which night we would be continuing with the tradition for all the campers to visit the kissing bridge. I recall some campers did some pre-planning for that evening in lieu of having a random camper kiss them!

Last fall my daughter began her freshmen year at North Dakota State University, and I helped her move into the dorms. My daughter planned ahead for her college housing, and was sharing a dorm room with another Torchbearer from North Dakota. As I was visiting with her roommate’s father, we started talking about our Farmers Union backgrounds. He was from Minnesota and had attended All State’s Camp five years before I had. The first thing he brought up about camp was his memory of the “kissing bridge!”

Camp Stories from the 1990s & 2000s

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Tammy Huber

1991 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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“I attended my first camp in 1991, and hired to be the director of education for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. In that capacity, I met my would-be husband Bruce Krings at the All-States Camp in 1996. I returned to work at North Dakota farmers Union and Bruce finished his studies in Wisconsin.

When I left home in North Dakota, I had no idea what camp would be like. It was really my first chance to see where I fit in the world, what I had that was unique and what I had in common with the rest of the world. I discovered that Farmers Union was an intricate part of my identity and values.

Bruce and I married in 2001 and we have both remained involved in Farmers Union.”

Annie Gerhardt

1994 All-States Leadership Camp, Colorado

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“It’s easy for me to say that All-States Camp was a life-changing experience since I met my husband, Russell Gerhardt, on the bus ride to Bailey in 1994. We were married in 1999 and today, we have three children: Brayden, Jenna and Mitchell. Russell works full time as one of the two Weapons’ Repairers for the North Dakota National Guard at Camp Grafton Training Center. I am a Family Nurse Practitioner, part-time online teacher for the University of Mary, and Captain in the North Dakota National Guard – Medical Detachment Unit.

Russell and I both went to Farmer’s Union Classes and Camps all through grade school and high school years in North Dakota, but we never made it to the same camp until 1994. I’ll never forget the bus ride back to North Dakota since the bus lost a tire – we saw it fly out into the field followed by a lot of thumping! The bus had to wait in Wyoming for over 6 hours for parts. The town opened up a bowling alley where we could hang out and we played Pinochle for at least 4 to 5 hours straight until the bus was again ready to go!

We learned so many life experiences at All-States Camp I don’t know where to start. We focused on counting our blessings – so you know where you started and could move forward of those gifts; the power of one – how one person can make a difference, and the need for teamwork to make even bigger blessings become a reality for many. Today, two of our kids are attending Farmers Union camps and picking up some of the same life lessons we learned.”

Erin Hill-Oban

1999 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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“Amidst the memories of the ridiculous games, headshaking costumes, and breathtaking views I experienced at All-States Camp, I specifically remember the value and process of electing our fellow campers to represent us on the National Youth Advisory Council. Our Education Coordinator at the time pulled me aside prior to the election of candidates and encouraged me to put my name forward. While I felt I might have something to contribute, my fear of failure stopped me from speaking up.

I’ve thought a lot about that missed opportunity, especially over the last year as I was running for the legislature back here in North Dakota. I reached out to that former Education Coordinator to tell her how our conversation 15 years ago has affected me to this day, and many of the friends I made at that time in my life were the same ones cheering me on from across the state and country during my campaign for the state Senate.

Whether it was exposure to the issues that affect rural America or instilling the importance of advocacy, the Farmers Union Youth Program impacts the lives it touches well after our camping years have passed. My involvement in this program and attendance at All-States Camp played a significant role in developing my leadership skills and helping me find my voice long before I ever knew how or for what I’d be using it.”

Josh Kramer

1999 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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“I attended All-States Camp for the first time during the summer of 1999. I was lucky enough to attend with a number of people I grew up with in the Farmers Union youth program over the years – a number of whom I am still great friends with today. One eventually became my wife, Sarah (Huber) Kramer (she still is my wife, by the way).

That summer I was inspired by the passion of the camp staff and by the campers and leaders from other states. My wife-to-be, Sarah, and I were fortunate enough to be on the National Senior Youth Advisory Council. It was an experience of a lifetime and it allowed me to return to Bailey, Colorado the following year, where I was asked by Leesa Witt, National Education Director at the time, to be the advisor for the National Senior Youth Advisory Council throughout my college years. That experience gave me the opportunity to interact on a deeper level with Farmers Union youth and leaders from around the country; it was amazing to see the passion, dedication, and courage of so many.

Of all the All-States experiences, the ones that stand out most are the one-on-one and group conversations. It was those conversations that challenged us all to think, see the world from different perspectives, and to develop the desire to do our part to become advocates for a more “cooperative world” and communities.

Thank you, Farmers Union All-States Camp, and thanks to all of you who have contributed over the years, working so hard to inspire so many.”

