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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Three members of the Colfax FFA who attended the 95th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana, in October say it was the experience of a lifetime.
Allison Schmitt, a senior at Colfax High School who is the vice-president of the Colfax FFA chapter, Rosie Sonnentag, a sophomore, and Amelia Schmitt, a junior who serves as the reporter for the Colfax FFA chapter, spoke to the Colfax Board of Education at the November 14 meeting about their experiences.
A fourth member of the Colfax FFA who also went to the national convention was unable to attend the meeting.
After disruptions in mass gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “it was nice this year to have a normal convention,” said Allison Schmitt.
The convention was a valuable experience, and the workshop she attended focused on how to be better leaders and then how to use that knowledge to build a small business, Allison said.
There were 65,000 FFA members at the national convention, Sonnentag said.
The convention provided a variety of opportunities, and the workshop Rosie attended focused on stepping out of your comfort zone and how to achieve a goal while operating out of your comfort zone.
Colleges from “all over” had representatives at the convention as well as various employers in the agricultural field, Amelia Schmitt said.
The workshop Amelia attended focused on how to use influence to become better leaders and how to work within the community.
The career fair at the convention was incredible, Allison said.
Tiffany Schaffner, Colfax High School agriculture teacher, made introductions to Schmitt’s future professors at UW-River Falls.
Allison noted that she plans to major in agriculture education.
“FFA is an amazing organization, and Colfax brings something to the table that no one else does,” she said.
“The opportunity is unreal,” Allison said, adding that during the convention, she felt as if she was “there for a bigger purpose and to make a difference.”
The Colfax school district and the Colfax Board of Education makes a difference by sending Colfax students to the National FFA Convention, Allison said, adding that she hopes the Colfax school board will continue to allow FFA students the opportunity to go to the national convention.
During the convention, it was interesting to see all of the other Wisconsin FAA members, identifiable by their navy blue FFA jackets that have the state and the municipality on the back, and Wisconsin probably had the largest number of attendees at the convention, she said.
But there were also people at the convention from some unexpected places, such as Alaska.
“I was so excited to meet someone from Alaska!” Allison said.
All 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were represented at the convention, she said.
“Thank you for letting us go. It is an impactful experience,” Allison Schmitt said.
Ken Bjork, Board of Education member, asked about the process of deciding who would go to the convention and whether it was open only to the FFA officers.
The process for going to the convention is to fill out an application. Many members indicated they wanted to go, but then for various reasons, cost being one of them, decided not to go, Allison Schmitt said.
Colfax FFA has “a ton of members” who are sophomores and juniors, so there may be more students going to the national convention in the coming years, she said.
The cost for the national convention was $400, but students ended up paying $155 to go to the convention, Schaffner said.
The cost for students was reduced through fund raising and sponsorships, she explained.
“You represented us very well,” said Jaclyn Ackerlund, Board of Education member.
William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, noted that he had been a member of FFA when he was in high school.
At that time, there were few young women who participated in FFA, he said, adding that he is encouraged to see more and more women in leadership roles in the organization.
Mrs. Schaffner is doing a wonderful job with the high school ag department and continues to implement innovative ideas to improve the educational experience for her students, Yingst said.
Yingst said he very much appreciated the Colfax High School students’ participation in the National FFA Convention.
The national convention included an area devoted to FFA history, and years ago, when young women were not allowed to be members of FFA, they could wear white “sweetheart” FFA jackets if their boyfriends were in FFA, Schaffner noted.
Trevor Hovde, principal at Colfax Elementary, said that he, too, was an FFA member in high school, and that his high school agriculture teacher in Rice Lake was Stanley Bergum, who graduated from Colfax High School and was a classmate of Gust Fehr’s.
According to his obituary, Bergum passed away April 21, 2022, at the age of 91. He was born on the family farm north of Wheeler and was described as an “Otter Creek boy who fondly remembered spending summers with his Bergum and Fortney cousins.”
Bergum attended Clover Valley School and graduated from Colfax High School “as a proud Viking in the Class of 1949.”
Bergum was drafted and spent four years in the United States Air Force, and with encouragement from his parents and one of his uncles, attended River Falls and Stout State Colleges.
Bergum retired after 33 years of teaching.