State FFA Officer team members share memories of service journey

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wisconsin State Officer team members and state delegates enjoy their time at the 94th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis, Ind.

Last July at the Wisconsin State FFA Convention, a small group of candidates linked arms together, awaiting to see if they would be chosen to represent their section as a member of the Wisconsin State FFA Officer team.

Those chosen after a lengthy election process bounded up on stage, hugging fellow, newly elected state officer teammates. The very next morning they would be immediately immersed and instructed of their duties and commitments for the next 12 months.

While traversing the state attending leadership workshops, forums, conventions, meetings, endless committee meetings and training events, this group of young leaders would amass much knowledge and experience through their adventures while forging strong bonds with each other. 

We asked this group of 2021-22 state officers about their experiences in their roles, how they have impacted others and what they will carry into the future with them.

Ben Styer, President, Menomonie FFA

Prior to serving as a state officer, I had no idea how many different people we would be able to interact with. Seeing state officers and working with them as a high school student, I was aware of their time spent with FFA members. However, there is a community of people part of the Wisconsin Team Ag Ed that are vital to Wisconsin FFA, and it has been a pleasure working with all of them. Between our alumni and supporters, agricultural educators, Foundation board members, state staff, and even college professors, there are many people who support students wearing the blue jacket.

MORE: Styer - The sun is setting, but the future is bright

There are countless moments from these last two years that I hope to never forget. One of the most memorable moments was the opening of the first general session of the 92nd Wisconsin FFA Convention. Throughout the 2020-2021 year, my teammates and I were hopeful for an in-person convention, but weren’t sure if it would happen. Seeing our hard work culminate with the opening of the first session was an emotional moment, and it makes me even more excited as we now prepare for the 93rd Wisconsin FFA Convention.

Ben Styer

Serving as the State President, I have made a difference by being a consistent leader to my teammates. Last year as a State Vice President, I completed chapter officer workshops, attended banquets, and worked with students as much as our circumstances allowed.

Throughout the past 12 months, we have seen lots of change in our state association. My role has transitioned to being a leader for my teammates so that they can serve members at their best. While I attend banquets, carry out chapter visits, and attend many events, my largest role is leading my teammates as we face challenges and times of transition to a more in-person format.

When the confetti settles and the 93rd Wisconsin FFA Convention is complete, I will carry on the connections. Connections with FFA members have undoubtedly made these last two years an incredible experience, and I hope to continue many of the friendships formed.

I will also carry on bonds formed with advisors, alumni, and many other supporters of Wisconsin FFA. My teammates have become my closest friends, so I look forward to continuing our friendship as we begin our next chapters. The people of Wisconsin FFA have made an impact on me, and I am humbled to carry on connections formed this year.

MORE: Ladsten - The power of the blue corduroy jacket and its impact on FFA members

MORE: Top FFA members compete for Stars Over Wisconsin honors

Katie Zimmer

Katie Zimmer, Vice President, Flambeau FFA, Section 1

Before serving as a state officer I never knew how many different components would go into the experience. I basically knew that state officers had the opportunity to visit many FFA chapters, put on workshops, and plan state convention. Throughout the year we also had the opportunity to visit with legislators, meet with other career and technical student organizations, visit businesses, and meet with sponsors. We also were able to participate in many fun experiences such as Wisconsin State Fair, Farm Wisconsin STEM week, and all of the travels in between. The variety of experiences made the year interesting!

National FFA Convention is something I don’t think most of us can forget. Serving as a delegate for Wisconsin and acting to make change on behalf of our members was truly fulfilling. I met many new friends from other states and from our own, as we brought three FFA members to serve as delegates. The sea of blue corduroy jackets is always a sight to see while walking through the convention halls. It was exciting to celebrate the many accomplishments of our Wisconsin FFA members on stage and of course the election of the new national officer team.

Cheryl Zimmerman, center, Wisconsin FFA Executive Director, is surrounded by members of the Wisconsin State FFA team.

Every time I put on a workshop, interacted with a member, or shared a travel blog I put forward my true self. I wanted to make sure members knew that they should be themselves and that they don’t have to be the “perfect” FFA member or person. With members, I discussed how as humans we make mistakes, change our minds, have exciting goals and dreams, or aren't quite sure what we want to do next and that is okay. If I inspired at least one member to follow their dreams and be themselves, I made a difference.

This experience provided me with so many opportunities that I could not have found anywhere else. From this year I will cherish all of the memories, friendships, and networking connections that were made.

Many of the events we planned to create these memories were daunting. But with determination and a strong team to keep you on track, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I look forward to using this mindset in my future experiences to accomplish goals. My year was made memorable with a strong team and motivation to do what was best for the FFA members.

