FARGO, North Dakota — Though Dean Aakre spent less than a year in front of a high school classroom, he taught thousands of North Dakota youth about agriculture and a host of other topics during his nearly 40-year career with North Dakota State University Extension.

Aakre, NDSU Extension 4-H youth development specialist, will retire Jan. 14, just more than 38 years to the date he began his career with the organization. Aakre, who graduated with a two-year associate’s degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota–Crookston in 1975 and a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education degree from NDSU two years later, was hired as an assistant Extension agent in Stutsman County, North Dakota, on Jan. 3, 1983, and worked there until 1987.

Aakre taught agricultural education at Jamestown (North Dakota) High School for 11 months after leaving Extension, before returning to the organization in 1988 as Center for 4-H activity coordinator.

His job then was — and still is, despite the eventual change in job title — to prepare and coordinate 4–H contests, including livestock, crops and range judging.

“Kind of across the board, whatever was going on,” Aakre said.

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Aakre performed his job as a judge with patience and an even-temper, no matter the pressure on him, said Brad Brummond, NDSU Extension agricultural agent for Walsh County. Brummond, who often worked with Aakre on land and crops judging, rarely saw Aakre get flustered, no matter how intense the scrutiny of those watching the competition, Brummond said.

“Dean was a very well-organized person who worked well under pressure,” Brummond said. “He’s a great guy.”

Given Aakre’s calm demeanor and ability to not get “rattled,” Brummond intended to retire before him so he wouldn’t have to judge contests without Aakre there, Brummond joked.

“He beat me to the draw,” he said, with a chuckle.

In today’s 4-H, Aakre judges not only agricultural contests, but a variety of others, including projects that use technology, Aakre said. No matter the projects' focus, they teach youth valuable skills, he said.

“Projects are a tool to use to develop skills they will use throughout life,” Aakre said

“During his career as a 4-H Extension youth specialist, Aakre has seen an increase in the number of non-farm youth involved in the organization. He estimates that about half of North Dakota youth who participate in 4-H are from small towns and cities around the state and the other half live on farms.

“The basic program is still very much the same. I think the people who really get involved in 4-H learn skills, self-confidence, public speaking,” Aakre said. ”Even if they don’t participate in a contest outside of their club or county, they take on responsibility within the club.”

When Aakre reflects on his long career with 4-H, he doesn't have to ponder what aspect of his job he enjoyed most.

“Ultimately, what it comes down to is the people, the opportunity to work with terrific people,” he said.

Aakre intends to continue his work with people in his retirement, through volunteering and spending time with his family and extended family.