Waterloo FFA celebrating 75 years

A total of 30 Waterloo FFA members offered their work skills up for auction during the annual pork chop dinner fundraiser on Sunday. Farmer Kevin Poetker (center) of Waterloo was the high bidder for the farm skills of freshman Lexi Ruemker (left) and junior Kaylee Menner during the labor auction portion of the dinner. Both young ladies listed dairy farming as part of their list of work skills. The Poetker family operates a dairy farm east of Waterloo. (Kermit Constantine photo)

The Waterloo FFA has been a part off the school district and Monroe County as a whole for 75 years.

Here, in the heart of Waterloo FFA Week, the chapter is celebrating the accomplishments of its members over the years and showing the community what FFA is all about.

The National FFA chapter was formed in 1928 as the Future Farmers of America in Kansas City, Mo.

The Waterloo FFA formed just 12 years later, in 1940, making it one of the oldest chapters in the region. The original charter had 22 members and has since grown to 175 this year.

Tim McDermott, one of the Waterloo FFA advisers and an agriculture teacher at Waterloo High School, said his favorite part of working with the students is seeing them succeed and grow as leaders through the program.

Aaron Shull, a WHS senior and current president of the chapter, also serves as Section 22 president for the Illinois Association FFA.

From a student perspective, Shull said this 75-year milestone is important because it shows the students’ drive to build on their skills outside of the classroom.

“We’ve gotten kids to take an elective class and expand on their leadership skills and ideas of what they want to do after high school,” Shull said. “Since we’ve kept it going strong for 75 years, that’s a great accomplishment.”

Since Shull is the section leader and regularly gets to see what chapters in the rest of the state are doing, he has a good sense of how Waterloo measures up.

“Our program is by far one of the best in the state,” Shull said. “Last year, we got ninth place chapter out of more than 300 chapters in the state.”

He said the Waterloo FFA focuses on many aspects of agriculture and not just production, like many people may think.

McDermott echoed Shull’s statement, saying how FFA has moved on from the “Future Farmers of America” acronym to build on a more all-inclusive program.

“In the late 1980s, they moved on from that meaning,” he said. “It was more of a symbolic change, because even at that time, so few of the members were going back to the farm.”

Since then, the Waterloo FFA has changed to focus on the agriculture business and horticulture.

“We try to still teach about the importance of production agriculture, but we don’t teach kids how to be farmers anymore,” McDermott said. “It’s more about the science behind it.”

Another big change was that girls were not allowed to be members of FFA until 1969.

“Now, our membership is about 50-50,” McDermott said. “It’s impressive.”

Where Waterloo is located in connection to St. Louis, which has things like the Science Center, Monsanto, Purina and St. Louis Community College’s biotechnology program, there are many opportunities for Waterloo FFA members to get involved and learn more about the area.

“We’ve tried to improve our program to meet those industry needs as we go on,” McDermott said. “That’s attracted new students to us as well.”

Looking back through records, McDermott said he can see many family ties as the chapter moves forward.

“I’m seeing some of those last names coming back through as grandkids,” McDermott said. “Our first president was a Limestall, and now we have Limestalls in the program.”

To see that connection over such a long period of time is encouraging to the chapter, McDermott said, because it’s not something that happens everywhere.

“FFA is important because it helps students become involved and teaches them the importance of giving back to their community,” McDermott said. “Being involved in more than just the classroom aspect of school helps them become more well-rounded as a student and as a person.”

The FFA is celebrating this week with a variety of programs that have so far included the annual Pork Chop Dinner and Labor Auction Sunday night, a visit from the national FFA adviser on Monday, a school-wide motivational speaker and trivia night on Tuesday, and a hat day and dodgeball tournament Wednesday.

The remainder of the week will include a movie night for FFA members Thursday night, and members wearing FFA shirts on Friday.

The Waterloo FFA Alumni are celebrating 40 years in 2015. Look for a feature on the alumni in an upcoming edition of the Republic-Times.

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