South Dakota agricultural education and FFA history: State supervision and state FFA advisory

Clark Hanson
South Dakota State University professor emeritus, agricultural education,

Author’s Note:To commemorate the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, Dr. Hanson has written a historical summary of events that occurred in the South Dakota agricultural education program. Over a period of time, a series of articles will share how the South Dakota program originated and developed over the past 100 years.

Today, any discussions involving federal aid to education and associated rules, regulations and guidelines are sometimes viewed with skepticism.

While the financial resources are appreciated, there often exists requirements that are not completely comprehended by administration or teachers. One such law, which has withstood the test of time, is the federal legislation supporting vocational education often referred to by the names of the primary sponsors, the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. It has been amended and renamed at various times, but the principles have remained basically the same.

Alfred True reports via “A History of Agricultural Education in the United Sates: 1765-1925,” that by 1922, 42 full-time and 27 part-time vocational agriculture supervisors were employed across the country. Because the profession was so new, the supervisors were obtained from a number of sources, including deputy commissioners of education, professors of secondary education, high school inspectors and professors of agricultural education.

South Dakota shared a staff supervisor, C.R. Wiseman, with teacher education for a year at one point, and again several years later for a period of four months.

In 1921, Mike Sharp assumed the responsibilities as the first full-time supervisor. At that time, the scope of supervisory visits included promotional efforts, instructional methods, supervised practice, part-time instruction with out-of-school youth and improving required reports and records. This practice of supervision has continued to this day; however, at the present time, the federal–state relationship is related to the appropriate use of federal funds as expressed in the Request For Proposals.

Duties and responsibilities of the state supervisor of agricultural education are best summarized by the narrative found in the “History of Vocational Education in South Dakota High Schools” written by H. E. Urton, Degree of Master of Science Thesis (1943).

Urton shares the initial implementation of the Smith–Hughes Act, including the administration, course of study, standards for approved programs, establishment of teacher education, farm projects, classes and part-time programs, State Fair events, teacher conferences, FFA Conventions and the list goes on.

On July 1, 1973, Mr. Ike Olson, state director of vocational education, hired Larry Nelson to fill the position of state supervisor of agricultural education. Mr. Nelson had been the instructor at Salem High School for seven years and employed by Geigy for three years before accepting the responsibility of establishing the agri-business program at Lake Area Technical Institute. Larry was the agri-business chair for three years before taking over the reins in Pierre.

Mr. Nelson established two primary goals when he assumed the role of state leader for agricultural education.

The secondary program goal consisted of establishing new programs or reestablishing programs and providing high school students with the benefits of local vocational agriculture classes. Nelson stated that his second goal was the establishment of agricultural post-secondary programs at the emerging Area Technical Institutes across South Dakota.

The Career and Technical Education Act had been recently passed, enhancing the original Smith-Hughes Act. Nelson expressed the thought that the program guidelines and financial input provided significant support to aid in accomplishing his initial goals. Larry placed significant emphasis on establishing and utilizing program advisory committees at the state level and encouraged instructors to do likewise at the local level. Mr. Nelson also stated his satisfaction with the “Limited Certificate” program established to assist in filling many teaching vacancies.

More recently, in 2015, after serving four years as assistant state supervisor, Michelle Nelson assumed the role of state supervisor of agricultural education.

The job description has changed over the years, and Nelson has responsibility for 34 career and technical education programs in a given region. In addition to those responsibilities, Nelson oversees the professional development for agricultural education instructors. She utilizes a program developed by the National Association of Agricultural Education entitled, “Communities of Practice” to aid in professional development for teachers. She also relies heavily on teacher requests and recommendations for developing subject matter in-service needs.

One of the responsibilities of the state supervisors’ consists of collaboration with local instructors in applying for and implementing grants available from the current federal legislation, Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

The current system for distributing federal dollars to individual programs focuses on technology and meeting the needs of underserved students. The application can take some time to prepare, but once it is approved, it is basically funded. The effort of reporting the results and reimbursement of funds is held to a minimum, as they are specified at the time of the application and subsequent approval.

Over the years, from the beginning of the Smith-Hughes Act, emphasis was based on enrollment, whereas today it is on maintaining up-to-date instruction utilizing technology and meeting the needs of special population students including social economic considerations.

Beginning in July 1974, Robert Bell of Charles City, Iowa was hired to assist in the expansion of agricultural education for the state of South Dakota.

The original job description included Bell providing leadership in supervising programs east of Highway 281 and managing the statewide FFA program. Bell reports that supervisory school visits generally included a review of the curriculum, teaching objectives and discussion of the total program emphasis. Bell indicated that 98% of his job consisted of salesmanship. Bell served in this position for 22 years.

Following Bell’s retirement, Gerri Eide assumed the role of assistant state supervisor and South Dakota FFA executive secretary. Eide states that one of her major roles consisted of assisting new and uncertified teachers with the process of getting established and growing as an agricultural education instructor. The profession was experiencing a shortage of instructors during the Bell and Eide tenure.

Today, Eide serves South Dakota FFA as executive director of the FFA Foundation. Gretchen Sharp serves as the Executive Assistant.

On July 1, 2020, Dani Herring, former agricultural education instructor at Wall High School, took over the reins of the assistant state supervisor and FFA executive advisor.

Herring stated that the immediate concern of today is to initiate a process of planning a traditional State FFA Convention with the flexibility of returning to a virtual convention similar to what was held in the spring of 2020. Herring recently participated in a national state staff tele-conference with a focus on the need to develop multiple contingency plans for state conventions. Herring views her role as the state’s liaison for the FFA organization between the National FFA organization and the local agricultural education instructor. Her long-term goals consist of increasing the number of finalists in the National FFA Proficiency Awards program and Agri-Science competition.

This article is dedicated to the following individuals who served in an agricultural education supervisory capacity for South Dakota:

State supervisors of agricultural education / FFA Advisors

  • 1918-1919, E.D. Stivers
  • 1919, C.H. Brady
  • 1920, Fred Smith
  • 1920-1921, C.R. Wiseman
  • 1921-1925, M.K. Sharp (first full-time supervisor)
  • 1925-1928, P.W. Danielson
  • 1928-1928, C.R. Wiseman
  • 1929-1936, W.P. Beard
  • 1937-1968, Harold Eugene Urton
  • 1968-1973, Erland (Gus) Gustafson
  • 1973-1988, Larry G. Nelson
  • 1988-1994, Ed Mueller
  • 1994-2007, Gary Grey
  • 2007-2009, Brad Bies
  • 2009-2010, Tiffany Sanderson
  • 2010-2015, Nora Kohlenberg
  • 2015-present, Michelle Nelson
Assistant state supervisors/South Dakota FFA executive secretaries
  • 1974-1996, Robert Bell
  • 1996-2008, Gerri Ann Eidi
  • 2008, Jamie Swan (interim)
  • 2008-2011, Marie Jaacks
  • 2011 Morgan Kontz (interim)
  • 2011-2015, Michelle Nelson
  • 2016-2016, Kiley Kaufman
  • 2016-2019, Beth Mayrose
  • 2020-2020, Jonathon Linke (interim) and Jeanette Klein (interim)
  • 2020-present, Dani Herring