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Bernadette Haberle: 'The kids really never change'

A last-minute fill-in job judging 4-H projects in Scott County has turned into a long-term passion for Bernadette Haberle.

Haberle, a Lakeville resident, just wrapped up a week of judging at the Dakota County Fair. She's been a fixture at the local fair and at other fairs around the Twin Cities for the past 25 years, ever since she was recruited to judge Cloverbud projects at the Scott County Fair.

Over the years, Haberle has judged everything from rabbit interviews to canning, but it's the Cloverbuds and their projects she really loves. According to Mary Duncomb, coordinator of the 4-H program in Dakota County, Haberle has been invaluable to the local fair. We sat down with her this week to talk about judging, rabbits and the smiling faces she gets to see every year.

How did you get involved (in judging)?

I've been involved in 4-H with my children and I was a nursery school teacher and they had an opening. Some Cloverbud judge didn't show up in Scott County and they called me one day and they asked me if I'd be interested and I said I could try it, you know, and I loved it. I loved it. I loved working with the -- Cloverbuds are anywhere from 5 to about 8 years old.

What kinds of things did they bring in?

Oh my goodness, their Legos, drawings, some of them have sewing. Some of them did canning. Then, a lot of them had little pets at the same time, too. So brought in little lizards and whatever. Whatever they had they brought in. They weren't limited to any specifics so they could bring in whatever.

Probably pretty cute, though.

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

What was it you liked about it that first year?

Well, for 10 minutes, you became part of their lives. The two of you, we were in the same little world together for 10 minutes. They shared, and you asked them questions, you encouraged them. And you could just see them beam with all the positive feedback you would give them about their project and, oh, it was just wonderful.

And you got a good sense of what's important to them in their lives?

Yes, yes, yeah. And then also, just their little personalities. Each one is kind of a little bit different, some came in real shy and then once you started talking with them, then they would just kind of tell you everything. Others would sit down and they would just start talking, you know, it was just, here I go! I just love everything and everybody! So, that was what was exciting about it.

So you were kind of hooked after that?

That was it, that was it, that was it.

Have you done mostly Cloverbud judging or...?

I've done foods, food preservation, health, safety, banners, home environment, some rabbit interviews, some rabbit quiz bowl judging. Quite a bit.

Kind of a jack of all trades judge.

Well, I mostly focus on rabbits. I've been working with rabbits for the last maybe 20 years.

So when you're doing rabbit interviews, what are you trying to find out?

What they've learned in their project and what they're doing and how much knowledge they have in their rabbit project.

A lot of kids know a lot of stuff about rabbits?

Oh my goodness, my goodness! You know, there's 47 different breeds of rabbits, within them, there's like 26 different varieties sometimes like your Netherlands dwarfs. And the kids know this, they know all this. They know what they eat, they know all the diseases, they know what time of the day they're active, how much water they need. Um, if it isn't just right that day, they can tell by the rabbit isn't quite how it's reacting to the weather, or if it's too cold they lay around, or if it's too hot they just all spread out, and so then they put ice bottles in with them. And so, yeah, you ask them questions like that, and they tell you everything about rabbits.

You do a lot with rabbits yourself?


What do you do?

I have a lot of rabbits out there.

How many?

If you asked me, I probably would say, oh, 30. If you asked my husband, he'd say, oh, I didn't know she had that many! No, I work with 4-Hers and I give a lot of rabbits away and my grandchildren are in the rabbit project, too, and so I work with them. And I put on little workshops. For awhile I was going up to, with Dakota County they had a program where they went to South St. Paul. And for the day you would take up rabbits and the children would come, and each child would take one of the rabbits, and that was theirs for the day. They played with it. So, I did that for awhile. Now I help with the State Fair, and each year I do a little lesson but this year, I'm still helping a little more. And we help the 4-H kids when they first come to the fair, get their rabbits in, and we help them sign up for judging teams and we help them sign up for their demonstrations and their judging. And, so, its a lot of work but it's wonderful.

What is it you enjoy most about it?

The kids, the kids, the kids. And what I think is important is that the kids really never change. Its the faces. But I do think after this year, the smiles are bigger. Just, they were just wonderful, I mean they kept smiling a lot about it, so they were happy.

Why do you think that is?

I don't know. They just all seemed happier this year.

So that's a good thing.

Yeah, it's a real good thing.