FFA & Family Ties

30 Mar

Spring means green grass, warm weather and colorful flowers seen and felt by all of us. But to agriculture education teachers and FFA members across the country, spring means contest season.  A busy time where students are learning how to judge livestock, identify plants and prefect their parliamentary procedure knowledge. As a former FFA member and agriculture education teacher I have competed, trained and judged these springtime rituals.FFA & Family Ties

My favorite thing to compete in, train and judge was public speaking. My exposure to this started at a very young age, long before I was an actual FFA member. My dad was a former ag teacher and taught many students the art of public speaking. I remember sitting in the living room floor listening to different freshman recite the FFA Creed over and over again, until it was perfect. Years later it was my turn. I memorized the FFA Creed and started practicing it with my dad. I have to admit it wasn’t all glitz and glam. He was tough and knew what it took to win. Hours of standing in front of the TV in the living room paid off though and I made it all the way to the National FFA Convention. In the years to follow I competed in all the different public speaking areas with my dad as my coach. These experiences gave me the confidence I lacked and prepared me for future leadership opportunities. Once I became a teacher, I caught myself telling my students the same things my dad had told me. “Talk with your eyes.” “Pull your chin down to show sincerity.” “Pause, pause, pause.”

I share all this with you today because I recently heard my dad recalling a public speaking contest he competed in when he was in the FFA. Read on as he shares his memory.

It was January 1974 and with a big ice storm hitting Southwest Missouri, my ag teacher had decided it wasn’t safe for him to take me to Jefferson City to participate in the Missouri Association of Fairs’ 1st state public speaking contest. Five hundred dollars was at stake for first place, but power was out across rural Missouri and ice covered most roads. My Dad put a big water tank in the back of our farm pickup, filled it almost full with water to add weight to make traveling on ice easier. We left home about 2:00 in the morning traveling from Aurora to Jefferson City where Missouri Association of Fairs Convention was being held at the Governors Hotel.  I remember sliding through an intersection in downtown Eldon, but we made the trip without an accident. I competed in two rounds of competitions held throughout the day and the winner was to be announced at that evenings banquet. I don’t remember the entire food menu at the banquet but I do recall having difficulty staying awake through the cold peas and mushrooms, which was a strange vegetable combination for this country kid from the Ozarks. The winning speech was to be presented at the banquet, and when they called my name, I was too exhausted to show much excitement. I had always been trained to not use a manuscript during a presentation. This proved to be poor advice as I forgot where I was in the middle of the speech and stood silent for what seemed to me like hours finally remembering where to pick up and finish. I got my picture taken with the Governor Kit Bond and was proud to not throw up the cold peas and mushrooms.

January 2012, in the Missouri Association of Fairs and Festivals 38th year of sponsoring their State Public Speaking Contest, it was a warm January day when my brother Jonathan Bellis was the state winner receiving a $1000 scholarship.  My dad’s winnings of $500 almost paid for a full year’s college tuition in 1974.  Jon’s winnings 38 years later, although appreciated just as much as my dad’s, will cover about a third of his first semesterFFA & Family Ties

I have to admit I got a little emotional while listening to it. It reminded me of what a parent will do to help a child succeed. Just as my dad spent hours helping my sister, brother and I; my grandpa risked a snowstorm in 1974 to make sure my dad’s hard work wasn’t a waste. I am a firm believer of close family ties and I am honored to say the FFA has played a huge part in strengthening an already strong family bond.

Thank you dad for everything!


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