National FFA President Hails From Va.

11/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor

W.Va. FFA Student Named Eastern Region VP

For the first time in nearly 35 years, the FFA National Officer Team will be led by a student from Virginia.

Brian Walsh, an agribusiness major at Virginia Tech, was elected president of the 2013-14 National FFA Officer Team during the organization’s national convention held Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Louisville, Ky.

Walsh is the first president elected from Virginia since Doug Rinker was elected president of the 1979-80 National FFA Officer Team. Rinker is now chairman of the board and president of Winchester Equipment Co.

Walsh’s election capped a rigorous election process at national convention. Each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is allowed to nominate a candidate for the national officer team — a total of 46 potential candidates. They were whittled down to 24 after several days of interviews and workshops, including taking part in scenario activities, taking a written exam and answering several essay questions.

The winning candidates were announced on the convention’s last day, Nov. 2. Speaking by phone Monday, Walsh said he never expected to get the call that he was selected president.

“I jumped out of my seat and ran up to the stage. It’s the best feeling in the world knowing there was nine people on the committee that believe in you,” he said.

Walsh grew up in Woodstock, Va. He attended Central High School and joined FFA in ninth grade. He raised lambs and hogs for his supervised agriculture experience (SAE), which he said built upon his passion for agriculture. His family leased a small eight-acre farm in Shenandoah County.

He called the national nominating process “tough and exhaustive,” but he said he’s ready to take on the challenge of being national president, something he said he dreamed of since attending a national convention when he was in 10th grade. He said he hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams and take advantage of potential opportunities in front of them.

“For me, I’m most looking forward to these relationships I can create. I think that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

G. Andrew Seibel of the Virginia FFA Association, said Walsh is the first national officer elected from Virginia since 1997-1998, when Dana Fisher, who is ironically Walsh’s high school advisor, was elected to the team. Matt Lohr, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, also served as a national officer.

Seibel said he only got to see Walsh for two or three minutes after he was elected in Louisville.

He remembers Walsh being a shy ninth grader when he first joined FFA; someone who had to be encouraged to take advantage of opportunities presented his way.

When Walsh was elected state FFA president in 2011, Seibel said he got to see his growth as a public speaker and his relative ease getting in front of a group of people.

Having served as an adult consultant to the national nominating committee, Seibel said character is the most important factor in selecting national team officers.

“You’re not going to have to worry about him. He’s going to stay the same and true to the values he was raised with. Also, his ability to communicate effectively and be at ease in front of people,” Seibel said.

“It’s going to open up doors to him. The opportunities are going to be enormous. It’s just going to be up to him to decide where he’ll want to go,” he added.

Meanwhile Wes Davis, an agribusiness management and rural development major at West Virginia University, was elected Eastern Region vice president.

“The past couple of days have been pretty intense. I feel very blessed,” said Davis, speaking by phone on Monday.

Davis has been an FFA member for the last seven years in Mason County, W.Va., and served as state president in 2011-2012.

While his family is three generations removed from farming, it didn’t stop Davis from building a successful poultry business, which he said started with the purchase of a chicken for $1 at a local county fair and eventually grew to 350 chickens, with sales to numerous restaurants and schools.

Having a small business, Davis said he knows the feeling of sometimes being “left out” or not having a place in the larger food system. It’s one reason he said he wants to encourage FFA members to take advantage of opportunities even if they come from a relatively small place like West Virginia.

“We really do have so many opportunities. There are a lot of FFA members that really aren’t as engaged as they could be,” he said,

Jason Hughes, the state FFA advisor in West Virginia, said much of the work Davis put in to eventually being elected at the national level came on his own dime, traveling to Washington, D.C., for meetings on agricultural issues and even a trip to Texas for leadership training.

He said Davis is “our first national officer from West Virginia in 39 years. It’s been a long time and Wes is so deserving and we’re ecstatic.”

Hughes said the election couldn’t have come at a better time as FFA membership in the state is on the rise and six new FFA programs chapters have come on in the last two years.

“It’s definitely a shot in the arm,” Hughes said. “It’s a close-knit group. There is a membership of 5,000. It gives everyone this overall feeling of satisfaction and pride. I’d like to think this is also a result of a quality and strong and very solid ag education and FFA program in the state of West Virginia.”

The National FFA Officer Team also includes Mitch Baker, secretary, from Tennessee; Steven Brockshus, Central Region vice president from Iowa; Jackson Harris, South Region vice president from Alabama; and Jason Wetzler, Western Region vice president from Oregon.

National officers commit to a year of service to the organization including traveling more than 100,000 national and international miles to interact with business and industry leaders; thousands of FFA members and teachers; corporate sponsors; government and education officials; state FFA leaders; the general public; and more, according to a press release provided by the National FFA Organization.

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