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Alumni Feature: Nick Kukowski & Pam Frederick

While all 4-H alumni stories are a pleasure to hear, some are just too good to be true. I hope you'll enjoy this two-for-one Minnesota 4-H alumni feature...a (hilarious and heartwarming) conversation with husband and wife duo Nick Kukowski and Pam Frederick.

Erin Kelly-Collins: Let's start out with the basics...what was your home 4-H county and how many years did you each participate?
Nick Kukowski: I was in Clay County 4-H for 13 years.
Pam Frederick: I spent 10 years in Pennington County 4-H.

EKC: What is a favorite memory from all those years in 4-H?
NK: My favorite memories involved leadership camps.  Most of the camps and adventure initiatives I attended were during my teenage years, and I think they really helped develop me into the person I am today.  It was always nice to meet kids from outside our county - whether at the cluster or district level.
PF: Wow, there are far too many memories to select just one! I'm sure for Nick his favorite memory would be meeting me!!  
NK: Yes, Pam had the privilege of meeting me, so that was and will always be her favorite memory.

EKC: What were your primary 4-H project areas, and did you participate in any county/state programs?
NK: I was mostly a rocket guy.  I dabbled in breads and woodworking a bit, but I was mostly devoted to rockets.  After building some of the more complex rocket packages available commercially, I wanted to build my own.  The last couple of years I did rocketry, I got into a little trouble - I built a rocket engine that wasn’t exactly 'legal'...when I took my project to state fair, I was disqualified because my rocket engine wasn’t safe.  Don't worry. I rarely launched my rockets - it was more of the process that I enjoyed. 
PF: For projects, I primarily focused on photography and youth leadership.  One year, I dressed up my two younger sisters and photographed them at dawn, by the river close to our farm.  The picture earned a Grand Champion at the State Fair, which was pretty awesome. Along with projects, I was also a County and State Ambassador.  Lots of planning, organizing, and facilitating 4-H youth locally and statewide. 

EKC: Why do you think Minnesota 4-H is great? 
NK: It’s not great.  It’s the best!  4-H is awesome because you have carte blanche to do whatever you want.  In Minnesota - or any 4-H - you can do anything and everything.  4-H is one of the few organizations where you are able to pursue your own interests, whatever they may be, at your own time and pace.  There is guidance along the way, but you are mostly self-taught.  I truly believe teaching yourself about a subject you enjoy is one of the best things.  Anytime you focus on something you enjoy, you gain a deeper understanding about the initial concept and you learn about so many other side concepts at the same time.  For example, rocketry teaches about craftsmanship, but you also learn about aerodynamics, engineering, structures, etc.  These added benefits are what led me to my current career.  4-H has been a true catalyst in my life. 
PF: "Great" is a gross understatement in terms of how I feel about the program!  I wouldn't be the person I am today without 4-H.  4-H gives kids the ability to really hone in on their hobbies and interests and explore them on their own terms.  This is why I was able to flourish in photography and leadership.  4-H gives you the ability to step out of your comfort zone and grow into the person you want to be.  It gave me the opportunity to meet people across the state who were like-minded and we helped each other grow.  Some of the best friendships I have to this day are friendships I made in 4-H.

EKC: What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field? 
NK: My passion is baseball.  I can recite stats from 1966.  Why?  I don’t know.  I just love baseball.  It’s such a simple game, pure and perfect.  I’m a huge Minnesota Twins fan - I have been since I can remember.  Growing up, I remember my dad grilling steak and baked potatoes, listening to Herb Carneal and John Gordon.  As for work, I work to enjoy the things I love.  I don’t work to receive intrinsic benefits, like a teacher.  Simply put, I work for a paycheck so I can hang out with my lovely wife, or travel, or anything else.  I am an estimator building wind turbines across the country.  It is an interesting, unique job, and I do enjoy it.  It offers different opportunities and I’m able to use some different problem solving skills. 
PF: Other than Cleveland Browns football, which I'm sure isn't what you're asking about, I love people.  Being a massage therapist helps me create one-on-one relationships built on mutual trust with realistic expectations for maintaining overall wellness.  As an LMT, I get to see people in a state no one else really does: true peace. People come to the office looking forward to getting relief from headaches, shoulder pain, or a whole host of reasons.  They are able to leave their problems at the door and find refuge.  It can be a very gratifying job.

EKC: How did your experiences in 4-H help prepare you for what you are doing today? 
NK: I am confident in everything I do.  I learned invaluable social skills, confidence, and public speaking skills through 4-H.  I worked as a server through college.  To be successful as a server, you have to approach total strangers and engage them.  Without learning the aforementioned skills in 4-H, I would've left college with a lot more debt.  These skills continue to be useful to me today. 
PF: 4-H is all about professionalism, which can easily be applied to every aspect of life.  Being in countless small groups also helps develop the ability to read people.  With this experience to draw upon, it's easy to tell a person's comfort level and respond appropriately.  This ability alone can make or break a professional relationship, especially when working in a field where almost all your relationships are one-on-one, like mine are. 

EKC: What advice do you have for current 4-H’ers (and future alumni)? 
NK: Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you in 4-H.  Do NOT be afraid to take risks - 4-H is about learning and growing.  I honestly cannot think of a safer, more comfortable environment to take risks and go outside your own box. 
PF: Don't waste the time you're given right now!  Seize the opportunity to explore every avenue, especially the project areas you're not sure if you like, but think you might!  There's no time like right now to find out!  Ultimately, this could help you narrow the scope of possibilities for your future, giving you the ability to hone in on what you love to do and uncover passions you didn't even know you had!

EKC: What are some personal highlights from being in 4-H? 
NK: Meeting my wife about 15 years ago (my raw animal magnetism attracted her so strongly she simply couldn’t resist)...okay, but seriously, I met Pam through 4-H and we've recently gone to two weddings of fellow 4-H'ers. Pam and I still stay in touch with a lot of our 4-H friends.  The majority of our circle of friends are 4-H'ers - our relationships have held strong, even after 10 years.  At one point in college, I lived with five other guys; four of them were 4-H'ers.  4-H gave me an avenue to meet some uniquely interesting people that I continue to thoroughly enjoy being part of my life.
PF: All 5 of the children in my family were 4-H’ers!  We all traveled the country doing CWF, state exchanges, the National 4-H Convention, all kinds of craziness!  We all had so much fun and had a plethora of experiences and interests.  Nick and I met through 4H.  Clearly, he was head over heels for me the moment he saw me.  He's always wanted me.  Please put that into print!

EKC: When you're not working or attending weddings of fellow 4-H'ers, how do you two spend your time?
NK: I love to travel.  I worked my booty off in college so I was able to take a couple summers off and just explore.  I’ve had the opportunity to spend a couple of months wandering through Europe among other places.  I have a life goal of hitting 100 countries and hit all 7 continents.  I’m not quite halfway through the 100 countries, and I have one continent left - Antarctica.  Pam and I will make it there eventually, but we have other things that are a bit higher priority. Pam and I are foster parents. We currently have two kids - little boys - hanging out with us.  It’s not always awesome.  But a lot of the time, it sure is!  Pam and I have been blessed, and we do foster care to share our blessings with others, particularly those who are the most vulnerable.



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If you would like to be a Minnesota 4-H Featured Alum, please share your story using this online form. And if you'd like to nominate somebody you know please contact Erin Kelly-Collins (erinkc@umn.edu).

Erin Kelly-Collins
Alumni Coordinator
Minnesota 4-H Foundation


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