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TCU FFA hosts baby animal day for elementary kids
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Elementary school children smile at chicks in the palm of their hands. (Carson Hughes/

Kids on two feet met kids on four hooves at the annual baby animal day.

Hosted by the Tri-City City United Future Farmers of America (TCU), the Thursday field trip was a rare chance for elementary school children to get an up-close look at baby barnyard animals.

Roughly 700 Kindergarten up to fourth grade students from Tri-City United Le Center, Montgomery and Lonsdale traveled by bus in hour intervals to the Le Sueur County Fairgrounds for a first hand education in animal agriculture.

FFA President Kendra Blaschko poses with her miniature horse Candice. The TCU senior introduced the month old foal to 700 elementary school students for Baby Animal Day.

“We like it because it exposes kids to agriculture at a young age and gets them excited about animals,” said Hayley Soweja, Industrial Technology Instructor at TCU High School. “I have students who are seniors who still remember the baby animal fair they went to, so I would say it’s a highlight of their school year.”

Kids gather around the sheep and lamb pen for Baby Animal Day. (Carson Hughes/

All of the animals housed in the fairgrounds were raised by TCU FFA members like TCU FFA President Kendra Blaschko. The TCU senior brought several animals off her Le Center farm including a pen of young goats (kids), black bunnies and perhaps one of the most popular attractions — two miniature horses.

Kids cuddled with black bunnies after waiting in line. (Carson Hughes photos/

A dairy calf rests in its pen between visits from elementary school children.

Blaschko introduced the kids to Candice, a one month foal born around Easter even smaller than the kids who poked their hands through the pen to pet her. The infant horse was playful and a bit skittish, and would occasionally run behind its mother Janelle — who appeared as exhausted as any parent of a newborn.

Chicks warmed up under a heat lamp before the kids got a chance to hold them. (Carso Hughes/

“It’s really fun to see the kids see these animals that they’ve never seen in their life that they probably only get to see on Baby Animal Day,” said Blaschko. “I don’t think I see one kid not laughing or smiling when they come to see any of these animals.”

A piglett enjoys its lunch during Baby Animal Day. (Carson Hughes/

Around 30 TCU FFA members volunteered at the fairgrounds to monitor the animals and help the children. High School seniors Ezy Arroyo and Alex Thieding would take chicks from under a heat lamp and allow each child to hold one in their hand.

TCU FFA volunteer Ezy Arroyo hands chicks off to elementary school students. (Carson Hughes photos/

Also on display was a young white and black spotted dairy calf, a pen with a single sheep and three lambs and a group of piglets eating their lunch. In addition, the children stood in line for a chance to sit in a chair and snuggle up with bunnies and kittens.

TCU FFA volunteers take kids on a hayride around the Le Sueur County Fairgrounds. (Carson Hughes/

TCU FFA freshman volunteer Julia Odenthal holds a piglett for elementary school children to pet. (Carson Hughes photos/

TCU Lonsdale fourth graders Kendall Jiren and Cheikhna Tandia said they both enjoyed petting the kittens the most. Jiren’s favorite was the black cat.

Kids stood in line to hold kittens in their laps. (Carson Hughes photos/

“It fell asleep in my arms,” said Jiren.

Tandia however, preferred the orange kitten.

“It passed the Simba test,” said Tandia. He imitated the pose from the film, “The Lion King,” where the young lion cub Simba is held up high from under its front arms.

Kids pet goats raised on Kendra Blaschko’s hobby farm through the bars of the pen. (Carson Hughes/

After visiting with the animals, each grade level boarded a hayride around the fairgrounds towed by TCU FFA members on tractors.

Camp Omega's new lodge closer to completion
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Nearly 11 months ago, Camp Omega officials stood on black dirt to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on a new adult and family retreat center, named the Omega Lodge. The phase one construction of Omega Lodge is on track to be finished by June.

Camp Omega is located on 99 acres of land, with 7,000 feet of shoreline on Horeshoe Lake. (Michelle Vlasak/

Located in rural Waterville within Le Sueur County, the camp’s $2.6 million addition will feature nine hotel-style rooms with private bathrooms, a large conference room that can accommodate over 200 people, a large lobby area with an overlooking view of Horseshoe Lake and a separate gathering space for smaller groups.

Camp Omega’s Russ Schwichtenberg talks with Corey Conway, superintendent of the construction project in the large conference room, big enough to accommodate over 200 people. (Michelle Vlasak/

Camp Omega Executive Director Bob LaCroix said the new facility will allow Camp Omega to more comfortably meet the lodging demands of today’s adults and families.

“Being able to provide hotel-like rooms to adults and families will give them a private and more comfortable space to enjoy their time with here because, let’s face it, adults don’t want to climb into a bunk bed anymore,” LaCroix said.

The private bathrooms, LaCroix said, would likely be an added attraction for folks.

Camp Omega’s existing five cabins each have a total of 24 bunk-style beds. Each cabin has two bathrooms and three bedroom areas. Another facility used for room and board is the Retreat Center, which offers groups 64 bunk-style beds, with bathrooms located on each level; and bathrooms with showers located upstairs, according to Camp Omega’s site.

The new lodge will include separate gathering space for smaller groups. It could also serve as a lounge for retreat attendees. (Michelle Vlasak/

The new addition joins the existing Hilltop Dining Hall. Phase two of the project will be construction of a second wing to complete the 25-bedroom facility.

Camp Omega introduced a multi-million-dollar capital campaign for the new Omega Lodge in 2015. It was later decided to split the project in two phases. LaCroix said the second phase is estimated to cost $1.4 million.

“Fundraising hasn’t stopped,” LaCroix said. “But the campaign will be rejuvenated once the first phase is up and running; get people here so they can see what’s been done and get behind finishing the project.”

LaCroix said it’s been an exciting project to be a part of on many levels. He said the building is designed to meet the needs of groups, families or retreats, while giving them access to all the benefits of Camp Omega.

‘Rooted in Christ’

Established in 1964, Camp Omega is a Christian retreat facility and summer camp that serves a variety of Christian and secular groups. Camp Omega is “dedicated to nurturing the spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth of people of all ages,” its website states.

The large lobby area of Camp Omega’s future lodge includes a wall of windows that overlook Horseshoe Lake. A cross was incorporated in the design to represent Camp Omega’s mission of discovering and rediscovering what “life in Jesus” means. (Michelle Vlasak/

LaCroix said Camp Omega primarily serves southern Minnesota but also draws people across the state and from the five states surrounding Minnesota.

Russ Schwichtenberg, who works with the Camp Omega gift development, said multiple generations of families have likely attended a retreat at Camp Omega. Schwichtenberg said the general contractor of the

Russ Zellmer, an Elysian native who is general contractor on the project, remembers walking bean rows to pull weeds in hopes to earn enough money to attend camp when he was younger.

Russ Schwichtenberg, who works in Camp Omega’s gift development, points out one of the many windows inside the new Adult and Family Retreat Center.(Michelle Vlasak/

Camp Omega receives support from people and organizations across Minnesota, including the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The new Adult and Family Retreat Center joins the existing Hilltop Dining Hall. A second phase of the project will add a second wing to complete the facility. (Michelle Vlasak/

Funds were raised in many ways over the years. At St. James Lutheran School in Howard Lake, students were challenged by their pastor to see which class could raise the most funds. At a winter water plunge fundraiser in February at Morristown’s Community Center, plungers raised over $33,000.