Casey Denk

Casey Denk, Vice President, Mondovi FFA, Section 2

Before having the opportunity to serve as a state officer myself, I never knew how many different FFA chapters I would get to visit. While traveling to a variety of schools, throughout multiple sections for chapter visits, workshops, and banquets, I had the opportunity to learn how chapters differ from one another.

Throughout my travels, I heard about a variety of chapter traditions, learned how every classroom operates, and experienced the passion for FFA through hundreds of members' stories and memories. I will always be thankful for all the memories and lessons made while traveling to chapters across the state.

An experience I will never forget is Fall Leadership workshops. During October, our team spent three weeks traveling to every corner of the state facilitating workshops for students across all ten sections.

The three weeks were filled with hundreds of miles traveled, several agricultural business tours, ten fall leadership workshops, and countless memories made with the FFA members we met along the way.

Some of my favorite memories came from the Section 9 Fall Leadership Workshop. Our team was able to visit a local FFA member's home to spend an evening four-wheeling, hauling milk, and having a campfire. Overall, these three weeks will always be a highlight from my year serving as a state officer.

Throughout my year serving as a state officer, I strived to make a difference through the connections I made with members along the way. While attending every conference, workshop, banquet, or chapter visit I strived to build meaningful connections with as many advisors and members throughout the state.

While reflecting on my year as it comes to an end, I quickly realized the difference this organization and the people I’ve met through it have made on me. This June, I will be ending my term with countless memories, helpful life lessons, and new friendships that will carry on throughout my life.

This year, I was elected to serve alongside eight individuals that quickly turned into some of my best friends. Together we traveled across the state attending fairs, FFA events, sightseeing in Door County, and truly making the most of every experience we had. I am so blessed to have had this opportunity and to have been able to spend it with such remarkable individuals.

Throughout the future I will always hold a deep appreciation for this organization and every member I had the honor of meeting this year. My year serving as a state officer wouldn’t have been possible without all of the involved and eager FFA members from across the state. 

Amara Livingston

Amara Livingston, Parliamentarian, Cochrane-Fountain City FFA, Section 3

One thing I was never told about state office is how much of an impact the FFA members will have on you. Many of us remember looking to the state officers as role models in the organization. Now that I am in the role of a state officer, this is flipped.

I look to the FFA members for inspiration and motivation. For example, one activity I like to do is have students pick out one of their biggest goals. I have had students share all kinds of aspirations, but three stand out in particular: 1) to buy a house for their mother, 2) to move their grandmother to America, and 3) to be friends with at least one person of every race, ethnicity, and religion. These are the members of the FFA organization who have these selfless goals that remind me of the goodness of humanity and inspire me to dream big.

While at the Hillsboro FFA banquet, there was a fire in the community on a local farm. There was a moment of silence at the banquet for the family that had just lost their brand new storage shed and the machinery inside. The most impactful moment of this was when a handful of FFA members came together to bring the firefighters that were on scene the food that was leftover from the banquet.

At this point, it was already 10:00 PM and these students had school the next morning. They could have all easily gone home, but instead they decided they would be selfless and support the firefighters. That night, those Hillsboro FFA members showed me the true meaning of community.

A few months ago, I was talking to past state president Chris Ritscher about my state office experience. I remember him telling me, “No one will really tell you about the impact you’re making, but you just have to trust that you are.” Keeping this in mind, I am not 100% sure exactly how I have made a difference, but what I like to think is this: I make a difference while visiting a school for the student that is having a tough day.

As us state officers travel around schools for chapter visits, we meet students at all different levels of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the day. I have had the ability to be someone in their classrooms that gives them a break from whatever struggle they are facing and maybe make some memories, too.

One of the things that are emphasized while running for state office is knowing your “why.” In this scenario, our “why” is why we want to serve as a state officer. For me this was always because of the FFA members that I would be able to help. Knowing my why has served as fuel throughout the year. When I was faced with difficulties, I could remind myself of my “why,” and all of a sudden the difficulty didn’t seem so big. In the future, I will be able to use knowing my “why” as the motivation I need when challenges undoubtedly arise.

MORE: FFA offers understanding of many aspects of agriculture

Mia Hillebrand spends time with FFA members from the Argyle chapter.
Mia Hillebrand

Mia Hillebrand, Secretary, River Valley FFA, Section 4

I did not know I would make so many connections with students across the state of Wisconsin serving as a state officer. I had the opportunity to travel to all corners of the state through Fall Leadership Workshops. Wisconsin State Officers travel to sections of the state putting on workshops within a three-week period. I was able to put on workshops for chapter secretaries and a workshop on how to be a positive leader and make a difference in your community. This opportunity created connections with students that I would see throughout the year at conferences, competitions, and the Wisconsin FFA State Convention.

An experience I am not most likely to forget is when I attended the River Ridge FFA Chapters chapter visit as one of my first visits. This visit had been the second visit I experienced this year and had been unordinary.

