Clark County Press, Neillsville,

March 16, 2005, Page 14

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 



Compiled by Dee Zimmerman



Clark County News

75 Years for Neillsville FFA Chapter


The Neillsville FFA Chapter began when a gentleman, John Perkins, came to teach agriculture at the Neillsville High School in the fall of 1929.  An application was made for an FFA Chapter Charter, which was granted February 25, 1930 by the FFA State Association.  The first officers, who were elected in October of 1929, were: President, Herbert Kurth; Vice-president, Victor Braatz; Secretary, Harold Shaw and Treasurer, Harold Imig.  There were 31 members.


Activities of the Neillsville FFA Chapter were very limited during its first year of existence, as none of the boys had previous experience in FFA activities. They had a great deal to learn.  However, they managed to send three judging teams to Madison and sponsored the first Clark County Rural School Grain Judging Contest, in which 400 students competed. Also, three members of the FFA tested their home dairy herds for butterfat production.


As the year passed, the chapter grew in size, as did the number of activities.  The Clark County Rural School Crop Judging contest developed into an activity that the rural school students participated in for many years, with as many as 900 students in a year.


During the 1930ís, dairy herd improvement was stressed.  The testing program started with three students the first year, continually expanding until there were 53 students testing over 1,000 cows in 1940. To appreciate this accomplishment, one must think of the times back then.


Those years were in the time of Depression.  Many farmers were caught with heavy indebtedness at a time when market prices plunged to unbelievable lows.  Cull cows sold on the market for about $17 per animal.  Milk cows brought $35 to $40 and milk sold for 80 cents per hundred pounds.  Mr. Perkins recalls when boys in his class argued that hogs would never again sell higher than 3 cents per pound.  At this time, many farmers had to live off of the farm depreciation.  Income that normally would be used to repair and replace equipment and buildings had to be used for living expenses.  As a result, most farmers were operating with much machinery that in more normal times would have been retired to the junk-yard.  Foreclosures on farms were very common.


To make matters worse, one of the most severe droughts on record occurred during 1933 and 1934.  Crops and pasture were almost a complete failure.  In some places, the weather was so dry that the seeds planted in the spring didnít even germinate.  There was wholesale movement of dairy herds to distant points to the north, such as Prentice, Phillips and Park Falls, where green grass could be found.  Many of the dairy herds made the 80-mile trip on foot in groups of up to 200 cows.  It usually took three days to complete the drive.  It was necessary for farmers to migrate with the cattle, see that they were milked and that the milk was delivered to some market place in that area.


Even though these were trying times, the occupation of farming survived. At that time, many farm boys did not have an opportunity to attend high school because of the lack of transportation and they were needed to help with the large need for man-power in operating the home farm.  Despite this, vocational agriculture in the Neillsville High School prospered.


Two changes began during this period of time that had a great influence on farming.  First, there was the building of electric power lines to all rural areas and wiring of farmsteads to make use of this power.  Mr. Perkins recalled asking a FFA class in the early 1930s how many had electricity at home and only two boys put up their hands.  Only a few years later, practically every farm in Clark County was using electricity.  In the beginning, the main purpose was to obtain better lighting and power to pump water.  The full potential of electricity, on the farm, would not be realized until later, in more prosperous times.


The second great development of the 1930s was the introduction of hybrid corn.  Little did people realize, at that time, what an important part this new method of breeding plants would be in crop production.  Until that time, new varieties were created either by selecting better offspring or by crossing two varieties of plants.


In 1940, the Neillsville High School Yearbook stated, ďThe Future Farmers of America is a national organization of farm boys studying vocational agriculture in high school.  The organization aims to create love of country life, develop rural leadership and provide recreational entertainment for farm boys.Ē  By now, Neillsvilleís FFA chapter boasted between 55 and 60 members.  Basketball had become the recreational entertainment for many of these FFA members.  During the winter months; students who ate their dinner at school, played basketball during the noon hour.  Games were played against other FFA chapters in the area. The Neillsville squad claimed many victories, winning season after season and some years they were undefeated.


Stock, grain and crop judging teams continued the winning tradition, with many teams going on (to) the district and state levels.  Members also participated in the FFA Public Speaking Contest, where they excelled.


The vocational agriculture teaching, during the 1940s, placed much emphasis on improving the dairy herd.  The high school testing laboratory was a busy place as an all time high of 1500 cows per month were on test.  The selection of better herd sires was a major goal.  In cooperation with financial assistance by the Neillsville Kiwanis Club, FFA students were able to purchase and raise bull calves for herd sires.


Just as the farm outlook was beginning to look more prosperous, World War II caused a great demand for food.  Many farm products were rationed, or regulated, by price controls to hold prices down.  For the first time in many years, the farmer received more than 100% parity for his products.  The farmerís response to the increased demand for his products was remarkable even though he had to contend with several handicaps.  First, his equipment, in most cases, was quite badly run down and out-of-date because of the Depression.  Second, much of the soil was acid and below par in fertility.  Third, there was a manpower shortage brought about by the large number of young men in military service. Very likely, this was the beginning of the technological age of farming.  Farmers turned to machinery to solve the man-power shortage and to increase production.


The milking machine, for example, made a considerable change in the farm operation.  The size of the milking herd had very often been limited by the endurance of the hands that had to remove the milk from the udder.  Before the appearance of the milking machine, milking was a chore of the entire family on many farms. Everyone old enough to squeeze milk from a cow was pressed into duty at milking time.


This was also the beginning of large-scale use of commercial fertilizer. Farms soon found that a dollar spent for fertilizer might return about $3 worth of extra crops, so here was one of the quickest and most profitable ways to boost production.


