Sibley-Ocheyedan names 14 American FFA Degrees
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SIBLEY-The catch phrase around the Sibley and Ocheyedan areas is, “14 in ’14.”
Fourteen former Sibley-Ocheyedan High School alumni received the highest honor bestowed to FFA members when they received their American Degrees at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, early this month.
The recipients are Derek Ackerman, Dylan Brockshus, Marshall Eddy, Caleb Hartwig, Evan Henningsen, Alyssa Hibbing, Wade Howard, Megan Jurgens, Joanna Kruger, Jessica Nasers, Troy Schmidt, Dillon Thies, Jenny Travaille and A.J. Weg.
Only 19 Sibley or Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA members have previously received this honor since the school’s chapter was founded in 1936.
This year’s recipients began their American Degree applications during the spring semester of 2014.
Following local, state and national reviews, their applications were approved.
Having 14 recipients in one year is rare in the world of FFA degrees, according to current S-O FFA adviser Brian Gottlob.
“Less than half of 1 percent of FFA members – that’s less than 1 out of every 200 – earn their American FFA Degree,” Gottlob said. “So if we were to follow the national statistics, we would have to have had 2,800 members in our chapter in order for this number to (be typical).
“We have 150 kids in FFA here.”
Gottlob said in order to achieve this degree, members must advance from the Greenhand Degree to the Chapter Degree, then on to the state FFA Degree before being eligible to pursue the American FFA Degree.
He said the most limiting factor for achieving the American Degree is members must earn $7,500 and productively invest that money into their Supervised Agricultural Experience project.
Gottlob, in his second year of teaching at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School, said he didn’t have the opportunity to teach any of the recipients.
They were taught by former chapter adviser Mike Earll. It was a combination of Earll’s skills as a teacher and his ability to get students excited about agriculture that led the former members to answer Gottlob’s call to apply.
He said that once he saw they had records at the school, he thought they would be qualified and motivated to do the work.
Gottlob said, “90 to 95 percent of them said ‘yes,'” when he first posed the question to them.
He said he thinks former Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA member Steven Brockshus’ involvement as a national FFA officer was part of what led to their motivation.
“I told them I would help them through the application process.”
Gottlob said he and the applicants spent a few weekends and late evenings in the ag room in January, February and March, filling out papers and gathering up records.
Ag education office manager Laurie Kraayenbrink helped by editing essays and double-checking statistics.
Gottlob said the State Degree alone requires applicants to earn and productively invest $1,000, complete 25 hours of community service and be involved in five activities over and above the chapter level, such as district convention attendance and district fair participation.
“This chapter,” Gottlob said, “despite going through a transition (in ag instructors) is excelling at an amazing pace.
“Mike Earll is like a legend here and I had big shoes to fill. The FFA program is strong here … and the most rewarding part of being involved in this is seeing 14 students reach the highest level of success (in FFA) possible.
“This award will be with them wherever they go. I’m excited about that.”
Gottlob said his mantra for his students is, “Progress shall mark my every step.” The motto, he said, is typical among American degree recipients.
“These kids are committed to excellence, and they were motivated to do the work to get this award,” he said.
Others who have earned the American FFA Degree from Sibley and Sibley-Ocheyedan High School are George Helmers, in 1942; Melvin Dreessen, in 1946; Robert Zylstra in 1964; Leslie Luitjens, in 1971; Bob Alexander, in 1978; Mike Earll, in 1978; Leroy Eggink, in 1981; Tommy Zylstra, in 1989; Jason Brockshus, in 1995; Justin Van Houten, in 2001; Andrew Krogman, in 2001; Tim Hibma, in 2002; Amanda Rollefson, in 2005; Loren Luitjens, in 2008; Cortney Schmidt, in 2010; Jacob Fox, in 2012; Kevin Berkland, in 2013; Steven Brockshus, in 2013 and Josh Earll, in 2013.
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