By SUSAN BLOWER
MIDDLETOWN, Ind. — Indiana is the only state to have three American Star finalists in FFA, and two of those students come from Shenandoah High School in Middletown.
A total of 16 finalists come from all over the country, representing the top 1 percent of all FFA members.
Devin DeBruhl and Nathan DeYoung, both from Shenandoah, and Leah Hefty, from DeKalb High School in Waterloo, are the three finalists from the Hoosier State, representing different categories. The winner in each category will be announced at the National FFA Convention, Oct. 24-28.
“It just doesn’t happen. This is a special year for Indiana. And I sure as heck haven’t heard of one school having two finalists,” said Steve Hickey, former executive director for Indiana FFA and a retired Shenandoah FFA advisor. “It’s a great accomplishment.”
Hickey, who returned to Shenandoah last year to help during a staff shortage, could not say enough for the two young men who have all but achieved the highest honor in FFA.
“These are great young people. Whether or not they win, they are the final four in their category. They have already won. We are proud of our program (at Shenandoah), but it still takes great young people who have the drive and energy and believe that you reap what you sow,” he said.
DeBruhl is Indiana’s Star in Agricultural Placement, defined as a member with the best Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) program and proven leadership skills. He is Indiana’s Star in Agribusiness, which means he had the top non-production entrepreneurial agribusiness.
Hefty is the state finalist in American Star in Agriscience because of her agriscience research and experimentation. For her SAE project, she performed three experiments to address problems in her community.
When hay was $10 per bale, she found that algae could be substituted at a 25 percent ratio. She removed algae that had been growing in their pond and fertilized it to grow. She mixed dried algae with the hay to feed her goats. Research showed that the algae was a suitable substitute for hay.
Her second experiment was to grow fresh vegetables in bags of topsoil to address food needs for those in her community without land for a garden. Her third experiment was to find solutions to insects and disease in zucchini, which she did by laying cedar chips on the topsoil.
In their midsize school at DeKalb, FFA Advisor Matt Dice said most kids are raised in either the city or suburbs, so the club’s focus every year is on science.
“The best students take ideas and run with them. Leah has worked real hard and done incredible things. She’s come a long way since junior high,” Dice said.
Hefty is a sophomore at Purdue University and wants to teach ag education and coach FFA. She hopes to stay in Indiana, but said she’d take a job out of state before changing vocations.
“I love ag education because it is so diverse. I have a class in plant science, animal science and welding, which is new to me. This is where my heart is,” she explained.
DeBruhl is living his SAE project out by working in a business he started with his father, Brian, and brother, BJ. According to Hickey, it is one of the six largest businesses in the industry building wooden trusses, pole barns and manufacturing steel truss plates.
Basically, DeBruhl recorded in his SAE what he is already doing as crew chief in the business, DeBruhl and Sons. He majors in engineering at Ivy Tech, so future work projects will have the benefit of his education.
“Work comes first because it pays for everything,” DeBruhl said. He is paying his own way through college. But in between his college tests and work, he volunteers as a firefighter 2-3 nights a week.
“This is not a project for Devin; it’s building toward a successful vocation,” Hickey explained. “This is a tremendous family of business. Devin was raised in it and embraced it personally. He’s been involved from the ground up.”
A classmate and friend of DeBruhl, DeYoung’s entrepreneurial business addressed communication and technical needs of his FFA chapter, Shenandoah School Corp., Ball State University and State FFA. His services include photography, website design, videography and consulting.
He created a website and provided technical support for the Henry County Beef Boosters, as well as for Shenandoah. “I try to identify their (communication) needs and answer questions, as well as follow up,” DeYoung noted.
Hickey said DeYoung is one of the kindest and most accomplished students he’s had. “His résumé is unlike anything I’ve seen in 41 years,” he said. “He’s participated in community efforts, he’s interned at the Weather Channel, he worked with the Ag Network to cover national FFA convention. He never sits down.
“He’s a great IT (information technology) person, but most IT people don’t have the personality he does. In his youth he fixed IT problems better than you asked for by the next day. The teachers are sad he’s too busy now,” Hickey added.
Now a senior at Ball State, DeYoung is considering careers in telecommunication, meteorology or ag consulting. “FFA has helped shape my skills and apply them in real time. The feedback I received in working with organizations helped me grow,” he said.
Asked whether she will see future students as accomplished, FFA advisor at Shenandoah, Tammie Gadberry, said she believed so.
“These boys didn’t need much help because they were on it. They will do great things. I believe most kids have potential and an internal drive. They just need someone else to see it. That’s our job as teachers. I just hope to get them in my ag class and to guide that drive,” Gadberry said.
If chosen first in their categories, Hefty, DeBruhl and DeYoung will receive scholarships and an opportunity for a trip to Costa Rica.