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Stephanie Keranen is raising a Rock Star, the Himalayan's mom winning Best at Show distinction at last year's fair. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

4-H enthusiast shares knowledge of animals

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entertainment Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Stephanie Keranen travels with a Rock Star, a Himalayan, no less.

The captivating critter with sable accents is but one of many she's nurtured and entered in the Shell Prairie Fair through the years.

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Keranen grew up on a fifth-generation farm west of Wolf Lake. As a youngster, she fed calves and by second grade, she was headed off to the fair, her Hampshire sheep claiming a blue ribbon.

"I was very, very shy," she said of her premiere on the Hubbard County fairgrounds. "I barely talked."

But her experiences boosted her confidence, she said, and buoyed a sense of responsibility.

"You meet people who share your interest," she said. "Friendships form."

Now, at 20, and about to head to Concordia College to pursue a degree in biology, the Green Valley 4-H Club member's role has shifted to helping the kids arriving at the fair.

And, as a 4-H "rabbit superintendent," she hosted an open rabbit clinic Thursday, inviting kids to bring in their bunnies and answer hare-raising questions.

"There is nothing like showing an animal that you've raised and is doing well," said Stephanie, who aspires to do wildlife research, wolves and big cats her chosen subjects.

"It's an amazing experience, just a thrill," she said. "It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun."

Through the years, she has stepped in the ring with sheep - that are rather "formal" fellows, pigs - "easy and fun," turning the arena into a racetrack and rabbits, learning each of the breeds' required poses - elongated vs. scrunched, for example.

"I have no favorite; I like them all," said Stephanie, who also has horses.

Cattle, which she began showinglate in her career, proved a bigger challenge, which she embraces. "I like challenges."

This year, Stephanie showed in the open class. She was planning on bringing in some of her 30 rabbits and possibly a pig.

Her college cohorts were "shocked" at the idea of people going around the country showing rabbits. But she realized she was not alone when she headed to Hawley for a show. It was to open at 9 a.m.; she walked into a packed house at 7 a.m.

But she is concerned for the future of pastime. The larger 4-H clubs are down in numbers, as are the animals arriving at county fairs, Stephanie said.

Leased animals are an option, she advises.

4-H member Clayton Novak leased Rock Star to show at the fair this year.

"4H is a good opportunity for any kid. You don't have to live in the country. And it's not a huge commitment," she said of the monthly meetings.

Meanwhile, she's waiting to learn the results of the Grand Rapids rabbit show where she presented her Silver Martens. She's currently ranked sixth nationally in the "chocolate club."

She's hoping to hop into the Top Five.

To view her website with photos, head to www.free webs.com/stephsrabbitry.

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