A student had snuck her goat into the school that day to take care of him during the school day. Nothing that I expected to the day as our goat buddy had joined us during presentations, competitions, and some class discussions. Needless to say, that will be one of my most memorable experiences as a state officer as the day was full of goat screams for attention, laughs, and learning.

I think back to when I had been a student in high school sitting among classmates who may love agriculture as much as I do, maybe love hands-on work, or this was the only elective class they only had one option for.

My one goal for being a state officer and coming to a school for a one-day visit was to make the students smile. You are only there for 8 hours and see many different students a day with many different perspectives on that day. If I could make them enjoy the one period of the day learning a little bit about agriculture, leadership, and FFA, I know I truly made a difference.      

Serving as a Wisconsin State FFA officer has been a true blessing. My first experience with State Officers was watching them on stage at a Fall Leadership Workshop with a full skit presentation and I had thought to myself “That would be pretty cool to do. But I could never present in front of this many people.”

As I got more involved I found myself having a passion for advocating for agriculture and FFA just as a State Officer would. This experience has taught me to have confidence in myself, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, and you are the inspiration for FFA members that may not see themselves in State Officers shoes.

Aubrey Schlimgen

Aubrey Schlimgen, Sentinel, Marshall FFA, Section 5

One thing I didn’t know about State Office before I got into it was how much work and dedication it really takes to ensure that the FFA members of Wisconsin FFA have all of the resources and opportunities they need to make sure they can be the best version of themselves.

Being an FFA member, I looked up to the state officers as my biggest inspiration and role models because of their energy, guidance, and passion for agriculture. But now after being behind the scenes this year and working with my team on behalf of the Wisconsin Association of FFA I can say that the reason I put forth so much effort and hard work was for the members.

I would do anything for them, have a conversation, provide them with wisdom or help, but also my favorite is just to be there to smile and have fun.

And now looking back on it I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those state officers who shared those moments with me as well. Because it’s crazy to think that just under a year ago I was in those same shoes as well, so we’re not so different and bonded by that blue jacket. Along with being that cheerleader and support system to let them know that things will be ok.

There are so many experiences from this year that I will hold very near and dear to my heart forever but one that I will cherish for a long time was walking into my gym at my home school for our very first FLW at Marshall High School for section 5. Everyone who was in attendance that night brought all the hype and energy despite it being the first one.

To be quite frank, we were a bit nervous being this was my team’s first conference we were putting on for the FLW season. But our nerves were at ease when we were met with enthusiastic members who were willing to scream out with pride and excitement and bust a move on the gym floor to all of the FFA classics. SLW was the most significant event to me and my FFA journey, so to be conducting it with amazing members and an awesome team was such a surreal full circle moment that I will never forget. Especially when I was able to share my heart and story to members who held me tight with their support when I needed it the most.

It’s undoubtedly hard to measure or think about something you’ve done when it all flies by in the blink of an eye. To think back on the year we had and all the things we did and accomplished is actually insane. So to measure something I accomplished is extremely difficult, but I will say this year was remarkable.

Even though it’s hard to say what I’ve done, I think that as an Association and as FFA members as a whole, we accomplished many things that a lot of people doubted we could do. Like hold successful in-person events again, and have astonishing numbers in attendance. Or revamp our Agricultural Education programs and have chapters be able to flourish and thrive under any condition.

I’d like to say around these parts we were back and better than ever. And to be a witness of the students and members finding their path in agriculture was the best part, because I know our future is in good hands. Hopefully my words and connections that I made along the way will resonate with some to be able to help them with their purpose as well.

After some reflection there are many things I will take away from this experience for the rest of eternity. One being that Wisconsin Agriculture is the place to be. After traveling the state and learning about all the aspects of agriculture Wisconsin has to offer, I’ve learned we live in a pretty special place.

Along with that, each member has a story and background in agriculture that helped shape my perspective on life completely. We all have a story and purpose. I’m one of the lucky ones that was able to hear many of these stories and see their purpose unfold.

But along with that I also learned that life can get pretty tough at some times, but all you need is a little hope and faith within one another and you will be able to walk on. I saw that within every member, student, teacher, stranger, and human being I came across this year.

With the right people by your side you will get through it. We all struggle, but can also all lift each other up, and the communities that I saw do that this year really helped me learn that the agricultural community is one of the strongest out there.

Emily Dahlke

Emily Dahlke, Treasurer, Adams-Friendship FFA, Section 6

When I started my year as a state officer I was under the impression that I was supposed to be the one that makes the impact or makes the change, but in reality it was the exact opposite. I learned more from the members than I think I would. Listening to their stories and hearing about their love and passion for agriculture is truly inspiring and it has me excited to see where they will take this organization in the future!

