County 4-H educator receives national award


When Heather VonDielingen found out last spring she had won an award, she was completely surprised.

The Purdue Extension Jackson County 4-H youth development educator received an Achievement in Service Award from the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development professionals (NAE4-HYDP).

“I was humbled to receive this award, and it was very special coming from my Indiana 4-H extension educator colleagues,” VonDielingen said. “To be honest, when I found out I received the award last spring, I had to ask another 4-H educator how I received it.”

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She said she feels honored to be acknowledged for the work she has done for the Indiana 4-H program the past five years.

The national award was announced and presented during the virtual NAE4-HYDP conference Oct. 21.

Three 4-H educators with three to seven years of experience in 4-H youth development are selected each year from Indiana by past Distinguished Service Award recipients.

Besides VonDielingen, the other two recipients in Indiana were Lesley Lodmell in Lawrence County and Abby Morgan in Montgomery County.

“Award winners are chosen based on their organizational leadership skills and educational programming efforts. Educators receiving the award exhibit leadership at the county, area and state levels,” VonDielingen said. “It is a true honor to have been chosen for this award by my peers.”

VonDielingen said she works with surrounding counties in the area to plan 4-H camp, career development events and volunteer trainings.

“I will be celebrating five years as the 4-H youth educator in Jackson County on Jan. 4, 2021,” she said. “I have also been serving as county extension director since December 2018.”

VonDielingen said she enjoys collaborating with Purdue Extension educators throughout Indiana to deliver educational programs to a variety of audiences.

She currently lives in Seymour with her husband, Grant, and newborn daughter, Marin.

“We live in the country at the hub of the family farm operation, VF Farms,” VonDielingen said. “We plant and harvest corn, soybeans and wheat in addition to maintaining a cow/calf operation. We enjoy having mother cows and calves on the farm.”

She has always had a career as an educator.

“I graduated from Concordia University Ann Arbor with a degree in elementary education, major in language arts, minor in speech and a Lutheran teaching diploma,” she said. “After college, I moved to San Francisco, California, to teach second grade at West Portal Lutheran School.”

VonDielingen said she enjoyed her time teaching in the Bay Area and was blessed with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean from her classroom window.

She had many youth development experiences in San Francisco that shaped her into the educator she is now.

Among other organization roles and activities, VonDielingen taught second grade for seven and a half years before moving back to Jackson County in December 2015.

“In the summer of 2015, I graduated from Concordia University Irvine with a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration,” she said. “My career plans included becoming a Lutheran school principal, but those plans changed as I was preparing to move back to Jackson County in 2016 to get married.”

She was home for the Jackson County Fair in 2015 and a former 4-H educator, Pam Hess Baker, mentioned to her that the 4-H educator position was open in Jackson County.

“Pam encouraged me to apply for the job knowing my passion for education and having just finished my master’s degree,” VonDielingen said. “The next day, I hopped on a plane back to San Francisco, applied for the job online, interviewed virtually and in person and moved across the country in December to start my career with Purdue Extension.”

She said she loved teaching but felt her skill set could be used to make a larger impact, so that is why she pursued a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration.

“My career with Purdue Extension allows me to make an impact on an entire community and not just one school,” she said. “With 4-H, youth are encouraged to explore a variety of educational opportunities based on their interests and to explore many different project areas that are not typically offered in the formal school setting.”

Overall, VonDielingen enjoys helping youth pursue their passions and connecting them to experiences to further their interests.

As a youth, she was a 10-year member of the Jackson County 4-H program and enjoyed her time in the Leftovers 4-H Club and participating in Junior Leaders.

“I credit my time in Junior Leaders for cultivating my leadership skills at an early age,” she said. “One of my favorite 4-H memories was attending 4-H camp each summer.”

She said her parents made it a priority for her to attend each summer, and she loved the memories and friendships she made over the years at camp.

“Perhaps one of my favorite 4-H memories was being crowned 4-H queen in 2003 while Grant VonDielingen was crowned 4-H king that same year,” she said. “We spent the entire fair week handing out ribbons during livestock shows and representing the 4-H Junior Leaders at several different fair events.”

Who would have thought they would reconnect years later and get married in 2016, she said.

As for her award, VonDielingen would like to thank all of the Purdue Extension Jackson County staff members and 4-H volunteers.

“We would not have the reach we do in Jackson County without their leadership and support of the program,” she said. “It takes both staff members and volunteers to have a successful 4-H youth development program.”

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