The road to Illinois FFA Major State Office is not a smooth path and the lucky five who are named state officers learn quickly that their term is very busy; however, it is among the most fulfilling journeys on which a teenager can embark.
The schedule is so busy 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 major state officers 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 95th Illinois FFA State Convention from June 13-15, five students were elected by delegate members to serve the Illinois Association FFA for the upcoming year.
Due to hardware failures with the convention hall’s internet service, this year’s delegates had to return to paper ballots for the first time in over a decade. This led to a very lengthy, but unique and exciting election process.
After over six and a half hours of voting, the delegates made their decision. The five new major state officers are as follows:
• President — Thaddeus Bergschneider, Franklin.
• Vice President — Eric Wisely, Nashville.
• Reporter — Cooper Nelson, Canton.
• Secretary — Riley Kessler, Staunton.
• Treasurer — Benjamin Bremmer, Pearl City.
The rest of the state officer team is made up of section presidents, each representing their respective section from all across the state.
On the Monday after elections, the new majors met in Lisle to assist in the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers Conference. They helped set up registration, raffle items and the silent auction.
While the teachers were in sessions and meetings, the officers also had meetings of their own. In these meetings, they brainstormed workshop ideas, prepared for upcoming meetings with the full state officer team and decided on this year’s state theme, “United as One!”
Following the conference, the section presidents joined the majors via Zoom, where the newcomers received their first look at the upcoming summer.
From July 10-14, the entire Illinois FFA team met for its annual meeting at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Former Indiana FFA State Officer Kylie Schakel 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 farms. Additionally, they worked in their committees to discuss ways to improve how officers relate to the members, advisers and supporters of the FFA.
At SIUC, the section presidents also got their first look at the state theme. The whole team worked together to create a theme-reveal video which was posted on social media.
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 from July 16-20.
The officers stayed the night in Morris before catching a flight from Chicago Midway International Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Once on the ground, they met with ICGA staff and lobbyists to learn more about the days ahead.
The team then toured Washington, D.C., on a trolley, stopping to explore sites such as the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The following morning, the team began the day with a panel of lobbyists and Capitol staff discussing how to most effectively relay their “ask” to the members of Congress they would be meeting with on Wednesday.
The team then met with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, John Deere, U.S. Grains Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Following these visits, the officers had the chance to visit the White House and enjoy an evening dinner with board members of ICGA.
On Wednesday, the FFA officers made a quick trip to Arlington National Cemetery before returning to the Capitol where they were grouped with representatives from ICGA and took turns visiting several Illinois representatives and both Illinois senators’ offices.
The goal of the visits was to advocate for this year’s farm bill. Specific “asks” included ethanol use and lock-and-dam infrastructure.
On the final day, the team was able to witness the elections of the National Corn Growers Association officers, which included the election of Illinois’ very own Bill Leigh.
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 24-28 to discuss ways to be an advocate for the agriculture industry, for the FFA and for each other.
The Illinois team went on four more legislative visits to talk about the FFA caucus and a funding bill that will benefit youth leadership organizations at the offices of Reps. Nikki Budzinski and Mike Bost and Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.
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 guard 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 Thaddeus Bergschneider and Vice President Eric Wisely attended leadership delegate sessions where discussion went more in depth about the plans for conducting the committees at the convention.
One of the most impactful events for both the high school FFA members and the officer team is State FFA Leadership Camp, which was held July 24-27 at the 4-H Memorial Camp in Monticello.
While the majors attended the State Officer Summit, the section presidents led groups of students in developing their leadership skills through group challenges, team competitions and individual reflection.
Students started the week with the Leadership Loop, aimed at getting the campers comfortable with each other early on in the week.
Along with small group sessions, the campers competed in the Ag Olympics, a volleyball tournament and FFA quiz bowl. There was also a challenge course in which members practiced 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.
The state officer team wrapped up the busy summer with the Illinois State Fair from Aug. 10-20, where they worked 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 attend the Farm Progress Show and prepare for the STAR Conferences, which consist of training for all section officers to prepare them for chapter visits.
On Sept. 18, the majors will split up and begin their most impactful weeks of the year by visiting almost every FFA chapter in Illinois to lead workshops and help members set their short-, mid- and long-term goals.
Four weeks of chapter visits will be completed before the 96th National FFA Convention and Expo, which spans from Nov. 1-4 in Indianapolis. Upon return, the major state officers will complete the final two weeks of their chapter visits.
Cooper Nelson from the Canton FFA Chapter is the 2023-2024 Illinois Association FFA state reporter.