The Birth of a Miracle

Dr. Mary Olson has relied on her faith her entire life. She relied on it when she decided three years into her teaching degree that she was going to switch to veterinary medicine at 2 a.m., and she relied on it the night before the Miracle of Birth Center opened to the public at the Minnesota State Fair for the first time. The electricians were still working late into the night and the idea that had taken off with a snowball of excitement was coming to fruition if anyone was ready or not.

Dr. Olson recalls talking with Dr. Florian Ledermann, who first brought up the idea of opening a birthing center at the state fair.

“I said, ‘Florian you have no idea how much I have prayed about this exhibit.’ He said, ‘I have too.’”

Dr. Olson said they didn’t pray for the exhibit to succeed, just that they would get a sign if they weren’t supposed to be going through with this idea. Prayers answers, miracle delivered. The first day was packed shoulder-to-shoulder and there has been no looking back. Dr. Olson watched a 13-year-old boy that first day curiously asking questions to his mother when a nearby farmer stepped in to help answer.

“That’s when I realized what the building is all about,” Dr. Olson said. “It’s the exchange of information.”

Now 21 years later the Miracle of Birth Center is considered the most popular free exhibit at the entire Minnesota State Fair. MVMA Executive Director Kelly Andrews has found herself getting caught up in the anticipation with the public.

“What gets me every time is people’s expressions. When I am watching because I too want to see the live birth and I stop watching the live birth and start watching the people,” said Andrews. “The mouths hanging out, the fear, anticipation, the awe and the clapping when that baby arrives. The crowd just erupts and it gives me chills just thinking about it. The whole crowd just experienced the miracle together.”

Those moments are what keep the Miracle of Birth Center exciting year after year. “As we went along, we started to realize that the new life birthing process is something you can watch on videos and youtube, but to see it in action and all the things that take place in that situation intrigues people,” Dr. Ledermann said.

Bringing that live process to action was made possible by Dr. Ledermann’s vision followed by immense collaboration. He knew about similar exhibits in California, Kansas and Michigan.

“I was on the large animal public relations committee. We noticed that public relations when it related to the large animal profession was absent. The concept seemed like it was a great way to introduce the general public to veterinary medicine,” Dr. Ledermann explained. “The way you do that is have large numbers of people to hear the message, so it felt like a great fit.”

It’s just a good thing Dr. Olson had the fortitude to trust Dr. Ledermann, because as passionate as she would later become for the Miracle of Birth Center, she was against the idea originally. Despite her reservations she drove to Michigan on a lone day off with her son to check out their operation. Dr. Ledermann went to explore the Kansas exhibit with his wife.

“I remember the next committee meeting I was walking in going veterinarians don’t stand around waiting for an animal to give birth,” Dr. Olson laughed as she recalled her initial reluctance. And Dr. Olson wasn’t alone.

“I thought they were crazy,” recalled another founding Miracle of Birth Center member and co-chair Dr. Holly Neaton. “I didn’t think we would get volunteers to help. Thirteen days is a long time to man a building from nine in the morning to nine at night.”

The trio were all past MVMA Presidents and connected through large animal practice. Dr. Ledermann provided reassurance that people would come. That steady confidence from Dr. Ledermann was enough for the MVMA to move the idea forward.

“And then it snowballed,” Dr Olson said as more needed partners came on board to make it happen.

With the idea in place, a successful conversation with the state fair led to a meeting with the Future Farmers of America (FFA) who already had a Children’s Barnyard exhibit going at the State Fair. With the FFA on board, the State Fair backed the costs of a new building. Next up was getting the University of Minnesota involved and funding help from the MVMF. It’s the collaboration across generations from high school students to seasoned veterinarians that Dr. Neaton finds most unique about the Miracle of Birth Center.

“The reason that this is so successful is because of all the entities working together,” Dr. Neaton explained. “We couldn’t do it without the melding of different organizations. We are all very comfortable with each other.”

The Miracle of Birth Center has been successful through partnerships and dedicated volunteers. In 2020 the Minnesota State Fair was cancelled. It was back open in 2021, but the Miracle of Birth Center wasn’t producing miracles. Now it’s time to get back to tradition of volunteering together to continue bringing the Miracle of Birth to the forefront of the public.

“It’s not what you get paid,” Dr. Olson reflected on what she heard Dr. Ledermann say many times over the years. “It’s what you do for others that makes life most worthwhile.”

Volunteer for the State Fair here!