2009-10 Soroco FFA officer team
Joseph Long, president
Michael Rossi, vice president
Lanette Laman, secretary
Bailey Forester, treasurer
Danielle Donaldson, reporter
Derek Crawford, sentinel
Madison George, historian
Taylor Hammer and Tyler Kelliher, executive committee
Oak Creek It's been more than 25 years since South Routt rancher Bobby George took agriculture classes from longtime Soroco High School National FFA chapter sponsor Byron Dean, but the life lesson George took from his teacher stays with him today:
"The harder you try, the better success you'll have in anything."
On Thursday evening, George's daughter Madison, a Soroco freshman, was one of about 25 students honored in the chapter's annual banquet in the Soroco gym. Dean hesitantly accepted some recognition himself, in the form of a "retirement basket" filled with a fishing rod and crossword puzzles.
At the end of June, Dean technically will retire from his position as agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor. He plans to stay on for one more contract year before leaving the school.
FFA chapter president Kimberly Rossi said Dean encourages students to work independently and do things for themselves. For Rossi, those things have included four years on the chapter's award-winning parliamentary procedure team and earning her American degree, the highest honor in FFA.
"He doesn't hand things to you, and he doesn't push you. But if you are motivated to do something, he'll help you do it," Rossi said, recalling about two weeks during her junior year when she sat in Dean's classroom every day after school and worked through the lengthy and detailed American degree application. The process was filled with numbers and calculations that have to be done accurately and that Dean has helped more than a dozen students complete.
"He's been here for 29 years - he kind of knows the ropes," Rossi said.
When Joseph Long and Jephrey Donaldson receive their state degrees in June, they'll be the 29th and 30th of Dean's students to achieve that honor. Alumna Glenda Long will be the 16th chapter member to achieve her American degree. Dean compared his chapter's numbers to national averages.
"It's less than 3 percent that ever get their state degree, and it's less than 1 percent that get their American degree. : We're way above the mark on both of them," he said. Those statistics, and the more than 100 district and state competition plaques that line the walls of Dean's classroom, have been a point of pride. Achievement in FFA tends to spread to other endeavors, Dean said.
"I've been able to watch compared to other students, and these kids tend to really excel, and I'm very proud about that," he said. FFA advisory board member David Long estimated about 90 percent of Soroco chapter members go to college or trade school after graduation. His daughters, Courtney and Glenda, and his son, Joe, have earned top FFA honors in their time at Soroco.
The sustained success - which South Routt Schools Superintendent Scott Mader compared to a championship basketball program - is a different outlook for the chapter than what it faced when Dean took his job 29 years ago, David Long said.
"He took a group that was basically on probation that fall that he came, and has taken it to be one of the top in the state, consistently," David Long said.
Before Dean showed up in Soroco, he was a military veteran who was back in school, taking agriculture classes with a plan to eventually become a veterinarian.
He was in his late twenties at that point, and he was told he might want to try teaching.
Dean - who grew up in a family of Arkansas Valley melon farmers - thought becoming an educator might make more sense than committing to another four years of school before starting a career, he said.
"I picked this school as the school I wanted to go to, and I've been here ever since," he said.
When he does retire, Dean said he hopes to move to a ranch in Westcliffe, a small town about 60 miles away Pueblo.
For now, Dean has one more year to teach agriculture, win a few more FFA awards, and encourage students to think and act for themselves.
On Thursday, as the final table settings were arranged and a slide presentation was set up for the banquet, Dean pointed out how smoothly everything was running, how not a single student - except for one FFA officer who wanted to make sure Dean understood the order of the program - had asked for his help.
"My role in FFA is adviser, and that's what I do," Dean said. "I just advise things, and they take the ball and run."
- To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.