When her boys were young, Marlys Vander Wal always insisted they finish what they started - whether that was filling out 4-H Record Books or practicing piano. Not one to quit herself, the 4-H alumnus and retired club leader still volunteers as a Woodworking Judge at several County Achievement Days and recently judged at her 35th South Dakota State Fair.
"I like to see what projects kids are doing nowadays, see their enthusiasm and encourage them to continue," said Vander Wal, who raised her sons, Brent, Brad and Phil with her husband, Ray, on their crop and cattle farm near Volga. They are part of a family farm corporation with Ray's brother and wife, Edward and Virginia. The Vander Wal's have 12 grandchildren ranging in ages from 5 to 14.
Growing up on a farm near Lake Campbell, Vander Wal met Ray in high school. She attended South Dakota State College and later joined the clerical staff in the Animal Husbandry Department. She left SDSU when she and Ray married; only to return after her youngest son started school.
"There was an opening in the Animal and Range Sciences Department. It was such an awesome place to work - like family," Vander Wal said.
She would spend 30 years working within the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU. Eventually she would transfer from the Animal and Range Sciences Department to the Office of the Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. She served as the administrative assistant for six deans. Vander Wal retired in 2011.
"I enjoyed interacting with the students, commodity groups and agriculture organizations," she said. "I still run into students and friends at the State Fair each year."
In her role in the Dean's office, Vander Wal meticulously assisted in organizing the Eminent Farmer/Rancher & Homemaker program. She planned the annual event, prepared nomination books for the nomination committee and helped launch the Eminent Farmer/Rancher & Homemaker Scholarship.
Outside of work, Vander Wal helped her husband on the farm and was involved with the day-to-day operations of their trucking company; R. M. Vander Wal Truck Inc. She served as a 4-H club leader and was involved in her son's 4-H careers and school and church activities.
"I gained so much from being involved in 4-H as a youngster - lots of learning experiences and meeting new friends - so there was no second thought about whether or not our boys would go into 4-H," she said.
Ensuring that many area youth enjoyed a positive 4-H experience, over the years Vander Wal and her husband co-hosted several livestock judging schools on their family farm. She also began teaching woodworking to 4-H members. She developed a knack for the craft after attending a community woodworking class.
"4-H was such a good learning experience for me and our family. We have made lifelong friends that we still see at State Fair and various functions across the state," she said. "In fact, I still have my hands in 4-H. It has been fun to see our grandkids get involved and help them out."
Vander Wal and her husband were actively involved in Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers; she served several years on the South Dakota Beef Industry Council. She is an active member of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and Auxiliary organization along with providing accounting and doing newsletters and promotions for the South Dakota Poultry Industries Association.
She is a member of the First Reformed Church in Volga where she has provided music for worship services and is a member of Reformed Church Women where she has served in various offices and committees.
Developing a love for music as a child when her parents signed her up for piano lessons, Vander Wal insisted that her sons take lessons.
"Sometimes it was under protest, but I always told them, 'you can't bounce a basketball down the church aisle.'"