Mr. Barnard was my agriculture education teacher and FFA sponsor. Yes, agriculture education was part of the curriculum in my hometown school. Growing up, I wasn't raised on a farm, and I never intended to pursue a career in farming or agriculture, but I was eager to fill my resume with as many clubs and organizations as possible. In my school, the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America, presently the National FFA Organization) was the biggest and most active club in existence. And Mr. Barnard was the driving force behind its success. And only for him would I wear this awfully tacky jacket:
During my freshman year of high school, there were more opportunities to compete. Mr. Barnard asked for us to sign up for a livestock judging competition. I was going to pass, as I knew nothing about any type of livestock, but I desperately wanted a free day out of school. So, I signed up for poultry judging. Again, with the thorough study materials and coaching from Mr. Barnard, I learned how to judge live birds, how to grade carcasses and broken-out eggs, how to candle eggs, and how to check for molt and measure a vent. It's now both a blessing and a curse when I try to find the perfect carton of eggs in the store when I go grocery shopping. I ended up placing first individually and as a team, which qualified us for the state competition.
This was the shock of my life. And my parents were in even greater disbelief that their anti-farm, anti-small-town daughter who didn't even like to be without shoes and socks had outsmarted actual farm kids in a poultry competition.
At State, we also won first place, which advanced us to nationals. And so, poultry judging became my livestock event-of-choice. I went on to place or win at state for the next three years in a row, which earned me a trip to the National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky each year.
I also successfully competed in parliamentary procedure competitions, natural resources speaking, and agriculture sales (I am still quite well-versed in Scott's lawn care products). With Mr. Barnard's coaching, I found success in all of these competitions. And that's without even the slightest bit of prior knowledge. This man works miracles, I tell you.
Besides the FFA contests, he taught me more skills related to agriculture than I thought I cared to know. I now know about horticulture and floriculture, I know how to electrically wire switches, I can build a machine shed and shingle a roof, make things out of plywood, build a hog trough or a sawhorse, identify and use any and all kinds of tools... heck, I can even weld (arc, mig, and oxy acetylene). Who knew?
Mr. Barnard is a man of character and a man of God, and he isn't afraid to let you know it. The man made "shut up" and "suck" bad words, and if you accidentally let one slip (I never did), watching his face turn red was more than enough punishment. In all interactions with students, adults, and strangers, he epitomized professionalism, and a handshake was standard protocol upon entering his classroom. He was extremely hard-working - often the first car in the school parking lot in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. And summers off? Forget it. He was slaving away in a fireworks stand around the time of the Fourth of July to raise money for FFA activities or was planning the annual water balloon wars.
When we, his students, should have been going out of our way to thank him for all he had done for us, he was planning the annual Chicago Leadership Trip for incoming seniors. All expenses were paid (because of his connections with local businesses), and it was a reward for us - the seniors who had contributed to the organization over the past several years. During all FFA-related trips, he provided the perfect balance of structure and freedom and the perfect balance of work and play.
The man is amazing.
During the final weeks of my senior year of high school, when it was time for all the end-of-the-year banquets and awards ceremonies, I couldn't wait to be done with high school. I wasn't at all emotional about leaving my school or leaving my town, but for some reason, I got very emotional at the FFA banquet. When it was time for me to retire my jacket on the stage in front of my fellow FFA members and their families, I may or may not have shed a few tears. Saying goodbye to Mr. Barnard was almost more difficult for me than saying goodbye to my classmates.
Tonight, I returned to Pershing Auditorium for the State FFA Convention. It has been six years since I last put on the national blue jacket with the corn gold emblem, and it was pretty nostalgic to be back in that place. While there, I had the pleasure of watching Mr. Barnard receive the Adviser of the Year award, and I had the even greater pleasure of talking with Mr. Barnard after he received the award. I think he was surprised to see me, but I am certain that I wasn't the only former student of his who was in attendance. It was so good to catch up and wish him well.
I only regret that the 30-second spiel that was read about him didn't do him justice. They didn't even begin to explain what a significant impact he has had on so many people.
Mr. Barnard is retiring at the end of this year, and I am sad for the young students in my town (or anywhere, for that matter) who won't get to be Mr. Barnard's students. I can say with great conviction that Mr. Barnard was an integral part in shaping the person who I am today, and is without a doubt one of the main reasons I became a teacher. If I could be a fraction of the teacher and human being he is, I would have it made.
Congratulations, Mr. Barnard, on an an award that is long overdue and well-deserved. Thank you for all you have done for me, for our school, and for our community. I am so proud to have been one of the lucky ones who got to learn from you. Superior High School won't be the same without you there.