PONTIAC, Ill. — Ten years ago, Pontiac was known for a couple of things.

“When we think about Pontiac, we think about all the things we’re known for. The first things that people say are the prison and the landfill,” said Parker Bane, Pontiac High School ag teacher and FFA adviser.

That was the scene when Bane was interviewed in 2003 by then-Pontiac High School Superintendent Harlan “Butch” Cotter and other members of the administration and school board for a job as ag teacher.

Bane, who was just graduating from the University of Illinois, had to list some goals.

“When I was going through that interviewing process, it was probably a five-page list of goals and a timeline. I wanted to be the best in the state. Back then, I thought I knew what that meant, but I really didn’t know. There’s a lot to it, and you’ve got to pay your dues,” he said.

Those dues were marked paid in full on Oct. 31 as the Pontiac Township High School FFA Chapter received the Model of Excellence award at the 86th National FFA Convention, effectively making the chapter the top FFA chapter in the nation this year.

Cotter hired Bane to restart the program that had gone dormant in the late 1980s due to lack of student numbers and turnover in the teaching position.

“Butch Cotter, when he got here, said we are going to have an ag program,” said Jon Kilgore, Pontiac High School superintendent.

Kilgore was the principal of Pontiac Junior High School then, and he was able to get an idea of the program that would lead Pontiac FFA to a national title a decade later.

“I was the junior high principal, and I was new there. They said they were going to have an ag presentation from the high school. I’m from the Chicago suburbs, so what do I know? I have this stereotypical view in my mind, and Parker Bane walks into the junior high in a business suit. He gave the most impressive presentation to our eighth-grade students, and I thought, that guy has got something special. The program grew and grew and is still growing as a result of adding Mr. Faber into it. The numbers have just exploded with the great things they’ve been doing,” he said.

Those who supported reinstating the program and the chapter and all the past members of the Pontiac FFA were kept front of mind for the 33 students who represented the chapter this year at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky. Pontiac Township High School has a student population of 765 students, and the Pontiac FFA has 208 members.

“I looked at them, and I said when you go in there, you need to realize something. As far as I’m concerned, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants here. I can list of name after name of students who have come before and the parents and supports of this program. I said, girls, you’re not in there alone. You are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Faber said.

Faber was hired as the chapter began to grow.

“We held pretty good numbers. Between my third and fourth year, we were at around 140 kids, which for one person is an awful lot. We were to that point and the school recognized we were never really going to get any further if they didn’t bring in another person and that’s when they had an opportunity to bring Jesse on,” Bane said.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into and I was too young to think much about it, but I knew it was a great opportunity and I always wanted to be in a multi-teacher program. To do so with someone who had become one of my really good friends was something I really couldn’t pass up,” Faber said.

Bane recognized the support of the Pontiac High School administration and school boards in supporting the effort to both bring the ag program and FFA chapter back to the school and to support it through the years.

Pontiac High School Principal Eric Bohm, along with Kilgore and school board president Roger Corrigan, were in the audience when the Model of Excellence award was announced.

“To have Mr. Kilgore drive down with Mr. Corrigan to be there for the announcement, and Mr. Bohm brought his whole family down, all of that is awesome and it comes back to the fact that this award is not just for Mr. Bane and me — it’s not just for the ones here in the blue and gold. This is about all of us in the community and everybody who supported us along the way,” Faber said.

“The administrative team has all been very supportive, and our school boards throughout the years have been very supportive,” said Bane at the welcome home ceremony for the FFA team.

“We’re going out to the National Ag Teachers Conference later this month, and I guarantee you we’ll hear stories of administrations that maybe aren’t quite as supportive. We’re very, very blessed, so I want to acknowledge our current school board and administration that we’ve got here in Pontiac,” Bane said.

Clay Zwilling is a former Illinois FFA president and now is a student at Oklahoma State University. Zwilling came back to Illinois to student teach at Pontiac.

“My adviser said we can make that happen, but why is this program so special?” Zwilling related at the welcome home ceremony. “I said I think it’s one of the best programs in the country. I told the kids, now I can go back and tell my advisers it’s not one of them. It is the best.”

The students who heard their chapter’s name called for the Model of Excellence award agreed.

“This is hard to top. Not many chapters are ever honored with this,” said Jordan Johns, who, with Abby Jacobs, made the presentation for the Model of Excellence award.

That presentation followed a Twitter-like format to outline the chapter’s recruitment and retention activities over the past year.

“As our advisers told us, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, the ones who came before us,” said Zack Dunham, a senior and one of the Pontiac FFA’s chapter officer team.

Dunham echoed the hope of students that they will be an inspiration to future Pontiac FFA students.

“Hopefully, we can continue this, and we can be the giants for other people to stand on our shoulders. That’s what we’re hoping for, to continue this legacy that others have helped us reach.”

For Bane, he has one more very important thing to add to that Pontiac hall of fame.

“I know Pontiac as a place that’s got great students, great families and a great community, and I thank you all for becoming our friends and friends of this program,” he said.