Ruth Klossner (left) poses with dairy farmer Sadie Frericks after Frericks presented her with the Minnesota Milk Producers Association Bruce Cottington Award Aug. 28 at the Minnesota State Fair 4-H Dairy Show in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Ruth Klossner (left) poses with dairy farmer Sadie Frericks after Frericks presented her with the Minnesota Milk Producers Association Bruce Cottington Award Aug. 28 at the Minnesota State Fair 4-H Dairy Show in St. Paul, Minnesota. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    ST. PAUL, Minn. – On Aug. 28, Ruth Klossner was doing the job she has always done for the past 38 years on the first Saturday of the Minnesota State Fair – taking pictures of winners during the 4-H dairy show. Little did she know that this year, her name would also be announced as an award winner.
    “It was a total shock. I didn’t know it was coming,” Klossner said. “I heard (the announcer) say something about presenting an award. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll probably be taking a picture of that person.’ And then she said something about taking pictures. And it made me think, ‘Huh, I think I know what is going on here.’”
    Minnesota Milk Producers Association presented Klossner, who is from Lafayette, with the Bruce Cottington Award during the 4-H dairy show at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.
    According to the Minnesota Milk website, “This award is given out on select years to individuals that have gone above and beyond the call of duty fostering the goals and ideals of Minnesota Milk through their own personal efforts. Additional criteria for the award also includes their involvement in Minnesota’s dairy industry, display of leadership and community involvement.”
    A big part of Klossner’s involvement in Minnesota’s dairy industry has been geared toward recognition of the youth who participate in organizations like 4-H, FFA and the Holstein association. For the past 38 years, this has included taking pictures of many livestock species at the state fair.
    In 1983, Klossner was assigned the job as part of her last few months working for the University of Minnesota Extension.
    “I was told to show up at this time, at this place and take the pictures,” Klossner said. “They gave me the rolls of film, I put them in my camera, I took the pictures, they took the film and I walked away. I never saw the pictures.”
    Klossner never thought anymore about her short stint as the state fair photographer; however, the following summer, she received a call to do it again. Within that year, Klossner had significantly grown her wedding photography business with most weekends already booked.
    “Luckily the state fair weekend wasn’t,” Klossner said. “It was pure chance. From that year on, I kept my state fair weekend open to take pictures of the 4-H kids.”
    Most days are fairly long, sometimes lasting up to 18 hours. In the early years, Klossner was in charge of photographing all species winners except beef. After dropping pigs and rabbits due to conflicts, Klossner’s duties now include taking pictures of winners in dairy, goat, sheep, poultry, dairy showcase, llama, dairy judging and livestock judging.
    Photography has changed for Klossner since 1983. For several years, an extension staff member processed the pictures on the fairgrounds. After that person left, Klossner converted a bathroom in the dairy office of the dairy barn into a darkroom using the equipment she had from home. For many years, she recruited two local boys to help process the photos while she took pictures in the show ring. They continued producing those black and white photos until 1996, when Klossner almost missed the fair due to health reasons but still made it back for the dairy show to continue her streak.
    “They didn’t have the darkroom with the kids that year so they switched to color film,” Klossner said.
    In 2003, Klossner switched to a digital camera, and in 2007, pictures were no longer printed out for 4-H extension agents to take home; rather, they were put on the website to download.
    “It’s a lot less time consuming, but you still have to get the right name with the right picture and hopefully they match up,” Klossner said.
    While photography has changed, the reason that brings Klossner back to the state fair each year has not.
    “I’m doing it for the kids,” she said. “I went through 4-H and have a scrapbook full of memories and news clipping. Kids now deserve those memories too.”
    Her photography experience started when she was an extension agent.
    “When I was working with 4-H kids, we would try to get the newspaper to cover 4-H events, and they didn’t want to bother to come to the events,” she said. “So, I figured out if I take the pictures and give them pictures, they’ll publish them.”
    When Klossner became part of the media, writing for the Lafayette-Nicollet Ledger from 1984 until 2011, she made sure to highlight youth in agricultural organizations.  
    “I probably gave 4-H more publicity than any newspaper in the state simply because I would go to 4-H events and write about them where a lot of newspapers didn’t give them the time of day,” Klossner said. “4-H meant so much to me.”
    Klossner grew up on a dairy farm north of New Ulm in Nicollet County. After working hard one summer, she convinced her parents to buy her a registered Holstein calf named Delight.
    “She did not delight,” Klossner said. “She was no better than our grades, type-wise.”
    Despite Delight’s shortcomings, her first calf named Princess won the 4-H state fair dairy show, the same year Klossner’s mother passed away and her family sold their cows.
    While that sale meant Klossner’s dream of dairy farming diminished, she kept involving herself with dairy over the years. In addition to Klossner’s duties taking pictures at the state fair, she is the Nicollet County Fairy dairy show announcer, is a past member of the Nicollet County Fair Board, was a county extension educator for 13 years, served as secretary and president of the Nicollet County Holstein Association, co-chaperoned the Minnesota group attending the National 4-H Dairy Conference and took time to be the conference photographer, and has been the secretary of the New Ulm Farm City Hub Club ag promotion group for the last 10 years. Plus, she holds a Guinness World Record for the largest collection of cow-related items, which currently numbers 19,721 pieces and counting.
    While she loves all her involvements, she looks forward to the state fair the most. Each years, Klossner is usually at the fair 10 of the 12 days.
    “I’m a fair junkie,” she said. “I love fairs. My family thinks I’m crazy. My sister and brother don’t like crowds. I don’t even see the crowds.”
    Klossner is focused on the kids instead.
    “It’s just fun to see the kids win the awards,” she said.
    And this year, the kids were able to see her win an award too.