Strong support key in success of Denmark FFA Alumni chapter
Laying claim to more than 600 lifetime members and nearly 100 associate members, the Denmark FFA Alumni in Denmark, Wisc., is clearly strong in numbers.
However, the chapter’s true strength lies in its ability to pull together and serve both Denmark FFA members and its local community, and that’s why it was named the Outstanding FFA Alumni Chapter at the 92nd National FFA Convention & Expo in 2019. It’s the 14th time the chapter has received the honor to date.
“As alumni members, we want to help our FFA members in every possible way,” says Lester Schlies, 2017-18 president of the Denmark FFA Alumni and former member of the Denmark FFA. “We’ve seen so many young people find their place and their passion as they’ve gotten involved with FFA – whether that’s through speaking contests or working in the greenhouse – and before we know it, they’re blossoming into leaders before our eyes. That’s inspiring, and it’s definitely something worth supporting.”
Effective Fundraising Meets Quality Mentorship
One of the most important ways the Demark FFA Alumni, currently led by Jeremy Krerowicz, supports FFA members is through fundraising. A substantial portion of the money raised is dedicated to offsetting students’ costs of attending regional and national events like the Wisconsin State FFA Convention, the 212° and 360° Conferences, and the Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.
The alumni chapter’s biggest fundraiser is the Denmark FFA Alumni Food Booth at the Brown County Fair. The booth first appeared about 15 years ago, and it is operated by FFA alumni, community supporters and Denmark FFA members who volunteer their time to cook and serve foods like breakfast sandwiches, hamburgers, bratwursts, nachos and cream puffs. In 2019, the booth’s total profit was just over $29,000 – all of which will be poured back into the Denmark FFA.
“The food booth has grown by leaps and bounds since it first began, and it’s now a huge part of what allows us to continue supporting our FFA like we do,” Schlies says. “We couldn’t do it without the dozens of people who volunteer to help prepare for the event and to cook and serve the food. I think that shows how much our community believes in FFA and the young people who are part of it.”
In addition, the Denmark FFA Alumni has helped fund the creation of the chapter’s state-of-the-art greenhouse through a $50,000 donation, and the alumni chapter recently purchased a 15-passenger van for transporting FFA members to and from events and competitions.
“Our alumni chapter is always willing to help us out, and I know I can count on them,” says Denmark FFA advisor Mary Handrich. “They help judge speaking contests, provide transportation and support us financially, and that’s just a sampling. There’s nothing they won’t do for us, and we are truly fortunate to have such a hardworking alumni organization.”
The Denmark FFA Alumni also awards scholarships to Denmark FFA members pursuing postsecondary education. In 2018, the alumni chapter gave $12,000 to qualifying seniors.
“It feels great to have such a strong support system behind our chapter,” says Denmark FFA Vice President Lashawna Vogel. “We receive so much from our alumni members – mentorship, scholarships, assistance with planning our own fundraisers and events – and their help makes it possible for each member of our chapter to reap all the benefits FFA has to offer.”
Along with providing financial assistance, the Demark FFA Alumni members volunteer their time to assist with students’ supervised agricultural experience projects and help members prepare to compete in career development events (CDEs) and leadership development events (LDEs).
In fact, Denmark FFA President Katrina Hoesly credits alumni and supporter members with helping launch her FFA journey as they coached her to success in Creed Speaking.
“Several alumni helped me prepare for my first Creed Speaking LDE when I was a freshman,” Hoesly says. “Thanks to all of their guidance and advice, I did well, and that kick-started what has been an incredible journey in FFA. I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done for me.”
It’s certainly a group effort, but one alumni member has been a perennial leader. Mark Olsen has served as the chapter’s dairy judging coach for the past 15 years and was recognized as one of only three National Outstanding Achievement Award recipients at the 2019 National FFA Convention & Expo. It’s just another example of the dedication the alumni and supporters have.
Community Contributions Set Example
The work of the Denmark FFA Alumni goes beyond FFA and into the community as a whole.
For example, the chapter purchased and distributed 1,300 cartons of milk and 7,000 dairy promotional materials during two area parades in 2018, with the goal of advocating for the local agriculture industry and showing appreciation for residents’ ongoing support of FFA. Denmark FFA members got involved, too, helping pass out milk, cheese curds and other items to parade-goers as a way of expressing thanks.
“We want to give back to our community and thank them for supporting both the Denmark FFA and the Denmark FFA Alumni,” Schlies says. “It’s important for us to make face-to-face connections with the people who are so willing to share their resources with us.”
The Denmark FFA Alumni also engages with the community during events such as the Denmark FFA Alumni Appreciation and Recruitment Party, hosted by the Denmark FFA Alumni Board Officers. In honor of Denmark High School’s animal science lab that opened in 2018, the alumni group hosted a grand opening geared toward drawing new FFA members and sharing agriculture with the public.
“To say our alumni chapter is generous is a complete understatement,” Handrich says. “Not only have they done wonders for our school’s agriculture program, but also they’ve committed to serving our community in countless ways, and I think that’s valuable for the students to see.”
All signs point to that generous spirit living on, especially if Schlies has anything to do with it. The former president of the Denmark FFA Alumni plans on continuing to serve as long as he can. He says he can’t think of a better cause to contribute to than the Denmark FFA.
“My son, Joe, graduates this year, and he’s the last of my four children to be in the Denmark FFA,” Schlies says. “But am I finished working with the alumni chapter? Absolutely not. I’m going to stay involved and keep supporting FFA.”