FFA, Grow Like That!- Harry Birdwell, Past National FFA PresidentMon, 29 Apr 2013 08:23:57 CDT
The theme of the 2013 Oklahoma FFA Convention to be held April 30th through May 1, 2013 is “FFA, Grow Like That!” There are thousands of former FFA members that serve as role models for current and future FFA students- and the Radio Oklahoma Ag Network and OklahomaFarmReport.Com are pleased to be working with the Oklahoma FFA Association to spotlight some of the tremendously successful men and women who wore the Blue and Gold Jacket of the FFA during their high school days- and have used that experience as a springboard to success in later life.
During April and May, the Radio Oklahoma Ag Network is producing a series of radio announcements spotlighting a half dozen of these high achievers. These announcements, sponsored by SandRidge Energy, will be heard on radio stations statewide and will also be available to listen to on our Radio Oklahoma Ag Network YouTube channel. The content from each announcement comes from an in depth interview that Farm Director Ron Hays has conducted with each of the highlighted achievers. (You can also listen to the full interview by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)
The first former FFA member in the spotlight is Harry Birdwell. He is the Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office. He has had a successful career in investing, consulting, and real estate, and is a former athletic director of Oklahoma State University. During his FFA years, he rose through the ranks to become national FFA president. He said that there were many factors that drew him to join FFA.
“I think the leadership opportunities, the opportunities to compete. I love the notion of the competitive environment in a lot of the activities in FFA. Public speaking was a particular interest and parliamentary procedure was one of my interests. So, I found them all in FFA and not to mention the fact that I was raised in a rural area and we had livestock from the earliest times that I can remember.”
His love for livestock continued through vo-ag and FFA.
“I loved livestock judging. I particularly liked cattle judging and was fairly successful doing that. Public speaking: I won several state and regional speaking contests and won some trips which was a great opportunity for me to travel to various areas of the United States that I had not seen before… I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of people that I met and the range of young leaders that I met as I was able to participate in FFA activities.”
Birdwell was successful in competing for statewide office, first as Southwest District Vice President. He then became President of the Oklahoma FFA and was subsequently elected President of the National FFA in 1969.
“I thought it was just really a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know people from all over the state as a state officer. During the year as a state office holder you travel throughout the state and speak and interact with the members of the various chapters. I made lifelong friends, political friends, education friends, friends in business and industry, people who would subsequently have a major impact on my personal career.
“As national FFA president, what a whirlwind year! There were such interesting things happening in our world back in 1970. I mean, there was political tumult on a national basis. During the year that I was national president, several significant things happened in the organization. It was the first year that women were permitted into the membership of FFA. Prior to that, it had been all male. And what a revolution that brought into the organization and I think so much a better organization because there is coed opportunity in vocational agriculture and FFA now.
“We launched, that year, an important national program called ‘Building Our American Communities’ which got the young FFA members across the country to look at the opportunities they had to build and grow the economies of their local areas. We announced that program in the Oval Office of the Whitehouse with President Nixon which was an opportunity that I’ll not forget.
“We were right, as a nation, in the middle of the Vietnam war. At that point in time there was a delegation from our national officer team that went to Vietnam to help launch the national organization called the Future Farmers of Vietnam to say to the people of Southeast Asia that you can use the resources you have to generate the wherewithal to live. I think that was a special time in the FFA’s life as well.”
He said there were a lot of things going through his mind when he took off his FFA jacket for the last time after his tenure as president.
“You know, it’s really interesting. One unfortunate thing is when you are 20 years old and you’re one day meeting with the President of the United States and the next day you’re meeting with a corporate board in New York, and the next day you’re on the ‘Today’ program, you sort of get full of yourself, to be honest. You just think that you are more important, I suppose, than you are. When you pull that jacket off and you realize ‘Hey. I’m still who I was. I was a figurehead more than the position itself.’ You have to make your way to new opportunities and recognize that one of the great values of the FFA is the lessons you learn and how it can propel you from there.
“There are some people who can’t-who I have known-who have not been able to get past the fact that people are cheering for them by the tens of thousands while they are making a retiring address, but it is what comes next in life that matters most. And for so many young Oklahomans and former FFA members nationally, it is the lessons learned and the contacts made and the dreams dreamed that are the value of having been in FFA.
“I think every day of my life I use the leadership skills and the public speaking skills, the meeting planning and conducting skills that came as a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old in the FFA and have really been one of the elements of my personal career success.”
Birdwell said that there are so many success stories in business, politics, education, and life all across the country that started in rural America with the wearing of a blue FFA jacket. And he believes FFA will continue to provide those leaders far into the future.
“There is a greater need for leadership at every level of our society than ever before. I mean at the local level, on boards of everything from schools to banks to churches, state level, national level and when people are willing to step up and assume leadership roles, the society can only be helped."
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