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Park Rapids veterinarian awarded for work at state fair birth center

Local veterinarian Kevin Haroldson (right) will be honored with the 2016 Distinguished Veterinary Service Award for his dedication to the Minnesota State Fair's Miracle of Birth Center. (Submitted photo)

Delivering 85-pound calves, huge litters of piglets, plus lambs, goats, ducklings and chicks at the Minnesota State Fair has earned a local veterinarian praise from his peers.

The Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) is awarding the 2016 Distinguished Veterinary Service Award to Dr. Kevin Haroldson, owner of Back Roads Vet Clinic in Park Rapids.

He'll be honored at the 120th annual MVMA convention in Minneapolis this weekend.

"My wife will dress me up," joked Haroldson, who prefers the quietude and isolation of northern Minnesota.

The award "recognizes those who have performed outstanding services to the veterinary profession and have contributed to the well-being of animals," according to a MVMA press release.

Haroldson is one of three veterinarians receiving this year's award — all for "their dedication of time and sweat to the Minnesota State Fair's CHS Miracle of Birth Center over the last several years."

The state fair's No. 1 attraction is Haroldson's "secret" passion.

In 2013, a colleague invited him to volunteer at the CHS Miracle of Birth Center. Haroldson worked a couple four-hour shifts — and quickly became one of the center's six directors. Large animal obstetrics and reproduction are his specialities.

Dr. Florian Lederman, one of the center's founders, was Haroldson's hometown veterinarian who inspired him to join the profession.

The birth center is a one-of-a-kind agricultural education exhibit that draws tourists from around the state, U.S. and the world, Haroldson said.

"We are the ag outreach to the state."

Between 80,000 and 100,000 people visit the center per day to witness live animal births and learn about ag production.

"Ninety-nine percent of them really basically have no clue," Haroldson said. Many people, especially urbanites, are "so out of touch with agriculture. Kids have no connection to farming anymore and don't see this."

During the state fair, the birth center is staffed by veterinarians, MVMA members, veterinary college students and FFA students.

He particularly enjoys mentoring the vet students who earn a college credit by assisting with births.

"This is their hands-on," he explained. "It might be the first time they put their arms in a birthing cow."

Many students tell him they learned more in 12 days at the state fair's birth center than in years of college. Some will continue their education by heading up north to "extern" at Back Roads Vet Clinic for a couple weeks.

As a director, Haroldson manages the birth center day and night, rarely leaving the building.

He credits CHS Miracle of Birth Center's success to the support of the veterinary college, state veterinary association, ag industry, state fair board, veterinarians willing to volunteer and FFA students.

"The top FFA students compete every year to do all the cleaning, milking, feeding. It's the cream of the crop," Haroldson said. FFA students also answer questions from curious visitors.

"This is the only place you are going to get a standing ovation for getting a calf out alive," he said.

Haroldson's 88-year-old mother attends the state fair to see her son at work.

While hundreds of people watched Haroldson assist a birth, he then kissed his mom and said, "Well, mom, that's what I do."

Tickled pink, she became the center of attention.

"The biggest thing at the birth center is we get to a chance to dispel a lot of misconceptions," says Haroldson.

A litter of 14 piglets may have a stillborn, for instance.

"It's a teaching tool. It's a dose of reality."

"I have had fun," he concluded. "It's very satisfying and fulfilling."

The 2017 Minnesota State Fair will be held Aug. 24 through Sept. 4. It will be Haroldson's fourth year as a director at the birth center.

MVMA is the state's professional veterinary member organization. Its mission is to promote professional excellence in veterinary medicines, advance animal well-being and protect public health.