What makes someone a legend? What are the qualities and actions of a person that makes other people view them with respect, admiration, and consider them legendary?
The New Mexico Future Farmers of America held their State Convention May 31st – June 2nd at the Las Cruces Convention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The convention brought together FFA State Officers past and present as the organization voted in their new officers for the coming year.
On the last day of the convention the New Mexico FFA inducted retired Ag educators Storm Gerhart and Todd Pinnell into the Ag Educator Hall of Fame in appreciation of their many years of dedication and service to educating generations of FFA members.
To be inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame, an educator has to have recommendations from the community and a history of being an Ag Educator in New Mexico.
When asked what his favorite parts about being an Ag Educator and leading young New Mexicans in the FFA were, Storm Gerhart thought for a moment, smiled, and answered in a calm voice, “Really, I just liked it all. All of it was fantastic.”
Gerhart met his wife Darlene when they were both in college at New Mexico State University, and after graduation tried his hand as a Land Trust Agent in Colorado, but didn’t enjoy the work.
During that time, he was contacted by another legend in Ag education, Dr. Leon Wagley, who was an Ag teacher as well as a trainer of teachers, and he convinced Gerhart to come back to New Mexico and teach.
“I never taught in a large school,’ Gerhart said, “only small schools in rural areas, and the goodness of the people in the community was always special to me.”
Gerhart was joined by his wife Darlene, and daughters Raynee and Wendy.
When Gerhart said he enjoyed competition, this got a laugh from his family.
“My Dad might be the most competitive person alive,” Raynee, a coach of 20 years, said laughing. “When we got up in the morning, we were taught to feed the animals first, and then feed ourselves after before we headed off to school. Dad was strict, he liked to win, and so did we.
“When we were competing,” she added, “we weren’t allowed to set a hat down on a bed. It’s bad luck, and Dad didn’t want to take any chances!”
Looking toward her Mom with a smile, Wendy, added, “Really, none of this, our family, everything-“ she gestured with her hand, “could have happened without Mom. She took care of everything else in our lives.”
“That’s right,” Gerhart added, “Darlene brought the smiles even as she was delivering lambs and pigs!”
Darlene Gerhart was an educator who started as a Home Economics teacher at Grady Public Schools and went on to teach Computer Programming.
Wendy shared the overarching importance of FFA to a small community.
“In rural communities, we didn’t have things that large towns and cities do, so athletics and FFA are the lifeblood of a community. You see all your friends and neighbors at FFA events, sports, and church.”
Throughout the day people stopped by to shake Gerhart’s hand, congratulate him on being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and thank him for the impact he had on their lives.
This was a theme repeated by others throughout the day; Storm Gerhart was strict but kind, and taught young people how to navigate the adult world.
Many talked about how Gerhart taught them how to stand, introduce themselves, shake someone’s hand, and put their best foot forward. He taught them skills like how to write a business letter, how to speak to professionals, and more.
No legend is ever perfect, and there were humorous stories too. Gerhart’s daughter, Wendy, shared a memorable one.
“Way back some decades, the educators of the FFA took a vote to decide on whether or not to allow girls into the program. My Dad,” she said with a wry smile, “voted no.” She paused a moment, then added, “Fast forward a few years, Dad had two daughters and was leading a team of young women in FFA to Nationals!”
Gerhart chuckled at this, nodding his head as he said, “I was wrong about that one.”
Even though he is officially retired, Gerhart enjoys working with children to this day.
“I still work with kids,” Gerhart said. “The names of the activities they do may have changed, and attitudes have changed, but I feel strongly that we need people like farmers who can do things like shear a sheep, and I think vocational programs are more important than ever.
“I hope to see more farmers, welders, plumbers, people with skills having a chance to make a living and have a good life.”
When asked to sum up his career, Gerhart remained humble. “I’ve had a good life, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been lucky to have had the life I did and the family I have, and I’m grateful for it all.”
After a 26 year teaching career, Todd Pinnell was thoughtful about his time as an Ag educator, and how his life worked out.
Raised in Melrose, New Mexico, Pinnell spent his career teaching in Corona, House, and finished his teaching career at Texico High School in Texico, New Mexico.
Pinnell has retuned to Melrose, and lives on the family ranch with his wife.
“My Dad and Uncle have been ranching since 1954,” Pinnell said, “and now that we’re back on the family ranch, I’m able to help support my Dad and Uncle’s love of agriculture.”
When asked how it felt to be inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame, Pinnell had some thoughts to share.
“You know,” he said with emotion in his voice, “I played multiple sports growing up, and was in the FFA. When we played other schools in sports, we wore different uniforms.
“When we did things through FFA, we all wore the same uniform because we’re all part of the same brotherhood and sisterhood, looking out for each other, supporting each other, and helping each other succeed. FFA was the leading event in my life.”
Going further, he mentioned Storm Gerhart. “It is an absolute honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame today, but I need to mention Storm Gerhart because he had a big impact on me.”
Pinnell paused, and looked off to the side as he thought about what he was going to say. Slowly, he deflected attention from himself as he said, “Knowing of Storm Gerhart is one thing; actually knowing him is very different.
“Storm Gerhart was one of my inspirations to become an Ag teacher, and it’s great to see him being honored.”
As Pinnell recalled different parts of his career, he kept returning to his faith and his family as the reasons he was so successful in his career.
“My faith is rooted in my parents demonstrating their love of Christ, and,” he started smiling, “I always like to say it’s all about Faith, Family, and Agriculture. You know… F, F, A”
Pinnell spoke of his wife and extended family fondly. “She (Shelli Pinnell) has been the strength and grounding for our lives, and I consider my in-laws parents, too. (Pinnell’s mother has passed).
“It’s all about family. We enjoy our blessings together, and we’ve faced challenges together, and I have had a blessed life to have the family I do.”
Pinnell was joined by his wife Shelli, daughters Morgan and Micah, son Mitchell with granddaughter Eden, his father, Tuff, in laws Ronnie and Glenna, and his two sons in law Caleb and Daniel.
When he was asked if there was a takeaway from his career, or his life, Pinnell said without hesitation, “My prayer is that what anyone sees in me, they see the love Christ showed me, and how that impacted my life so positively. I want others to know about his love, too, and their lives to be as full as mine has been.”