By JO ANN HUSTIS
SENECA, Ill. — For 18 consecutive years, Seneca Township High School’s 76-year-old FFA chapter has gloried in the coveted title of No. 1 FFA Chapter in Illinois. The Bankers Plaque, as the award is known, is sponsored by the Illinois Bankers Assoc. and is based on the nine biggest projects in FFA chapters.
Two Seneca Chapter members will attend the National FFA Convention & Expo at Indianapolis, Ind., on Oct. 24-27. They are Austin Granby of Mazon and Nicholas Briscoe of Seneca. (See related article.)
Granby was featured in a recent scholarship article in Farm World. He works in the family greenhouse and raises pumpkins and broomcorn. Briscoe works for his family’s grain elevator, Prairie Creek in Elwood, and for Agri-Tile, a farm drainage company. The Seneca FFA Chapter is also the home chapter of Illinois Farm Bureau President Phillip Nelson, of Stavanger.
The Seneca FFA advisor said the local FFA is a chapter to be proud of. “A community success,” said Jeff Maierhofer, who, along with co-ag instructor and FFA Advisor Kent Weber, will mark 24 years of teaching agriculture at Seneca High School this year.
The nine biggest projects that won the top trophy in Illinois for the Seneca Chapter are student, chapter and community development. These are things that can be done to improve as students, and to improve the chapter and community. “We have big events in all of those areas,” Maierhofer noted.
One of the biggest for the Seneca Chapter is the Thirty Miles an Hour annual event, in which more than a hundred members fan out on the roadsides to pick up trash and clutter for disposal.
“Also, we have a 117-acre land lab on which the kids have projects and where we raise crops to raise money for the chapter. We have the Seneca FFA Sale Barn on the land, and we’ve hosted our own club calf sale for 55 years now. We also host other people who rent the barn to have hog sales or goat shows, or whatever they need it for,” Maierhofer said.
In student development projects, the chapter conducts an annual Freshman Orientation Night for all ninth-graders and their parents to discuss the FFA. “To get everybody off on the same page,” he said.
“We also have a lock-in for our students, where they spend the night at the school if they sell enough food. Last year, we did some work at Milton Pope (Grade) School. We go to the school and teach things about ag science and horticulture.
“In the past four years, we’ve actually landscaped most of the school. Awhile ago, we did landscaping in downtown Seneca, and work at Crotty Park (a community park) over the years,” Maierhofer added.
About one-third of the 450 students in the school are FFA chapter members. The ratio is definitely higher than in other chapters in area schools, he said. This is because the chapter provides a wide range of activities “for anybody who is interested in any phase of our culture,” he said.
“We can tailor-make programs for people. Some people get involved because of the leadership that can go on there, what with the public speaking, and ag sales and issues contests.”
Maierhofer said the FFA Chapter is part of the high school’s ag education program. “We’re not the FFA program,” he said. “We’re the Seneca Township High School Agriculture Education program.”
He also commented on the many opportunities that exist in ag careers. “I’ve got people right now who are veterinarians, people in agronomy, in seed sales, floor operators. I’ve got students in GPS, ag machinery sales and several in agribusiness and finance. It’s just like open arms. For anybody who wants to get involved, there’s something for everybody.
“Horticulture is wide open. We’ve got landscapers and flower designers and people who work in garden centers,” he said. “They develop the experience where they can actually create their own project or work for somebody else. It’s like a mini internship. There’s also a chance for money-making.”
Because of the FFA chapter and his club project, member Tyler Hovious recently scored some major points on an internship interview. “He had a firewood project, which made him talk to local businesses. He had to sell it to them, provide them with a good product and produce that product and have it there on time,” Maierhofer said.
“Tyler told me the interviewer was impressed with his business skills because of what he did with his internship. Also, because he went on in what we call Proficiency Awards, he had to go through interviews about four times.”
The Seneca FFA Chapter was organized in 1936 to answer the need to educate farm boys. Maierhofer’s great-grandfather, Frank, a school board member, submitted the motion to include agriculture on the educational agenda. The Maierhofer family home today once belonged to his great-great-grandparents, Matheson and Katherine.