Glen Schmidt

2002 All-States Leadership Camp, Minnesota

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“Raised on a dairy farm in Little Falls, Minnesota, Glen Schmidt had a chance to attend 2002 All States Camp before his senior year of high school. He had actively attended the Minnesota Farmers Union Camp since the seventh grade, and he remembers looking forward to meeting campers from all over the country who shared his interests in agriculture and Farmers Union

Glen enjoyed all the activities and team challenges at All States Camp, but one of his most vivid memories was the speech by nationally known author, Jack van der Geest, who shared his experiences of the Holocaust and his ability to survive a World War II concentration camp. “It was a pretty amazing story, in and of itself, and especially coming directly from the source. It made me keenly aware of all the good things I had in my life. I really valued the experience that Farmers Union had provided by allowing us to meet this incredible guy,” Glen recalled of van der Geest’s speech.

Glen remained active in Farmers Union beyond All States Camp. He went on to work for the Minnesota Farmers Union, first, as a Public Affairs Research Assistant, and currently, as their Director of Education.”

Jake Fagan

2002 All-States Leadership Camp, Montana

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“I had just entered college at the University of Montana when I attended my first All-States Camp. It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life, allowing me to meet like-minded people from across the country. Speaking to us at that camp was a gentleman who had survived the Holocaust. He told us about his experience at the concentration camp – in very vivid detail – and how he escaped Auschwitz. It was a wonderful story of survival and helped me put my own problems into perspective!

A lot of friendships I made at camp will be lifelong friendships. Through social media, email and Christmas cards, we remain friends today. I think that when people go to All-States Camp, they share a unique and enjoyable experience and leave with a set of shared values. Today, I work on our family farm and will always cherish those memories. ”

Brittany Jablonsky

2003 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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“All States Camp allowed me to meet and become friends with campers from across the country who, like me, were interested in a variety of important public policy issues. All Staters, being leaders themselves, were eager to engage with each other on policy areas, openly share their opinions and help each other grow.  The camp exposed me to issues I had never really been involved in before, such as the importance of access to reliable and affordable health care that many farmers and other small businesses simply couldn’t get.  
 
To me, Farmers Union had always been a state-level organization, but meeting a staffer from the Washington office at All States Camp introduced me to a whole host of other national issues and a new world of career possibilities.   After that camp, I become a North Dakota state delegate and a national delegate at later conventions.   It seems All States Camp had unleashed a desire to both better understand and then fully engage in the larger public policy arena.  Eventually, I applied for and was awarded a paid internship at NFU’s main headquarters in DC, which led me to a full-time position there after college, where I worked in several different departments. Today, I work on Capitol Hill for a senator who cares deeply about agriculture, and my NFU policy experience has been invaluable to this role.”

Nathan Willer

2010 All-States Leadership Camp, South Dakota

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“So, there I was, at the 75th anniversary of NFU All-States Camp. On the first day I met another fellow who was pretty much exactly like me. We were both very tall, very muscular, had the same sense of humor and of course were EXTREMELY attractive. Some people would mistake us as twins. That fellow was Mason Farber. Mason and I were hiker buddies the day the whole camp scaled that mean, dreaded mountain that is not for the faint of heart. When we got to the top, all the campers of course took their cute pictures looking out to the horizon to prove they completed that near impossible task. Of course Mason and I had no troubles doing it because I’ve climbed the badlands before and he’s scaled numerous hills in South Dakota, which are way more impressive.

When all the campers decided to go back we all lined up, and to our shock, there was a mountain lion looking us over. Mason and I made eye contact and knew this was our destiny. We high fived and approached the beast.  We battled for hours; all we could think about was protecting the other campers. After five hours of battle, the beast began to tire, which gave us the opportunity to make our move. Mason grabbed the beast and threw it right at me like a 98 mph fastball across the middle of the plate. Thanks to his perfect toss, I was able to Kung-fu kick the lion and it flew clear off the mountain. The campers were overjoyed and we went back to the camp main building and enjoyed the rest of our week.”

Rochelle Marie Bitz

2011 All-States Leadership Camp, North Dakota

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“I have been attending Farmers Union camps since I was nine years old and in 2011 had the opportunity to attend the 75th All-States Camp. Not only was I elected onto the National Youth Advisory Council, but I also had the chance to spend an extra day at camp for the anniversary celebration. Since then I have also served as a North Dakota Farmers Union counselor for two years and as an advisory to the National Youth Advisory Council. 
 
Many people have asked me growing up why I attended Farmers Union camp if I did not intend to grow up and be a farmer. My reply has always been that agriculture affects all of our lives and Farmers Union camp taught me many skills that I will be able to use no matter where my career takes me. I learned about leadership, how to take initiative, cooperation, and just how far the study of agriculture reaches. I am grateful to Farmers Union for the part that it has played in my education throughout my life.
 
Leaving All-States camp felt more like a graduation than my high school ceremony. When I returned to All-States camp as the advisor, I felt like a teacher going back to their hometown. I hope to always be able to pass on what Farmers Union has taught me and help to educate others about agriculture.  I was a summer intern for National Farmers Union in Washington D.C., and after I graduated from NDSU in 2015, I knew I wanted to help improve the health of many by helping to make sure that proper nutrition and good quality food is available to all no matter where they live.”