The farmer had found a new hired man, who was both cheap and reliable, as electricity really came into use on the farm.  Electricity pumped water, milked the cows and turned darkness into daylight.  The horse practically disappeared from the farm during this period.  Mechanical farming was here to stay.


Another change of the 1940s was to make the dairy herd sire nearly as uncommon as the horse.  The artificial breeding of dairy cows had been increasing very rapidly, allowing farmers to use better sires than they could afford to buy.  The farmer was glad to be relieved of the accident hazard in keeping a dangerous bull.


The 1950s claimed the first FFA Parentís Night, which was held in May 1951.  The program consisted of the presentation of awards, speakers and a lunch served by the Home Economics Department.


In 1957, the Neillsville FFA team set the highest crops judging score in the history of the State event as well as the fourth consecutive year the team won first place.  The Rural School Crop Judging Contest continued its involvement and the speaking contest grew.


Lower prices for farm products usually follow the end of a war, and this was not exception.  The farmerís business now represented a very high investment.  About 2/3rds of the total expenses of operating the farm were fixed costs, like real estate taxes and insurance, which remained about the same regardless of crop yields or livestock production.  Most farmers soon decided they must maintain and even expand production so they could spread expenses over more units of production.


The year of 1961 saw the discontinuation of the FFA Rural Schools Crop contest with the closing of many rural schools.  But students undertook some new activities such as the planting of young trees in the School Forest near Hatfield.  There were production projects where students raised livestock, kept records on the animals and made some money on the side.  Another popular activity was the hybrid corn contest.  This was closely associated with research work being done to improve and introduce new varieties of corn.  Students were given enough seed to plant several acres of corn, any way they wished.  The corn was usually a new variety that was not yet available on the market and the only requirement for the students was to measure the yields and write their opinion of the corn planted.


In 1964, John Perkins retired, brining to an end the longest term of service of any professional teacher of agriculture in public schools in Wisconsin at that time.  Under Perkinsí leadership, Neillsvilleís FFA maintained winning judging teams, year after year, which developed self-confidence and a winning attitude in many students.


In 1965, Richard Quast was hired by the Neillsville School Board to replace the retired John Perkins.  Johnís replacement was a former student and graduate of Neillsville High School (1958).  The FFA continued to excel in the standard crops judging contest as well as other new farm related contests.  To finance its many activities, the FFA members had a refreshment stand that they operated during football games, sold seed corn and ran test plots of corn for profits.  They still enjoyed their traditional annual camping/fishing trips at the end of the year.


Due to the increased enrollment, the Neillsville Ag Department saw the addition of another instructor in 1970, Arthur Myrold, who stayed one year.  His replacement was another hometown boy, Herman Seebandt.  In 1972, Richard Quast went into administration.  The next three years brought three different instructors to Neillsville: Dennis Puchalla in 1972, Jerry Uher in 1973 and Jesse Zvolena in 1974 that stayed two years.


The FFA saw expansion in membership in the 1970s, the highest ever recorded was 130 in 1972.


The 1970s also brought acceptance of female membersí participation in Ag classes and FFA.  The first FFA female president was in 1975.


The FFA fund raising project moved from seed corn to a fruit sale as many farmers became dealers in selling seed corn.


In 1975, the Neillsville FFA Alumni was chartered as a support group of the FFA, with 30 members.


The Neillsville Chapter swept almost a decade of first-place finishes at the River Falls Ag Techniques contest, conceding only once in 1979, having to cancel due to a snowstorm.  Five teams won first place at Madison in Ag mechanics.  And of these, four went on the National Contest in Kansas City.


The 1980s took farm technology through rapid changes with increased use of computers and automation on the farm. The Ag department received two computers, enabling students to develop study skills and farm management applications with different software programs.


The FFA started many new and exciting activities.  The Food for America program for fourth graders was one.


The FFA saw increased participation in the Clark County fair.  Members raised market animals to sell to a bidder at the fair, reimbursing money spent on the project and often earning a profit.


The FFA also participated in the National Farm Medicine Research Center through the Marshfield Clinic, such as determining the amount of hearing loss that occurs in farm youths.


The FFA Alumni was actively playing a major part in assisting and supporting FFA.  They provided two $300 scholarships to students furthering their education in the field of agriculture and funds to enable the FFA president to attend the Leadership Conference in Washington D.C.


The 1980s saw another decade of winning teams and great achievements in Ag mechanics, placing first at the State level and advancing to Nationals.  Three American Farmers, of Neillsville, were honored at Kansas City.


The Neillsville FFA Chapter has continued to excel in its endeavors throughout 75 years of the agricultural program.



The 1941 Neillsville FFA members: left to right, 1st row; L. Bohnsack, C. Meier, R. Shaw, L. Pawn, O. Mills, J. Reinart, D. Stanley, D. Freedland, E. Magnuson, F. Geisler, R. Todd, A. Schaub, A. Opelt, 2nd row; D. Buddinger, R. Swallow, E. Sly, W. Boyer, K. Short, H. Rodman, J. Lemond, C. Florence, E. Dux, L. Dux, H. Harder; 3rd row; D. Dahnert, H. Zank, E. Kroll, J. Hiles, L. Lautenbach, R. VandeBerg, H. Murphy, W. Tock, H. Mott, J. Zdun, A. Drescher; 4th row; D. Schultz, H. Moffatt, G. Short, L. Stanley, D. Hagie, H. Carl, J. Kaudy, F. Subke, R. Jacob, M. May, J. Raine; 5th Row; J. Apfel, D. Gress, P. Krutsch, W. Anderson, C. Schlinkert, R. Hansen, R. Tock, D. Raine, B. Braatz, H. Kuhl, M. Wagner.  Absent: L. Seif, M. Nesbit, D. Sternitzky, J. Christie, A. Thoma, L. Brotherton, A. Eberhardt, G. Vine, E. Cram




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