FFA Alumni reflect on organization

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

As part of the celebration of National FFA Week, Pocahontas County High School chapter alumni share memories of their time in the club and reflect on how the organization helped to shape them into the people they are today.

Tim Wade, of Marlinton, owner of Wade Farm and Feed, Class of 1973.

“It kind of gets you in the mind set if you want to do farming as a career – agriculture – any of that kind of stuff, and it gives you an idea of things you’ll be looking for as far as recordkeeping and public speaking. Back in my day, they also taught quite a bit on animal nutrition – proper feeds – so I think that kind of interested me.

“It got me interested in farming. I was going to farm anyway, but I think that solidified me wanting to farm. I think FFA gives you a good base. FFA is an organization that is big on parliamentary procedure and public speaking. It’s just a good organization.

“I still have my jackets – one from Marlinton High School and then one from Pocahontas County High School, when we consolidated. I can’t wear them anymore, but I still have them.”

Matt McPeak, of Marlinton, driver for Southern States, Class of 1985.

“It did a lot for me. It got me interested in mechanics. I placed first in Ag Mechanics in 1983 on the state level, and then I placed bronze on the national level. Our team placed first in 1983. We got to go to Kansas City, Missouri, to compete.

“I learned a lot about carpentry, welding, mechanics. I had more fun in the shop than anywhere else. Steve Bland was one of my advisors – and Orr Lee McMann, and, of course, Bob Reel came on, and they really did an excellent job with it. It taught me a lot and let me get out and see more of the world.

“I still use some of my mechanics. I drive for Southern States now. I keep bees, too. I do like agriculture. Just finding time to farm – I’d love to be able to do it, but with my job, it’s just hard to do. But working here at the store, I get to work with a lot of farmers and help them.”

Greg Hamons, of Hillsboro, Pocahontas County Extension Agent,  Class of 2001.

“For me, FFA was a good exposure to some different stuff I grew up with as far as agriculture and then there’s also the mechanic side to that, too. It exposes you to a lot of different things. Also, I was on some youth judging teams, so it allowed somebody like me –who had never traveled much outside of the county – to travel to National FFA conventions.

“It was good for me developing, not only agriculturally, but just as a person to see so much more stuff. To get out and experience things that I’d never seen before. It was a good learning tool along the way. Those judging teams, it’s something that people I know and kids I work with now will never forget.

“The folks that I was in FFA with, I’m still friends with most of them today. I still know them. Still see them, and I think it positively influenced a lot of us, exposing us to agriculture and teaching us. Forestry and the FFA program, when I was in school, went hand-in-hand. I think both of those together led me to where I am now. Just the exposure to that. Being outside was something that I wanted to do in my work, in my career as I got older, and I think that led me in that direction.”

Joe Riley, of Hillsboro, Principal, Pocahontas Coun-ty High School, Class of 1985, FFA advisor from 1996 to 2006.

“I think the one thing that it did at the high school level was give me a sense of belonging, because every student needs to attach to something in order to get through high school and do their best at school, so that’s what it gave me.

“Then, when I was a student here, it made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do as a career path. I was working in the shop, and Bob Reel and Steve Bland were there. There were about four of us, and I remember Bob Reel looked at us and said, ‘you all need to be ag teachers,’ and I thought, ‘that’s exactly what I want to do.’ That’s where I went from there.

“One of the biggest things was the public speaking aspect and how to present yourself to people. It gave me enough of an understanding of how to get up in front of a crowd and talk, and the courage to get up in front of people and talk.”

Matthew Barkley, of Boyer, DNR Law Enforcement, Class of 1987.

“It probably just gave me a little more insight of how to take care of livestock and how to watch markets and times of the year that you would sell your livestock. Mainly livestock basics is what I got from it. I still scan livestock markets from West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

Barkley’s son, Noah, is a senior at PCHS and the president of the FFA chapter.

“Actually he started in Doddridge County. The FFA teacher there did a program with the kids in the elementary school. They had FFA members come in and they did some programs with them. That’s what got him interested in it. Then I was a substitute for the ag teacher, and [Noah] was there a lot. He really liked the teacher, so he got interested in FFA there.”

Stacy McPaters Tawney, of Marlinton, Veterinarian, Class of 2009.

“Being in FFA was very important for me. It helped me expand my agriculture knowledge, which was great when it came time for college applications. Another huge aspect for me was it helped me with public speaking. I would definitely recommend anyone with an agricultural interest to take part in this organization.”

Susan Wilkins, of Hillsboro, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Public Relations and Special Projects Coordinator, Class of 2002.
“It’s hard to put into words what FFA means to me and how it has impacted my life. I’ve been a farm girl my entire life – checking cows, feeding lambs, working in the hayfields. It was something I had always done. It was only natural that I would join FFA as a freshman. But I didn’t expect to have the rest of my life affected by that decision.

“I became really involved, and I became really proud and really passionate for the agriculture industry. I learn-ed more about agriculture, but then I started to learn more about myself. FFA, truly, made me into the individual I am today. Putting on that blue corduroy jacket makes you a part of something much, much bigger than yourself. The jacket itself almost gives you a confidence you didn’t know you had.

“I became a state FFA officer and received leadership training as a high schooler that rivals some of the professional development I have received as an adult. Through FFA, I discovered that I had a true passion for public speaking and advocacy and, today, I continue to use the skills I first developed in FFA, as I present workshops and talks, not only in my career in healthcare, but also in travels across the country, presenting workshops at conferences to other farmers and writing a monthly column in the state Farm Bureau magazine.

“When I was a freshman, my advisor, Mr. Riley, required us to recite the FFA creed. Then, they were just words. Today, I get chills when I hear the creed. ‘I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years…’”

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