Photo by Jan Jackola
Ryan (Roo) and Olivia Schmitz, of Perham, were recently recognized by the Red River Valley Emerging Leadership Program.

The Red River Valley (RRV) Emerging Leadership Program (ELP) celebrated its most recent cohort of leaders and a program milestone this spring. A dinner and recognition program at University of Minnesota Crookston recognized participants and celebrated the program’s 40th year.

The celebration included a slide presentation narrated by Jody Horntvedt, Extension educator for the program, who shared the history and journey of the program spanning 40 years.

Horntvedt also highlighted major milestones and invited guests to light a candle at the point where they were connected to the program. Six special guests that evening were part of creating the program in 1985, and several alumni who had significant leadership roles were also present. By the end of the presentation, the banquet hall was filled with the light of candles lit by nearly 100 regional leaders.

Recognized that evening were the most recent program participants, Ryan (Roo) and Olivia Schmitz, Perham, from East Otter Tail County. They, along with individuals from across the region, have taken part in educational sessions since October 2023.

Roo works as a sales associate for Farm Bureau in the lakes and surrounding areas in Minnesota. He also is a part owner of Schmitz Motor Company with his 3 brothers and dad. When he isn’t working, he is typically gearing up for hunting season or is out hunting. He also loves spending time with family and friends.

Olivia works for the USDA office as an NRCS Soil Conservationist. She enjoys talking with producers about their operations and learning about the differences between each individual operation. When Roo and Olivia are not spending time with family and friends, she will most likely be outside with her horses. She also enjoys gardening, sewing quilts, and doing yard work.

During the educational sessions, Olivia and Roo networked with leaders from across the region and gained insight on personal leadership styles, communication, facilitating effective meetings, leading change, and inspiring volunteerism in their communities.

University of Minnesota Extension has coordinated the RRV Emerging Leadership Program since its inception and provides educational content. Extension is currently focused on reshaping leadership programming across the 19-county region in northwest and west central Minnesota to provide more opportunities for leadership development. 

“It is exciting to note that the RRV ELP now has 1,340 alumni,” said Holli Arp, Extension leadership and civic engagement program leader, at the recognition event. 

She also highlighted that in the future Extension will have a continued emphasis on reaching new and emerging leaders, and will provide opportunities for alumni and other more seasoned leaders to hone their skills for addressing important issues in their communities.