Burkels to talk turkey at White House

UND sophomore will meet President Obama, spend Thanksgiving at White House.

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Vanessa Burkel discusses Thanksgiving plans at the Memorial Union. Photo by Ethan Arlien/The Dakota Student.

While many students are getting ready to go home for the Thanksgiving break, UND sophomore Vanessa Burkel is preparing to meet President Barack Obama and present the 66th Thanksgiving Turkey in Washington, D.C.

The National Turkey Federation presented the first National Thanksgiving to President Harry Truman in 1947.

The turkeys were originally destined for the dinner plate, according to the Minnesota Turkey website, until 1989, when President George H. Bush began the official tradition of pardoning the presidential turkey.

The chosen turkey and its companion, after being pardoned, live on Mount Vernon for the holiday season and spend the rest of their lives in Morven Park, Va.

Burkel, a native of Badger, Minn., is the oldest of five children. The Burkel family owns two turkey farms. Vanessa said her father has owned his first farm since he returned from college more than 20 years ago.

“We have two separate locations,” she said. “There’s a barn right by my house on our property and there’s also a farm about 10 miles away in a nearby town.”

The opportunity for the Burkels to present this year’s turkey stems from her father’s position on the National Turkey Federation board.

“My dad was just a grower, and he worked and contributed at a local plant and then he moved up from that plant into the Minnesota Turkey Growers Administration,” Burkel said. “His colleagues nominated him to be on the national executive board, which is the same thing but on a national scale, so it’s the National Turkey Federation. This year he’s president of that board.”

Burkel said 12 other families from Minnesota have taken part in this ceremony, but it is the first time for her family or anyone from the area.

“You know it’s coming,” she said. “It’s tradition, but there is an official invitation, paper invitation that we receive.”

The journey to the nation’s capital will not be a quiet one for Burkel. Not only will her family be joining her, but her younger sister’s senior class will, too.

“There’s always a class present at the ceremony, usually it’s like an inner-city class from D.C.,” she said. “But this year, my dad specifically requested my (sister’s) senior class, and they accepted that request.”

The Burkels left Saturday morning for Washington D.C. and will be in the area for almost a week.

“Sunday (and) Monday are kind of to ourselves just to be ready to be there. Tuesday is media day and Wednesday is the actual ceremony — we’ll come back Friday,” Burkel said.

Burkel is nervous for both the ceremony and the media day.

“I’ll be the person that trips,” Burkel joked. “It’s a lot to think about — it’s a lot to plan ahead for.”

The Burkels will meet President Obama and will be behind him as he pardons the turkey. The family also will get a tour of the White House and the Oval Office.

The opportunity presented by the Presidential Turkey for Burkel and her town is one that makes her feel lucky.

“It’s crazy to think my experience has been going out to the barns everyday, shoveling manure or picking garbage,” Burkel said. “It’s just small town and then to have this huge opportunity to meet the president of the United States is just phenomenal. We’re lucky.”

Burkel finds a message in this particular experience that can be applied to other aspects of her life.

“Just to show that how people can come from any roots, any kind of background (and) be successful or meet the President,” she said. “It goes to show that anything can really happen. It just depends on the situation and who you know.”

Paula Kaledzi is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at paula.kaledzi@my.und.edu.

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