The road to Illinois FFA major state office is not a smooth path and the lucky few who are named state officers learn quickly that their term is not easy, either. However, it is among the most fulfilling journeys on which a teenager can embark.
The schedule is busy — so busy, in fact, that they postpone their college education for a year to serve the FFA.
From June of one year to June of the next, the five majors work tirelessly to ensure success within the Illinois FFA, preparing the next generation of agriculturalists for premier leadership, personal growth and career success.
At the 94th Illinois FFA State Convention in June, five students were elected by delegate members to serve the Illinois Association FFA for the upcoming year.
These new major state officers include: President Rachel Hood, Industry; Vice President Derek Sample, Sesser; Reporter Levi Maierhofer, Seneca; Secretary Haley Bode, Waterloo; and Treasurer Kate Colgan, Princeville.
The entire state officer team also includes 25 section presidents, each representing around 15 chapters in their areas of the Land of Lincoln.
When the retiring section presidents and major state officers departed Springfield on Friday, the new major state officers met with Illinois FFA Executive Secretary Mindy Bunselmeyer and Associate Executive Secretary John Edgar to develop the team’s initial plans and goals. During this meeting, they also came up with this year’s Illinois FFA theme: Electrify!
On the Monday after elections, the new majors met in Bloomington-Normal to assist in the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers Conference, setting up for registration, raffle items and the silent auction.
While the teachers were in sessions and meetings, the officers also had meetings of their own to brainstorm workshop ideas, prepare for upcoming meetings with the full state team and create the annual Illinois FFA theme shirt.
Following the conference, the section presidents joined the majors June 23-24. The newcomers received their first training on ethics, prepared themselves for the upcoming State FFA Leadership Camp and were exposed to the year’s theme.
Illinois State University hosted the team in one of its classrooms, so the officers could learn about Illinois Ag in the Classroom initiatives and the plans for the upcoming Corn Congress trip to Washington, D.C.
The National FFA Organization sends a facilitator to each state several times a year to work with officers from across the United States to enhance their abilities in teamwork, facilitation and strength recognition.
The majors were honored to be joined by Meagan Meredith, a former Florida State FFA officer, in their lessons on personal growth, perceptions, inclusivity, engagement and team dynamics. She will return to Springfield for the officers’ first checkpoint following the State Fair.
During the following two days, the team was led in public speaking training by Andrew McCrea, a past Missouri FFA state officer and past National FFA secretary. He provided tips on storytelling and application and he taught the officers tactics to prepare for speeches without memorization.
The entire Illinois FFA team met July 5-7 for its annual meeting at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Former Indiana FFA State Officer Kylie Schakel, now an intern at the Illinois FFA Center, led the section presidents in facilitation training to prepare them to lead groups at upcoming camps, workshops and conferences.
The team received tours of the university’s main campus and farm and worked in their committees to discuss how to improve the way the officers relate to the members, advisers and supporters of the FFA.
“Being at Carbondale was one of my favorite experiences as a section president,” said State FFA Secretary Haley Bode. “Now as a major, getting to see others experience the same fulfillment that I got from that meeting was an amazing thing to watch.”
Since 2016, the Illinois Corn Growers Association has invited the entire state officer team to join them in Washington for their annual Corn Congress. This year the trip ran July 11-14.
The officers stayed the night in Morris, Illinois, before catching a red-eye flight from O’Hare to Reagan International Airport. Once on the ground, they met with a panel of lobbyists, Capitol staff and media representatives, discussing how to most effectively relay their “ask” to the congresspeople they would be meeting with on Wednesday.
The team then toured Washington on a trolley, stopping to explore sites such as the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the White House.
The team was then met by representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, John Deere, U.S. Grains Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including an appearance by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“We had started talking about how it would be a cool experience to meet the secretary of agriculture,” said Ben Bremmer, Section 1 president. “No more than a minute later the elevator opened and there he was. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet with him and get a photo with the secretary.”
On Wednesday, the FFA officers were grouped with representatives from ICGA and took turns visiting with several Illinois representatives and both Illinois senators. The goal of the visits was to advocate for the farm bill, ethanol use and lock-and-dam infrastructure.
On the final day, the team was fortunate enough to witness the elections of the National Corn Growers officers.
Only two days after returning from the nation’s capital, the major state officers flew back to Washington for the State Officer Summit. State FFA officers from across the United States met July 17-21 to discuss ways to be an advocate for the agriculture industry, for the FFA and for each other.
The Illinois team went on two more legislative visits to talk about the FFA caucus and the farm bill with Rep. Mary Miller and Sen. Dick Durban’s office.
The majors took another bus tour of Washington, revisiting locations from the week before, adding the Vietnam War Memorial Wall and Korean War Memorial.
Everyone at State Officer Summit rode a tour at Arlington National Cemetery, where they witnessed the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The second half of the conference consisted of preparing the committees for the National FFA Convention in October. Illinois FFA President Rachel Hood and Vice President Derek Sample attended leadership delegate sessions, where discussion went more in depth about the plans for conducting the committees at the convention.
“I’m excited to get to work with my committee to better the opportunities FFA has to offer, so that our members are even more prepared to enter the workforce and begin their careers,” said Sample, whose committee will focus on workforce connections. “The delegate process is crucial to making our organization better and better each year.”
One of the most impactful events for both the high school members and the officer team is State FFA Leadership Camp, which was held July 25-28 at the 4-H Memorial Campground in Monticello.
At this camp, the section presidents led groups of students in developing their leadership skills through group challenges, team competitions and individual reflection.
Students start the week with the “Leadership Loop,” aimed at getting the campers comfortable with each other early on.
Along with small group sessions, the campers compete in the Ag Olympics, a volleyball tournament and FFA quiz bowl. There is also a challenge course during which members heavily practice their verbal and nonverbal communication and teamwork skills.
Before heading back to their cabins to recharge, the campers capped off the nights with exciting and fulfilling events, including a dance, talent show and reflections.
“It was impactful to see young FFA members develop their leadership skills over the course of the week through both fun activities and in-depth conversations,” noted Sara McGehee, Section 23 president.
The state officer team is wrapping up a busy summer Aug. 11-21 with the Illinois State Fair, where they work the FFA barnyard across from the grandstand.
When the section presidents return to school, the majors will go right into more training from National FFA and will be present at the Du Quoin State Fair.
The team will then begin STAR Conferences, which consist of training for all section officers to prepare them for chapter visits.
On Sept. 12, the majors divide to start their most impactful few weeks of the year, visiting almost every FFA chapter in Illinois to lead workshops and help members set their short-, medium- and long-term goals.
Four weeks of chapter visits will be completed before the 95th National FFA Convention and Expo, which spans Oct. 26-29 in Indianapolis. Upon return the major state officers will complete the final two weeks of their chapter visits.
Levi Maierhofer from the Seneca FFA Chapter is the 2022-2023 Illinois Association FFA state reporter.