An experience I will never forget is when we traveled the state for Fall Leadership Workshops. We got the chance to visit agriculture businesses and industries all across the state. It was amazing seeing how diverse Wisconsin agriculture is and getting to experience each of my teammates' sections of the state. We got to see everything from hemp production to how the packaging is made for our everyday items. Wisconsin agriculture is truly amazing and I encourage anyone while traveling to make a few extra stops and learn something along the way!

I hope that I brought some excitement back to our members after coming back from a pandemic. This year we all got a taste for what normal life is like and we hope that it will only get better from here. As state officers we got to travel to all the FFA chapters in our sections and spend the day with them learning and having fun while doing so. I worked really hard putting together activities to take into these classrooms that maybe haven't been able to do a whole lot the last 2 years and light that spark that I was fortunate enough to have throughout high school.

After this year is over I will carry a lot of things with me as I progress with my future plans. My end goal is to become a large animal veterinarian and it is important to be personable and a good communicator which are just 2 of the many things that I strengthened over this year. The ability to talk to anyone and everyone and speak in front of groups will help me advocate for the industry that I know and love.

Lashawna Vogel

Lashawna Vogel, Reporter, Denmark FFA, Section 9

I did not realize how crucial my teammates would be to my success this year. I thought serving as a state officer was an individual thing and you are elected on a team to only work together on state-wide events. Contrary to my initial thought, my teammates and I have worked together on many things and we have each been sounding boards for each other. They have helped me with many things, through serving Wisconsin FFA and made my year much more successful than I would have been on my own. This was one of the hidden gems of serving as a state officer to me because in everything my eight teammates were by my side and willing to help out wherever needed.

With a year packed full of activities, just like our suitcases, it could be easy to forget things that happened along the way. I can recall many experiences, but probably one of the most fun experiences I won’t forget from this year has been the Wisconsin State Fair. My teammates and I attended all 11 days of the Wisconsin State Fair, which was the longest amount of time I had spent at the fair. Each day we would work at the Compeer Financial Discovery Barnyard and Farm Wisconsin Booth, then at night, we would explore the state fair park grounds. Our explorations allowed us to test weird things deep-fried or on a stick, talk with many FFA members, try out some rides, and of course, have fun as a team.

Entering this year serving as a state officer, I knew I wanted to impact FFA members. I thought making an impact would be nearly impossible, but fortunately, I proved myself wrong. From even the simplest conversations with FFA members I know I have made a difference in their life. It is the FFA members who have come up to me during an event asking for a picture together because they enjoyed meeting me or those who came up to me after with questions. These moments showed me I planted a seed for them to accomplish their many aspirations within and outside of FFA.

One of the biggest things I will carry with me after I hang up my blue jacket is the skills I have gained. While being an FFA member for six years prior to serving Wisconsin FFA, I acquired many soft skills. Now, as a state officer, I have been able to direct more attention to developing these skills in the areas of communication, teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving. As I continue to develop these skills, I am constantly practicing and applying these skills to what I have done serving Wisconsin FFA. I know these specific skills will be critical to my future in college and the workforce. I am excited that I will be able to take away many useful skills from my year of service.

Sydney Bender

Sydney Bender, Vice President, Big Foot FFA, Section 10

One of the major components I really did not know about going into State Office is all the experiences and traveling you will have. Much of our time this year was spent on the road. With all this traveling I was able to see all the way to the upper peninsula down to the Illinois border with everything in between. While on the road we got to take in the beautiful scenery and have a few adventures. I was able to see the diversity of the agricultural community, along with venturing to some of Wisconsin’s landmarks such as Door County and the State Capitol. I certainly did not know how much traveling there was going to be this year, but I am happy I was able to experience it all.

The most memorable experience so far has been the halftime conference. This two-day conference allows two FFA members from each chapter to go through eight different workshops to learn more about FFA competitions, leadership, and professionalism. The halftime conference was quite an unforgettable experience as the team and I got to see members from earlier in the year and see the excitement and enthusiasm they have for the year. Along with planning the entire conference ourselves from workshop content to the reflections session. This was by far the most fun I have had all year.

My time as a state officer, I always had a goal to make an impact with the FFA members. As my year comes to an end, I hope I could achieve that goal through building connections with the members. Here in Wisconsin, we have the opportunity to serve over 20,000+ members although I may not have been able to build a connection with all, I certainly think an impact was made with several members across the state. Through conversations about fair projects, FFA involvement, or common interests, I could make a connection with those members and hopefully encourage their involvement in the organization.

As I look to the future there are many skills and knowledge that I will take away from this experience but the number one is the development of my public speaking skills. Whether it was preparing and delivering speeches or interacting with members, the ability to communicate effectively and portray our mission or goal is extremely important. That skill is one I will never forget from this experience and be forever grateful for.