Camp Stories from the 80th All-States Camp

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Lauren Moseng

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

I loved most every minute of this trip. From the hotel, staying up late and bonding, to falling off the swing 10 minutes after we arrived. My memory I’ll remember the most is bonding over new traditions through the state songs.

Alex Farber

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

Being on the National Youth Advisory Council has been the most rewarding experience of my Farmers Union Career. A year of laughter, hard work, and memories is coming to a close with a week full of smiles. I am so beyond thankful for my Farmers Union family. My All-States memory is all of them. Thank you so much, fam.

Hallie Cardinal

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite All-States memory would have to be doing Two Suckers on a Stick during the talent show.

Rachel Weigel

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

The beautiful views around our camp in Bailey, Colorado.

Andrew Cotter

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

Singing Viva La Company the North Dakota way while standing in between Lorenzo and Adam. Coming back from the West Loop hike with the crew and singing in the rain.

Killian Harnish

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

Meeting some of the nicest people I know and becoming best friends and family with them. Cheering at events with my friend Lorenzo. Learning the camp traditions from other states. Winning some games during casino night! Enjoying the NoDak goodnight circle.

Anonymous

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

I have many great camp memories, but my favorite at All-States camp is when I was attempting to sing a song at the talent show. I was unprepared, I didn’t know the words. I was shaking and choking. Then I looked up and every camper was waving their arms back and forth in sync and cheering me on. It gave me he confidence to finish the song and made me wonder why I was nervous in the first place because there was no judgment there. Everybody loves everybody. When you’re down, there are 50 hands helping you up. That’s why I love Farmers Union.

Samantha Zwirner

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite memory was the vesper service because I enjoyed the togetherness that was created by trusting each other by holding hands. Walking around and having soothing music was calming and inspiring. What was even better was having a candle lit and being surrounded by all the people that love you. That is what tugged on my heartstrings, which gave me a spiritual experience.

Anonymous

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

I have made so many great memories this week, but one of my favorites was the Vespar service. It was so beautiful to walk hand in hand with the whole camp. I felt so connected to everyone. With the stars and the mountains all around us, it was truly magical. I felt the spirit of camp and how connected we all and through camp and through Farmers Union.

Morgan Ziesch

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite camp memory is the many games of volleyball played on the 5ft net. I thought all of the games were interesting and a blast even though they weren’t played in ‘innings’. I also enjoyed all of the skits in the talent show but one of my favorites was when Lorenzo was “giving birth.” Lastly, I enjoyed seeing how other states do things and all of the other states faces when we did the NoDak Viva la Company.

Krista Hilleren

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite All-States memory was the post-secret box. A long with getting heavy things off your chest, post-secret opened up our hearts to one another. It reminded us that we all have struggles and are human, even though our bright smiles and laughter sometimes makes it seem otherwise. Post-secret was life altering for me, and I can only hope it was for everyone else too.

Kyle Rosenbrock

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite memory was playing craps with Killian on Casino Night. He had never played before and had a hot hand. He was winning everybody at the table money and making us all laugh as well with his signature yell, “Yeaaahhhh!!”

Sarah Schafer

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite camp memory is playing volleyball. They were great even though I was the only one who could not see over the tiny net. We played many “innings.” I also enjoyed when NoDak sang our version of Viva la Company. The expressions on Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s faces were so funny! I also liked learning new swing dancing moves with Morgan and Carter.

Taylor Aberle

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My All-States memory was when we were playing volleyball on our free time and Braeden thought the sets in volleyball were called innings.

Reece Schulte

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My best memories here were winning the Box Car Races, as well as making the Boxes into Cars. I also very much enjoyed meeting all of the new people and making new friends.

Haylee Rustad

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite parts of All-States were the theme nights. They were so much fun. The food was a little gross but it was all right for the post part. Hiking was so much fun. It’s not every day that you can climb a mountain or dip your feet in a fresh mountain stream.

Braeden Walton

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

My favorite memories from camp are the volleyball games, the box races, shopping in Bailey, going into Denver, learning to swing dance and most of all meeting lots of great people and Karly.

Denise Mushitz

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

All States is always one of my favorite weeks of the year. I love sharing this experience with the group from South Dakota as we continue our Farmers Union Story. I had great Leadership and KP groups that made this year at all-states so fun. I am blessed to have deep relationships with the staff and know that I have Farmers Union family all across the nation. Thank you all for making this All-States experience one that I will hold in my heart always.

Aurora Schuety

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

I loved how everyone showed so much support for the participants of the talent show! It was so great and made me so happy. I also loved how the MFU fam banded together and had a bomb skit for the talent show! Love you all!

Annie Shane

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

I enjoyed being in the great outdoors, playing volleyball and ultimate, and hiking with everyone!

Anonymous

2016 All-States Leadership Camp

That awesome look that the other states had when North Dakota was singing Viva la Company. Winning a ton of money in blackjack then losing almost all of it to Tom.