Cochrane-Fountain City FFA sends retiring teacher out in style

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
Retiring Ag teacher Chris Jumbeck, center, from Cochrane-Fountain City was presented with a restored blue and gold painted antique tractor in honor of her retirement after 33 years influencing youth at the school. Joining her are Trevor Adank and Philip Krzyszton, right.

COCHRANE-FOUNTAIN CITY – Chris Jumbeck, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor in the Cochrane-Fountain City school district in Western Wisconsin says the blue and gold has been her life.

For 33 years she has taught in the district where she served as the school’s first woman FFA president in 1981-82. She will close the chapter on her educational career at the end of this school year.

Last week Jumbeck's students surprised her with a unique retirement gift of a restored tractor as a way to thank a special for an educator who has done so much for them.

While some community members helped purchase the tractor initially, the students spent hundreds of hours in a neighborhood shop restoring the vintage tractor.

“What Trevor Adank, Philip Krzyszton and Ryder Lisowski did for me on behalf of our FFA chapter and the 2021 senior agriculture class is truly a labor of love and just unbelievable. I am still in shock,” said Jumbeck, adding that the trio put in over 500 hours restoring the 1940 Allis C tractor. "The detail is just incredible! It truly takes my breath away every time I look at it. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.”

Senior Trevor Adank says Jumbeck earned the special gift.

"She deserves it. She’ll help us with anything we need. She’ll do anything for us, helped us out through the years, really formed us,” he said.

What is even more unique about the gift is that the tractor was originally owned by Jumbeck's uncle Myron (Mike) Bork. The Allis C was one of three tractors purchased by local residents at an on-line auction of his machinery with the intent of restoring one for her retirement gift.

“Two of my uncle’s grandchildren are actually in my ag classes right now,” she says.

Jumbeck laughs recalling how she reprimanded the three in class last week because they were so tired and getting behind on their assignments.

"They had baseball after school but I didn’t know they were working on the tractor until 2 or 3 in the morning," Jumbeck said. "They had to do work with the motor, replace parts and paint it.”

The three students performed the work inside one of their grandma’s garage and put paper over the windows so no one could see what they were doing.

Jumbeck says, “This is a small town and it’s pretty hard to keep a secret.  They didn’t want anyone to see what they were up to.”

The longtime teacher says she is proud of the accomplishments of her students over the years. Jumbeck boasts that three of her former students has served as state FFA presidents as well as six students who held state offices. She also has many students receive national and state awards.

The agricultural landscape has changed since she grew up on a dairy farm, adding that there are not many dairy farms left in the area. Instead there are many poultry barns where farmers raise poultry for Pilgrim’s Pride in nearby Arcadia. These agriculture enterprises are joined by many crop farms and some beef farms.

Five small towns and the rural area surrounding them make up the Cochrain-Fountain City school district. Jumbeck estimates that nearly 650 students attend the K-12 district.  She notes that her agriculture classes and the FFA chapter average around 110 students each year.

In school, Jumbeck's students are particularly interested in environmental science, leadership and horticulture. They raise 3000 plants in their greenhouse and have a selection of meat processing equipment, given to the FFA by an anonymous donor. 

"We have dehydrators, smokers, sausage stuffers, meat saws and grinders,” she says.  “We are not licensed to sell meat but students bring in animals for processing and then take the meat home. We do use some bacon in the school.”

The ability for students to process home-raised livestock came in handy last year when it was difficult to find meat processors to to do the job.

The last year and a half have been particularly challenging to Jumbeck because of the COVID restrictions. Students had already established the plants in the greenhouse at the school when in-person classes were postponed, leaving Jumbeck to care for the plants herself. She also was tasked with arranging for the spring plant sale.

With the help of many, including family, friends, administration and the community as a whole, Jumbeck was able to complete the annual greenhouse project by contacting buyers from the past in the local area and helping them order the plants they wanted, even though they couldn’t come and walk through the greenhouse.

“We just brought our kids back into the classroom in March (2021). The 2020 school year and most of this school year were done online,” she says.

While Jumbeck was able to handle the technology and putting her classes online, she found it a challenge that she did not enjoy. She admits it is the reason she decided to retire.

After catching up with projects and cleaning out her classroom supplies, Jumbeck plans to seek employment in another field that does not involve so much technology.

“It was so difficult to do a good job teaching these kids online," she said. "They respond so much better in person and I don’t believe they learn like they would in person.”

She also felt bad for students when the state and national FFA conventions were cancelled in 2020. She is pleased that both will be held again in person this year.

Despite the COVID challenges, Jumbeck was able to take her students on their annual agriculture tour this year.

“We took 17 students to Portland, Oregon and we stayed in cabins in a remote area.  We toured many farms and stayed away from crowds and cities so everyone stayed healthy and safe,” she says.

The annual trip is supported through students' fundraising efforts throughout their high school years to enable them to enjoy the opportunity as seniors.

“I have always had a lot of community support,” she says. “Our FFA Alumni is amazing and very supportive.”

Jumbeck and her students were very instrumental in helping their community and local farmers during the challenging COVID year.

When nearby Ellsworth Dairy was forced to dump some farmers’ milk because of supply chain problems during the pandemic, she and her students helped out by creating 600 dairy boxes to sell to the community. These boxes, full of different products created by local businesses and farms, were an idea from a local farmer that was supported by staff and students.

The boxes helped limit the need for farmers to throw away perfectly good milk. The farmers and businesses were paid at cost for their products, so they were able to provide for themselves and their animals during the early hardships created by the pandemic.

This idea was taken up by many other organizations in the area.

Supporting farmers didn’t just stop there, as the district’s students also stopped by local farms under Jumbeck’s leadership to deliver care packages.

Additionally, in 2020 Jumbeck helped with supporting seniors who graduated during this challenging year. She and those who helped her with previous projects made boxes with goodies for the students, along with signs for each student.

Earlier this year the Cochrane-Fountain City school administrator Steve Stoppelmoor nominated Jumbeck for a special community award.

“Jumbeck has had a great impact on our community and has experienced much success. But in 2020, Chris Jumbeck has really stood out,” Stoppelmoor said. "(She) works hard to be a great example for our students but more to provide opportunities for students to become great people.”

Jumbeck is humble about the work she does,saying, “I don’t think of the projects as my accomplishments.”

Instead she sees them as the accomplishments of the students, FFA, CFC-administration — especially Stoppelmoor, who has been a great support for her, all of the district’s staff, and the community. 

She is proud of her students and enjoys seeing their accomplishments as they move on after high school. Most recently the school’s current FFA president was chosen as the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholar. 

Amara Livingston, who was named a scholar in Career and Technical Education, is one of three Wisconsin students and 161 nationwide. Livingston says finding out she made the cut was incredible.

“My jaw dropped. I just stood up and marched straight down to the Ag room and walked into Mrs. J's classroom while she’s in the middle of class. I showed her the e-mail and then she let out a big scream and we all celebrated,” Livingston said.