At age 98, Russel Maurer, the 1936 president of the Beaver Dam FFA, had no idea that he was setting the foundation for thousands of FFA members 80 years later.
At age 18, Jennifer Swan, the 2016 president of the Beaver Dam FFA, admires the accomplishments of past members and sees a bright future for new members.
The two shared their life experiences as the chapter prepares to celebrate National FFA Week, February 20-27.
A common thread
Both Maurer and Swan grew up on family farms with a deep love of agricultural life.
"Our 200-acre farm is located southeast of Fox Lake on County Highway A. We cropped 150 acres when most farms at the time were only 40 or 80 acres." Maurer explained. "I attended Prairie View District Number 6 country school, located across the road from our farm. I was in the fourth grade when the new brick building was constructed."
"We primarily raised Shorthorn beef cattle, but also had Hampshire sheep, Percheron horses and a laying flock. I belonged to the Trenton Hustlers 4-H Club and showed steers at the Dodge county fair. We didn't have a tractor until 1940!"
"After grade school, I planned on working on my dad's farm, like most of farm boys at that time. But the high school agriculture teacher, Mr. Lloyd Larson convinced Dad that I should continue my education and take agriculture classes at Beaver Dam High School." Maurer continued.
Surprisingly, Swan lives on her family's 500 acre beef farm west of Beaver Dam. "Until two years ago, we had dairy cattle, but we switched to beef and now have 200 beef steers. I went to South Beaver Dam Elementary and joined Leipsic 4-H club. I show beef steers at the Dodge County Fair. My grandpa was one of those farm boys that stayed home to worked on the farm after country school," Swan explained.
FFA opens doors
But it was as members of the FFA chapter where each met friends, developed skills and set goals for the future.
"I participated in FFA basketball," Maurer remembered. "We competed against area FFA chapters. We even won the Fox River Valley FFA Tournament! My senior year, I joined the varsity basketball team and was the top scorer as a forward. We had to ride the train for the game against Hartford High School and stayed overnight. The underclassmen on our team went on to win the State Championship in 1937!"
"Our FFA chapter livestock judging team competed at the state contest at the University. I also showed steers at the Junior Livestock Show in Madison. My steer took second place, but beat the other steer at the International Livestock Show in Chicago, several weeks later," Maurer added.
Swan also has competed in the state judging contest (now called Career Development Events) at the University. She has demonstrated parliamentary procedure and participated in other speaking contests.
"My most significant activity in FFA was participating in the Washington D.C. Leadership Conference! I've also attended the National and State FFA Conventions. My adviser, Mr. Cramer has encouraged me to participate in as many activities as possible," Swan continued.
Travel experiences in FFA were important to Maurer as well. "We had a choice of going to the World's Fair in Chicago in 1936 or the annual FFA camping outing. I went camping up north, but wish I would have gone to Chicago as well."
While in high school, Swan has been working at Mickelson Feed Company in Fall River, in the office and in the mill. Maurer worked for the Fall River Canning Factory on the stationary pea viner while in high school.
"Over half of the FFA chapter's members are girls, and most of the offices are held by girls, today," Swan pointed out.
Maurer quickly explained that "In my day, only boys were allowed in FFA. But I dated the prom queen, Betty Heuer, and we've been married for 72 years!" The Maurers have two children and two grandchildren.
On December 7, 1941, when World War II broke out, Maurer found himself riding in a box car on a sub zero night with his show steers, on his way back from the International Livestock Show. Fortunately for him, Maurer was farm deferred during the war.
"After the war, I rented the farm to Green Giant and started working for the canning factory full-time as a fieldman and later in the office as dispatcher. I worked for the area canning factories, retiring in 2014!"
Maurer was 95 when he retired from the canning company.
Swan stated, "FFA has been the most important organization that I've been involved in. Mr. Cramer has provided advice and guidance as I pursue further education at Marion University to become an elementary teacher."
Laatsch is retired from teaching agriculture at Beaver Dam High School and continues to serve as president of the Wisconsin Association of Agriculture Educators' (WAAE) retired teachers group.