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Hartford FFA celebrates 75th anniversary

May 2, 2013 | 0 comments

"You Can’t Dream Big Enough."

That’s what Orion Samuelson, known to farmers across the country for his WGN Radio broadcasting and sincere support of American agriculture, told members of the Hartford FFA Sunday (April 28).

"You Can’t Dream Big Enough" is also the name of his book that highlights stories about his 60-plus years on the air – 52 of them at WGN.

In his book and at the banquet, Samuelson described how his big dreams began amid humble beginnings on a remote dairy farm at Oregon, WI.

He talked about how a childhood illness altered his life and how it was the school’s agriculture teacher who came out to his family’s farm to encourage him to study and follow his dreams despite the teenage setback.

He said he was feeling sorry for himself because his illness caused him to miss two years of school and dashed his hopes to be an athlete. His agriculture teacher, who had lost an arm in his youth in a farm accident, encouraged him to get involved in FFA.

Even in high school Samuelson had an interest in radio broadcasting and he said the speaking contest opportunities offered by FFA provided the experience and training he needed to pursue that career.

His dreams were shattered again in 1951 when he was one of five finalists in the state FFA speaking contest. He confidently went to the event believing he would be the champion speaker but instead he came in fourth.

He said, "I learned that losing can be more of a teaching situation than winning. On the way home from that contest my ag teacher and I talked about what went wrong and where I go from there. I share this story because all of you have so many opportunities."

He went on to say, "Never evaluate a happening when it happens. Give it some time. God may have had a reason for it."

He told the youth to do what they enjoy doing and find a way to get paid for it.

Samuelson started his broadcasting career on local radio stations playing polka music and talking about local news. He moved on to enjoy a very successful career that he said he could have never imaged when he was doing his daily chores on the farm.

His career led him to 43 countries and reporting on agricultural news during seven presidential administrations. He’s particularly proud to have received a personal invitation to dinner at the White House.

Even with all of his success, he said when his dad visited him at his WGN radio station in Chicago his comment was, "It must be nice to be able to look at all that hard work and just talk about it."

While he just "talked about" agriculture, that talk and his lifelong dedication to the American farmer has earned him innumerable accolades, including a seat in the National Radio Hall of Fame, but he says the one he treasures most is his recognition as, "the American farmer’s best friend."

His book contains tributes to the many men and women who he has worked with at WGN. He tells about the presidents, foreign leaders and secretaries of agriculture with whom he has dealt, and special salutes to 4-H and FFA, organizations that were critical in his development as a speaker, broadcaster and citizen.

He also salutes his ancestors who braved untold hardships to migrate from Norway in search of a better life in the upper Midwest.

His book is scattered with many of his favorite Ole and Lena stories and he shared a few of them with the FFA anniversary audience.

Grateful for the opportunities presented to him, part of the proceeds from Sunday’s sales of his book went to the Hartford FFA.


Nearly 400 people attended the 75th anniversary celebration of the Hartford FFA including many past officers and alumni members.

Honorary chapter degrees were presented to three charter members of the Hartford FFA who helped start the organization in 1938. These include Gilbert Lepien, Leo Mueller and William Horst.

The banquet was planned by the current officer team that includes Karoline Twardokus, president; Mariah Ehrenberg, vice president; Thomas Gehring, secretary; Cori Semler, treasurer; Austin Schroeder, sentinel; James Horst, reporter; Derik Gehring, historian; and Missy Feucht, parliamentarian.

Gehring was named Star Chapter Farmer and at the conclusion of the banquet was installed as the chapter president for 2013-14.

The event included a review of highlights of the 75 years of the organization. The Hartford chapter has produced nine state officers over the years and was the first to have a young woman earn the state FFA degree in an organization that had previously included only young men.

Attendees enjoyed a video featuring student interviews of FFA alumni ranging in age from the 20’s to the 80’s who all shared benefits of FFA involvement.

Randy Ehrenberg is the advisor to the current FFA but is retiring after 33 years of service. He said his position as agriculture instructor will be filled. He is assisted by Mike Hennes who will continue in the school’s agriculture department.

The event also included the presentation of numerous youth awards and scholarships and recognition of parents and community volunteers who have assisted with FFA projects.

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