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County FFA has rich, deep history

By Linda Emley

This story is about Ray County’s FFA, better know as Future Farmers of America.
Sometimes I start working on a story like this one and realize that I know very little about it and wonder how on earth I’m going to work it out. The great part about living in a small town is you can always find someone who can tell you the real story when you need help putting all the pieces together.
I’m a country girl, but I was never in FFA. My dad was a FFA boy in the 1940s and my son Gabe was in FFA in the 1990s. Gabe was even the FFA king his senior year. But being a FFA daughter and mother does not make me an expert. The only first-hand experience I have is buying fruit from a variety of FFA members over the years.
I have several friends that were in FFA and they told me some great stories, but unfortunately some of them can’t be repeated. Forty years later, I’m finding out that the guys of FFA had lots of fun times and lived to see another day.
I got a few more tales from my dad, but I hit the jackpot when I ran into Everett Balman at a meeting last Tuesday at Hometown Pizza. Everett was an FFA member when he was in high school, and in 1976 he started teaching in Hardin and was the FFA sponsor. After hearing all his stories, I had a much better idea about what an important part FFA played in the history of Ray County.
In 1900, around 90 percent of the men in our county were farmers and FFA was a much-needed organization when it was founded in 1928. I found the history of FFA on their Web site, which says, “It all started in Kansas City’s Baltimore Hotel when 33 young farm boys charted a course for the future. They could not have foreseen how the organization would grow and thrive.” Missouri’s FFA was patterned after the Future Farmers of Virginia.
The first FFA chapter in Ray County was at Central High School, which later consolidated with Hardin’s school district. The most successful FFA chapter in Ray County honors goes to Stet High School, which won the Governor’s Trophy from 1954 to 1968 at the Missouri State Fair.
Kenneth Nofftz was the Stet FFA advisor during these years. When Stet school closed earlier this year, all the their FFA awards and trophies found a new home at the Stet Fire Department.
In 1969, young ladies were allowed to join FFA . The following year, Nofftz became the FFA advisor for Richmond and Kim Simpson became the first lady of the Richmond chapter.
The 1939 Bark Yearbook from Hardin tells about the formation of the Hardin FFA chapter. “All members of the vocational agriculture classes assembled in the agriculture room Jan. 6, 1939 and organized a chapter of the Future Farmers of America.”
Thirty-eight boys were enrolled that first year in the three classes and six periods a day were devoted to this subject. The original vocational agricultural building used by Hardin’s FFA is still standing in Hardin and is currently being used by the city of Hardin.
Many of us look forward to the yearly FFA fundraiser, when members sell boxes of fruit. I found out from my father that in the 1940s, they had a much different way of raising money. The Richmond chapter had a dip tank that was used for removing lice from a sheep’s wool.
My dad pulled the tank behind his tractor and the guys would make house calls to help out local sheep farmers. They would also perform an operation on male sheep for a small fee. There is more to this story, but it can’t be repeated here. If you want the rest of this story, you will need to ask one of the guys from the 1940s group or give me a call at the museum.
Some of the details for this story were found in the Richmond, Hardin and Stet yearbooks. I wasn’t able to add any stories about Orrick’s chapters because I don’t have access to any of their yearbooks, but I’m sure they worked hard and had fun like the rest of Ray County’s FFA members. After checking with some friends in Lawson, I found that Lawson High School never had an FFA program.
I always assumed that FFA and the American Royal Show were related, but I found out that the National FFA Convention and the American Royal usually took place in Kansas City during the same time, but were two different programs. The simultaneous programs isn’t still the case, but local FFA chapters continue to attend the American Royal each year.
The American Royal has been around much longer than Missouri’s FFA chapters. In 1899, the livestock sow began as the National Hereford Show in a tent in the Kansas City Stockyards. Since then, the American Royal Livestock Show has grown to become one of the largest livestock shows in the nation.
There are many Ray Countians that have deep connections with FFA. Steve Brown from Orrick is a national adviser who works for FFA in Indianapolis. Larry Case was active in Stet for many years. Gene Rhodes was part of the Polo program and started a related Young Farmer’s chapter at Stet. Jim Proffitt taught in Richmond for around 30 years. There are many more that helped keep FFA active, so I have a long list of people to interview. I’ll follow up with more stories in the near future so please give me a call if you have some tales to add in the adventures of Ray County’s Future Farmers of America.
We’ve started an FFA exhibit at the Ray County Museum and so far we have my dad’s 1940s FFA ring, a 1970s tie and a 1970s jacket. Please let us know if you have any other items you would like to donate tor this collection. Coming next is a story about a man we all knew and loved who was a big promoter of FFA, Jerry Litton.

You can contact Linda at rayc...@aol.com or see her in person at the museum.

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