If you asked the five Illinois FFA state officers where they would be on any given night during February and March, each answer would be different each time.
Some may be working at the Illinois FFA Center in Springfield, while others may be driving anywhere from the northern suburbs of Chicago to the southern hills of Little Egypt, or perhaps even beyond the Land of Lincoln.
State FFA President Rachel Hood of Industry, Vice President Derek Sample of Sesser, Reporter Levi Maierhofer of Seneca, Secretary Haley Bode of Waterloo and Treasurer Kate Colgan of Laura are nine months through their year as state officers.
Though intensive preparation for the 95th Illinois FFA State Convention continues, the team hasn’t parted ways with the pavement, putting their sponsored fleet vehicles to the test for events such as business and industry visits, National FFA Week, the Golden Owl Award presentations, the Women Changing the Face of Ag Conference, the Illinois Products Expo and several FFA contests and banquets.
Business & Industry Visits
From the week of Feb. 13-17, the state officers, along with Illinois Foundation FFA Associate Director Riley Duckworth, hit the road to visit various industry friends and sponsors to thank them for their contributions and to learn more about their businesses.
The team kicked off the week “Cooking to 145 degrees” at the Illinois Pork Producers Association in Springfield, followed by the race-car-laden headquarters of Brandt.
On Tuesday, the breeze took the crew to Windy Hill Meadows in Clinton County, then to the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center in Edwardsville.
Wednesday found the team in Champaign County for panel conversations at United Prairie in Tolono, Farm Credit Illinois in Mahomet and a virtual meeting with CHS out of Minnesota.
The final industry visit was held at the Cargill grain elevator in Havana on Thursday, followed by a fun-filled Friday at Rachel Hood’s alma mater, Rushville-Industry High School, where Hood opened the day with a keynote speech and all the officers led a workshop to five rotations of students throughout the morning.
National FFA Week
Since 1948, the week of George Washington’s birthday has also been celebrated as National FFA Week. This year, the state officers commemorated the week with several social media initiatives, chapter visits and historic charter signings.
The week began on Saturday, Feb. 18, and concluded on Friday, Feb. 26. Over that time, the state officers traveled to visit over two dozen FFA chapters, from Rolling Meadows in the north to Quincy in the west and Galatia in the south.
New chapters were chartered throughout the week, too, including the Mater Dei FFA in Clinton County, Country Roads FFA in Edwards County and Milton Pope FFA in La Salle County.
I am an alumnus of Milton Pope School, which is surrounded by cornfields north of Interstate 80 near Marseilles and Seneca, and presented a keynote address at the charter signing.
When I was in school there from kindergarten to eighth grade, I could look out any window and see one thing: a field of corn or soybeans.
I know that having an FFA chapter is a great opportunity for the middle-school students to get involved and grow as young leaders at the school and beyond.
Milton Pope School is surrounded by agriculture and now agriculture is within the school, too.
Any student enrolled in an agricultural education course understands the time and commitment an ag teacher and FFA adviser puts toward student success, but recognition for that commitment is not always properly given to those who serve as the best in the profession.
The Golden Owl Award was created to honor quality agricultural educators and recognize them for their success.
One winner from each of Illinois’ 25 sections is selected as the section winner, then one winner among the five sections in each district is selected as the District Golden Owl.
Toward the end of FFA week, the state officers surprised the district winners at each of their schools for their accomplishments:
• District 1 — Trent Taber, Cambridge.
• District 2 — Riley Hintzsche, Streator.
• District 3 — Jody Heavner, Pittsfield.
• District 4 — Cassie Crouch, Maroa-Forsyth.
• District 5 — Tamra Gerstenecker, Carlyle.
One of these five finalists will be named the Illinois Golden Owl winner at the annual Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers Conference in late June.
On March 3, state FFA officers Rachel Hood, Haley Bode and Kate Colgan attended the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg.
The day started with a keynote from Miriam Hoffman, past Illinois FFA state secretary and National FFA eastern region vice president, followed by several rounds of panels, an etiquette lunch and a career and college fair.
“Personally, I loved seeing so many young women get inspired and foster connections with agricultural professionals,” Hood said.
“The culture of WCFA is very welcoming and inviting. You leave the conference with the confidence to pursue your dreams, because the women you met that day gave you the courage to do so.”
The state Veterinary Science, Meats Evaluation and Agricultural Education career development events were held Saturday, March 4, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In the Veterinary Science CDE, contestants test their knowledge of animal anatomy and physiology, identification, health and safety, clinical procedures and medical terminology.
The Central Burlington FFA Chapter finished atop the podium, followed by Byron and Staunton.
The top three individuals were Ravinia Zillmer of Central Burlington FFA, Brooke Whitmer of Byron FFA and Teegan Gonyea of Central Burlington FFA.
During the Meats Evaluation CDE, participants demonstrate knowledge and ability to evaluate meat animal products and become aware of opportunities in the meat animal industry.
The winning chapter was Newton FFA, with Prairie Central FFA and Midland FFA as first and second runners-up, respectively.
Jacob Ochs of the Newton FFA Chapter took home top honors individually, followed closely by Newton’s Alexis Hetzer in second place and Prairie Central’s Preston Plenert taking third.
In the Agricultural Education CDE, members display key components of a successful agriculture educator, including being able to develop lessons within the agricultural education pathways using a variety of hands-on teaching strategies to reach a multitude of different learners.
The top two individuals in this CDE were Normal FFA’s J Beto and Kaneland FFA’s Zoey Pozen.
Products Expo & State Officer Meeting
As Illinois is among the top agricultural producers in several commodity areas, the Illinois Department of Agriculture hosts a Products Expo in Springfield each spring to highlight the variety of products that Illinois has to offer.
On March 4-5, the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds was bustling with customers there to check out the array of meats, cheeses, salsas, barbecue sauces, popcorn and plenty of other Illinois specialties.
The Illinois FFA officers served apple cider, slushies and bottled drinks and assisted several of the other vendors over the two days.
On Saturday night, the five major state officers and the section presidents held a meeting at the Illinois FFA Center to discuss upcoming events, meetings and expectations as the state convention draws nearer.
The major state officers closed out the evening with a public speaking workshop and a heartfelt reflection.
Among the best parts of the state officers’ spring season is traveling to showcases of Illinois’ best pulled pork, mostaccioli and fried chicken at chapter banquets.
An FFA chapter’s banquet is where the members and advisers get to highlight their individual and team accomplishments from the past year.
Beyond the baked beans and lemonade, banquets often include speeches from members or visitors, awarding of scholarships, recognizing proficiency competitors and other contest participants and thanks to local supporters and volunteers.
So far, banquets have led the officers to Quincy, Astoria, Pekin, AlWood, Knoxville, Williamsfield and Salem, with over a dozen more scheduled through the end of April.
Along with the upcoming banquets and other school visits, the state officers will continue to pursue their goal of lighting a spark in Illinois FFA members at the 95th Illinois FFA State Convention, to be held in Springfield from June 13-15.
With the theme of “Electrify,” the state convention is sure to have a plethora of memorable moments both on and off the stage.
To further prepare for this annual event, the entire team will drive to Gatlinburg for the Tennessee State Convention at the end of March to get a better gauge of how to put on a great convention.
The officers are excited for FFA members, alumni and supporters to see what’s in store for them in June at the Bank of Springfield Center.