CARBONDALE, Ill. – Less than a month after their election at the 90th Illinois FFA State Convention, the new major officers and their section presidents rolled up their sleeves — literally — to plot their coming year.
Certainly, the region’s infamous humidity added character to the annual leadership training event at Southern Illinois University, but so did an air-conditioning outage.
This never ruffled the new state officer team members, who kept their cool thanks to plenty of their unofficial drink, Ski citrus soda, available only regionally.
Yet some of the new state officers believe their girl power will help “elevate” the coming FFA year to an exceptional level. For the first time in Illinois FFA history, the entire state officer team is comprised of young ladies.
Here’s an informal look at what the officers have coming this year.
No School, But All Work
President Sophia Hortin of Fisher is sitting out a year before starting at the University of Illinois. With plans to study ag education, she’ll focus on FFA this year and then start school.
It’s become practice that the state officers take off their service year. The rest of Hortin’s team has similar plans.
While Vice President Eliza Petry just graduated from Rochelle high school, she plans to also enroll at Illinois in fall 2019 to study ag business leadership and crop science.
“Right after you get elected, it’s get up and go. That’s what we’re up for. Every week is something new and different, and that’s what I think is so great about being a state officer,” Petry said.
Likewise, Reporter Shaylee Clinton of Ina just completed her first year at Kaskaskia Community College’s ag science education program, and Treasurer Taylor Hartke was a Lake Land College freshman in Mattoon in the ag transfer program.
Secretary Miriam Hoffman also recently graduated from Earlville high school and has plans to start her higher education in Illinois Valley college’s agricultural business and animal science programs.
On The Road
Each officer is advised that they will travel between 20,000 to 25,000 miles to make section visits, host events and other officer duties.
“Thank goodness, we’ve got new fleet vehicles that we’re able to drive this year,” Petry commented.
The officers will rotate between two cars, two SUVs and a van to complete their travels and depending on each other’s travel needs.
And thanks to such corporate sponsors as Illinois Corn Growers Association and Compeer Financial, formerly First Farm Credit Services, the vehicle costs or mileage coverage are donated, said John Edgar, Illinois FFA Center assistant director.
The state officer tradition of an overseas trip has been “tweaked a little bit,” Hartke explained.
Instead of interrupting the service year, she said they each will have an opportunity to travel within several years of leadership terms. This year’s trip is to South Africa.
Already, the officers are tested traveling companions.
“We all love old country music — anything ‘90s and older,” Hortin said.
Away From Home
All that road time adds up to a year away from home.
Prior to the election, all of the officers understood that they would be housed in a hotel near the Illinois FFA Center in Springfield and would take advantage of home stays with the section presidents’ families as they complete section visits.
Admittedly, the officers spend little time in their hotel rooms, but have tried to make their work cubicles at the FFA Center homier.
“For me, that was putting up pictures, so when I’m in Springfield, I have a little piece of my family with me,” Hartke said. “Communication is an amazing thing nowadays. I’m very, very thankful for all of the technology. I know they’re a phone call away.”
As for communications among themselves and members, Snapchat is where it’s at. The officer team also is posting a weekly “vlog” that shares their weekly work in a video format.
All of the traveling also means new routines. As a power lifter, Clinton has changed her habits perhaps a bit more than the others.
“I’m unable to stick to a power training schedule because of my FFA schedule, but signing on to do this, I knew I’d have to put this in the backseat. I only get one year to serve the members and serve the organization,” she said. “It’s been a pretty difficult transition, but I’m definitely enjoying myself so far.”
While Petry interjected that Clinton is “supposed to encourage the rest of us to workout with her,” she also mentioned that the traveling means eating out for lunch and dinner most of the time.
“After a while, you’re sick of fast food and eating out all of the time, and you really just want a home-cooked meal. We actually have a kitchen in our office. We’ve got crockpots,” Petry said. “Since we’re all girls, we’re planning on making some meals together, so we’re not going out every night.”
“That will be good team bonding time and fellowship with each other,” Clinton added.
There’s been some extra bonding going with some of section presidents and those who live where Ski citrus soda can be found. Regional to southern Illinois, the officers have dubbed it as their “unofficial drink.”
The travel also means living out of a suitcase.
“This is our third week, and I’m still bit of an over-packer, but I’m getting there,” Hortin admitted.
Even so, the one travel tip she shares is: “Bring everything because you never know what you might need. Times when we thought we’d wear T-shirts and then we found that we needed a polo or something nicer. Just be prepared with a versatile wardrobe.”
Missed At Home
Admittedly, all of the officers are excited and looking forward to their duties this year, but all of them are sharply aware they are missed at home, especially when it comes to work around their family farms.
Hoffman’s family raises dairy breeding stock and show cows, so there’s plenty of work that she contributed to the operation.
“I know I’m missed, but my family supports me in every way,” she said.
Hoffman is looking forward to her travels, especially to southern Illinois, because she’s not spent much time there, and learning more about agriculture in general.
“I’m excited to advocate for agriculture and excited to learn about all kinds of agriculture,” she said.
Likewise, Hortin’s family raises market hogs and sells specialty pork products. She and the rest of the leadership team do come home on most weekends during their service year.
Nonetheless, she’s looking forward to chapter events, “where I can really get out and meet the members and hopefully give them something to improve their leadership in the future.”
One way Hortin keeps her family close is with a treasured memento: “After my first FFA convention, my parents gave me an FFA emblem necklace with my initials engraved on it. I really had no idea what was in store for me them, and I never could have imagined where I am now.”