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Alumna Denise Retzleff: Guiding the youth movement

Screen Shot 2016-09-13 at 12.30.13 PMPositivity. It’s a quality many of us strive to exhibit. But Denise Retzleff is one of the few to radiate it on an almost daily basis. In her role as 4-H Youth Development Educator in Fond du Lac County, Retzleff works to create a positive environment for children in the hopes of harnessing their potential so they can ultimately serve their communities.

“It’s exhilarating to see young people taking on challenges,” says Retzleff. “I see a lot of growth in self-confidence. There’s so much energy and enthusiasm that young people bring, and I get to be part of that energy.”

Growing up on a dairy farm in southern Fond du Lac County, Retzleff had no choice but to get involved in day-to-day chores. And that work ethic led her to UW–Madison, where she received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and a master’s degree in continuing and vocational education from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“It was a great learning environment,” she says. “Very collegial — I felt very supported by faculty and challenged as a student.”

After graduating, Retzleff taught agricultural education at Oakfield High School in Oakfield, Wisconsin. During that time, she never had the itch to return to Fond du Lac. But seven years later, the chance to become the 4-H Youth Development Educator with the UW–Extension arose, and she was coming home.

“This role I’m in is about changing lives,” she says. “I’ve seen people’s lives transformed because of the experiences they’ve had here. And it’s exciting to see that happen in your own hometown.”

Looking back, Retzleff recalls the UW as being a stepping-stone on her way to becoming the leader she is today — one giant step, in fact. Being at UW-Madison, she says, “helped me to think more globally and be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking and new people.”

This profile is part of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association’s Boundless Together series of stories.