Check advocates for kids, ag through FFA Alumni
Jim Check’s mission is to serve as an advocate for agriculture.
Poised to step up to the podium as the new president of the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association, one of his goals is to encourage FFA Alumni to think of themselves as advocates for agriculture by volunteering their time and energy to their local FFA chapters.
Check, of Milton, is welcoming as many as 350 agriculture teachers and FFA Alumni members to Rock County for the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Convention on Feb. 10 and 11. The theme of the convention is “Don’t Be the Missing Piece.”
Check is convention chairman, plus he serves as president-elect of the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association.
He served as vice president two years ago, and he started his statewide involvement in 2005, serving as a Section 5 representative for alumni in Rock, Dane and Green counties.
Started with children
Check’s involvement as an FFA Alumni member started with his children. When his oldest child, Carmen, started taking agriculture classes, she came home with information about the Milton FFA Alumni.
“We felt we should join and help out,” Check recalls. “Once we got started, it was easy to go back. It’s a very unique group. When something needs to get done, everyone just pitches in. It just happens.”
All three of the Checks’ children — Carmen, Evan and Ellen — took agriculture classes at Milton High School, and all three have careers or are planning careers in agriculture.
Carmen Montgomery graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, teaches agriculture at Monroe High School and, with her husband, Clint, owns and operates a dairy farm near Argyle.
Evan, a graduate of Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, works for Badgerland Grain, an Evansville farm.
Ellen is a sophomore at UW-Platteville with a major in agribusiness and minor in marketing.
Even when their children graduated from high school, Check and his wife Mary continued their support of the FFA chapter.
They have remained highly involved in Milton FFA Alumni activities, including helping to put together Thanksgiving baskets for the Milton Food Pantry and chairing the clean-up of Schilberg Park for the July 4th celebration.
They chaired the FFA Chapter’s Haunted House fundraising activity for several years, and they’ve served as chaperones for events like the National FFA Convention.
Check served as president of the Milton FFA Alumni in 2002, and Mary, who works as secretary for the Rock County 4-H Fair, continues to serve as the Milton FFA Alumni secretary, a position she’s held for five years.
FFA shows agriculture’s impact
Involvement with the FFA Alumni on both the local and state level has made Check acutely aware of the importance of agriculture and its impact.
“Everyone thinks of ‘agriculture’ as farmers, but your seed companies, ethanol plants, ag lenders, the cotton for your clothes. . . it’s all agriculture,” he says. “Once I got into (the FFA Alumni), I realized there’s a lot to learn and a lot to pass on.
“There’s so much that the state of Wisconsin has for careers for kids (in agriculture), but if you don’t have the schools standing behind ag programs, ag is going to suffer,” he says. “Who’s going to train our kids?”
That’s where FFA Alumni members can help, Check says.
Not only do FFA Alumni and others involved in agriculture need to advocate for agriculture to their local school boards and within the community, but they also need to support their agriculture teachers.
“We would like to have every school with an ag program have an active Alumni program, a program where they’re in touch with the ag teacher,” he says of the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association. “We want every FFA chapter to have an FFA Alumni affiliate in their school.”
FFA needs alumni support
Check, who works as a corporate investigator in loss, prevention and safety for Janesville’s Blain’s Supply Inc., always knew agriculture teachers/FFA advisors had a lot of their plates.
It wasn’t until his daughter became an agriculture teacher four years ago, however, that he saw first-hand the level of commitment required.
“A lot of people don’t know everything the ag teachers do,” he said. “They have nightly meetings, Half-Time Conferences, judging practices. . . Ag teachers do a lot of extra after-school activities, and they need extra coaches, chaperones and other help.
“Alumni need to step up and say, ‘What can we do for you?’” he stresses. “They need our help. . . Being from Milton, I realized our kids have a strong Alumni (organization) that helps pay for trips and other opportunities, but there are other areas that don’t have that.”
Through his involvement with the Wisconsin FFA Alumni, Check has worked with several schools to establish or re-establish FFA Alumni groups, plus he’s talked to ag teachers throughout the state looking for ideas about getting a group going.
Wisconsin currently has 8,658 FFA Alumni members in the state, and there are 173 Alumni affiliates, including four that were reactivated during the past year.
Check said that one of the rewarding parts of being involved with the FFA Alumni organization is the opportunity to work with the state FFA officer team and seeing what they do in their careers later in life.
One of the things he hopes they will do is to trade in their FFA membership for membership in the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association.
At each Wisconsin FFA Convention in June, the out-going state officers remove their iconic blue jackets and hang them up as a symbol of the completion of their demanding leadership role.
This past June, however, the state officers took off their blue jackets and put on blue Alumni blazers provided by the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association.
“We wanted to send the message to (the FFA members) that, when you’re done as FFA members, you don’t have to be done with FFA,” Check explained.
“I tell the Alumni that (being an Alumni member) is not about us,” he adds. “It’s about the kids. It’s about the kids and what we can give back to them.”