A total of 26 FFA students from three area high schools — Bangor, Holmen and West Salem — returned Nov. 2 from four days at the national FFA convention, and by all accounts they were inspired by what they experienced in Louisville, Ky.

The huge annual gathering — there were 56,000 participants this year— moved to Louisville after a seven-year stretch in Indianapolis (it will be held again in Louisville next year and in 2015). The Coulee Region contingent consisted of 18 students from the Holmen FFA, seven from West Salem and one from Bangor.

The students and their FFA advisers traveled by bus to Louisville along with FFA students from Cameron and Eau Claire.

“I think they were in awe of how big the convention was and there has already been talk of going back next year,” said West Salem FFA adviser Mike Larson.

During the four days of the convention, there were eight general sessions featuring presentations about topics including agriculture, leadership, communicatons, dedication and commitment. Students also networked with FFA members from all over the country.

According to Larson, one of the major benefits of the convention is opening students’ eyes to all the possibilities in ag-related fields.

“We’re in a kind of rural nonfarm area, but there are jobs in food science, in the environment and in business and marketing,” Larson said. “The career fair (in Louisville) is great for networking with colleges and companies. It opens up opportunities for scholarships and internships.”

Katlynne Kneifl said the biggest benefit for her was leaning how to get more involved in FFA. “I found out about a lot more opportunities that I never knew about,” Kneifl said. “I definitely want to go back. It was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.”

Of the seven West Salem students who went — Kneifl, Maddie Mahlum, Megan Rowe, Laura Knoll, Laura Munger, Riley Miller and Garrett Carlson — five were juniors who hope to return to Louisville next year.

“The FFA convention is an event like no other — it’s the largest youth convention in the U.S.,” said Holmen FFA advisor Roger King. There were 60,000 people involved if you count FFA members, advisers and guests.

According to King, seeing members from all 50 States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can give a sense of the influence that FFA leaders have nationwide.

“I know that when I can go to a community that has an FFA chapter, many times the community leaders are former FFA members who are putting into action the leadership and hands-on skills they learned in the agriculture classroom and in FFA,” King said.

Holmen, which has one of the biggest FFA programs in the state, always has a large group going to the national convention. Students making the trip this year included Alex Aakre, Natalie Burgess, Alli Dunne, Chris Jessen, Andrew Kube, Jennifer Lorenz, Korey Lyons, Madison Lysaker. Alison Oelfke, Claire Okoren, Jameson Marcou, Alyssa McCathie, Lexi Nelson, Hannah Tolzmann, Megan Walch, Karalyn Zachary, Michael Betsinger and Paige Storlie.

Although Bangor had only one FFA representative in Louisville — senior Austin Anderson — he, too, expressed an interest in going back (there are some options for high school seniors, including becoming a member of a collegiate FFA organization).

“I think he had just a great time, and he’s trying to figure out how he can swing it to go next year,” said Bangor FFA adviser Rick Bierbrauer.

One of the activities FFA members can participate in at the national convention is to sign up with the Courtesy Corps to volunteer to help out at various events. The West Salem FFA members and Anderson signed up to help out at the dinner where the American Degree presentations were given out.

That dinner had a special meaning for Bierbrauer and Anderson, as they got to see former Bangor student Mikayla Horstman receive the American Degree.

“That’s a huge deal,” Bierbrauer said. “It’s the highest honor you can get in FFA, and only less than 1 percent of all members get it. That’s about 3,500 kids out of 500,000 nationwide.“

Horstman is a sophomore at UW-Platteville and a Bangor FFA alumni.

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Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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