Former George Rogers Clark High School student Stetson Shimfessel garnered many awards and accolades during his six years as a member of the Clark County FFA chapter at the school.
But none of those honors were as impressive as the one he brought home from the 85th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis last week.
Shimfessel beat out three other finalists from California, Texas and Oklahoma to earn the FFA National Beef Production Placement Award, becoming the first Clark County FFA member to earn the honor.
“This is the first time in my recollection that we have had a national finalist. We’ve had several state winners, but this is the first national winner,” Clark County FFA leader Jimmy Powell said. “We’re very proud of Stetson. This is a great honor.”
The award is part of the National FFA Organization’s Agriculture Proficiency Awards program, which recognizes student achievement in agribusiness gained through the establishment of a new business, working for an existing company or otherwise gaining hands-on career experience.
The four finalists are chosen from among the 50 state winners who were picked for their performances during their local chapter’s mandatory supervised agriculture experience projects which are designed to develop specialized skills in 49 categories that the students can apply toward their future careers.
Shimfessel was working at J&W Farms and owner Shane Wiseman. The job at the farm emerged from what he thought was a one-time job helping Wiseman, his neighbor, clean out an old building. But Wiseman asked him to help him out on the farm, Shimfessel, said, so he jumped at the opportunity to get to do something he loved.
Getting selected as a finalist was is no easy task.
Powell said the application, which must be submitted to be judged for the award, is very challenging.
“It is a doozy of a form that breaks down a student’s job into different skill sets and is extremely detailed,” Powell said. “When we fill these forms out for these kids it is like doing about 20 tax returns. It really is very thorough.”
While the application form is a big part of the selection process, the piece that carries the most weight toward winning the award is the interview session with the eight-judge panel at the national convention, which can be pretty intimidating for high school students.
Shimfessel said the other three finalists had speeches prepared for their interviews, but he decided he would do better by just talking from his heart about what his project was about and what farming meant to him.
“It was intimidating, but being prepared helps take some of the stress away,” Shimfessel said. “The other kids had something written down and memorized, but I just went up there and told them about myself and how I worked and how when I started I was just mainly in charge of carrying the feed buckets and opening gates, but as I progressed, now I’m still carrying the feed buckets, but know how I can make sure there is always something to put in the feed buckets.”
Shimfessel said most of his family is involved in farming and it is something he has always loved and wants to continue in the future. He will be entering the United States Air Force in the spring and plans to become a state trooper after that, something that will allow him to fulfill his dream of having his own farm.
“I just feel like with the way things are now, it’s tough to make a living farming without having another job that provides insurance and health care and all that,” Shimfessel said. “So, I’m going to the Air Force and then I want to be a trooper and farm on the side. I’m always going to have a farm, just right now I can’t do it full-time. But I’m not getting out of it.”
Shimfessel’s award was another highlight for the local FFA program, which has a history of excellence in the state, with members winning numerous honors over the years.
“This program has had many very good kids go through it and we have great group again this year,” Powell said. “This has been a pretty big year for Clark County FFA as far as winners. Stefan Fink was first in the state in the Star Program for production, and both he and Stetson are now eligible for their American Degrees. So it’s been a big year for us.”
Powell said he and teachers Shane Wiseman and Katy Powell lead the GRC FFA program, which averages between 130 to 160 students a year. About 50 members of the local chapter were among the more than 58,000 people in attendance to see Shimfessel receive his award in Indianapolis.
Shimfessel said it was nice having his friends with him at the convention. “They were all as excited as I was I think. We’ve been together for a long time, so it fun having them there with me,” Shimfessel said.
Shimfessel is the son of Scott and Cynthia Shimfessel of Winchester and has a brother, Colton, a freshman at GRC, who also is involved in FFA, and a sister, Casey, who is in middle school.
Contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com.