Those attending Thursday night’s Valmeyer FFA annual awards banquet were greeted by the word “Sir” illuminated outside the chapter greenhouse next to the high school.
That one simple word has been used as a symbol of admiration, honor and respect for the man who has served as the school’s agriculture teacher and FFA adviser for 32 years.
Following an awards ceremony that recognized a long list of chapter accomplishments residents of Valmeyer regularly come to expect out of such a great program, Howard Heavner offered his farewell speech. Afterwards, he was treated to a lengthy standing ovation.
“It has been a blast, yes it has,” Heavner said. “I’ve got no reason to complain.”
Heavner, who graduated from Valmeyer High School in 1978 and began teaching at the school in 1982, plans to retire at the end of this school year.
Valmeyer FFA officers surprised their outgoing adviser with a special gift just prior to his remarks: a large quilt crafted by Kim Franke that features chapter logos, inspirational quotes and accomplishments.
“Priceless” was one of the quotes featured on this quilt. Heavner said this word is especially meaningful as he winds down a successful career at the school.
“There are some things that are absolutely priceless about my experiences,” he said. “I had the opportunity to teach five of my kids in high school. You can’t put a price on that.”
In addition to his children — Ryan, Anna, Andrew, Joseph and Jonathan — Heavner praised his wife, Ellen, and father, Robert, for being there through it all.
Heavner also heaped praise on late, longtime Valmeyer school superintendent Harold Baum, who meant so much to the community and hired Heavner’s father as ag teacher and FFA adviser many years ago.
“Dad’s here, I’m here because of Mr. Baum,” Howard said. “The school district likely wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.”
Howard and Robert Heavner, the past two FFA advisers at Valmeyer covering five decades, also presented a special homemade plaque to longtime high school secretary Mary Mehrtens, who has been there to assist them the entire time.
Howard said it was during his junior year of high school when he was elected FFA chapter vice president that he first started to think about an ag teaching career.
What he admires most about Valmeyer, the town in which he also serves as mayor, is that the school offers so many opportunities to succeed.
“You’ve got the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different things… not just FFA, but music, sports,” he said to the students. “Don’t close the doors to opportunity.
“In school, I played basketball. I made shots that won a game and missed shots that lost a game. Played baseball, too. I had hits that helped win a game. I had strikeouts that ended a game. That’s part of living. That’s part of growing up.
“I learned a lot from my experiences right here in Valmeyer and I’m a product of this school.”
In all, Heavner has advised about 225 chapter officers during his career.
“They get the full experience with me at the chapter level,” he said.
Two of his sons, Joe and Andrew, went on to become state FFA officers.
Heavner closed with a family story about his grandfather and father going coon hunting in a creek many years ago. When his grandpa asked his dad if he was tired of walking all day, his father replied that he was. Grandpa said “if you get tired of walking, start running.”
Heavner applied this to today’s hustle and bustle of life.
“If you want to be a champion, you’ve gotta have that little extra energy to kick in and go,” he said.
Waterloo High School ag instructor and FFA adviser Tim McDermott credited Heavner for having a huge impact on numerous students as well as the agriculture industry.
“As a Waterloo FFA member competing against Howard’s students, I was a bit intimated by his intensity,” McDermott said. “However, once I started teaching I realized that this intensity was Howard’s way of challenging his agriculture students and FFA members to be their very best.”
McDermott added that Heavner was often among the first to implement new techniques and teaching content into the agriculture program at Valmeyer, such as greenhouse, vineyard and aquaculture.
“In doing so, he set high standards for all agriculture programs and FFA chapters in the county,” McDermott said.
A parent and former Valmeyer student offered similar remarks in a post on Facebook.
“You have done things for VHS and the kids there that words can’t describe,” Laurie Unterseh said. “Thanks for the memories that you gave my kids and the ones your dad gave me. They will never be forgotten.”