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3 programs that have affected life of retired farm journalist

LEAD Comment: A LEAD 7 graduate reflects on programs, all related to agriculture, that have been most impactful.

November 30, 2023

3 Min Read
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MAKING AN IMPACT: FFA is just one example of a program that has made a difference in the life of Mary Pat Finn-Hoag, a Nebraska LEAD 7 graduate. Curt Arens

by Mary Pat Finn-Hoag


That’s the word I use to describe three programs that have had a significant impact on my life — 4-H, FFA and Nebraska LEAD — as a LEAD 7 fellow. Agriculture is a common thread of these programs and my life.

I’ve been immersed in agriculture since moving to a Wayne County farm as a 1-year-old in the 1950s. I learned of the 4-H program at age 6 when a new neighborhood club was formed. Today, Nebraska 4-H reaches 1 in 3 youths and is in all 93 counties.

I concentrated on (and loved) the agricultural projects, but I did learn how to cook and sew! Over my decade as a 4-H’er, I developed my leadership and communication skills; became interested in a wide variety of subjects through my projects; and competed on the county, district, state and regional levels.

Career path

After graduating from Wayne State College with a bachelor’s degree in education (double-major in broadcasting and journalism), I landed my first (and only) job at the Norfolk Daily News. I specialized in agricultural writing with a main focus on telling agriculture’s story to both rural and urban readers.

Too many myths and misconceptions about the ag industry still abound. There is a great need for those involved in various sectors of agriculture to continue to share their story — whether it be in classrooms and grocery store aisles, to letters to the editor, to lobbying on the state and national levels and becoming members of agricultural organizations.

Early in my career, I was introduced to the FFA program when I interviewed state and national FFA officers. I was most impressed by these outstanding young adults and the program with the motto, “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”

I have been an active volunteer since 1980 when an FFA alumni affiliate was organized at Norfolk High School. I think of and thank the many people, including 4-H leaders and Nebraska Extension staff, who shaped me as a youth. I feel an obligation to share my time and talents with today’s FFA members, who will be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.

There are currently more than 210 FFA chapters and about 12,000 members, as well as their advisors, across Nebraska who believe in the future of agriculture. 

How about LEAD?

The Nebraska LEAD program began in 1981 as a vision: to tap an enormous resource — men and women in production agriculture and agribusiness — with a desire to make a difference for their communities, state and agriculture as a whole over a two-year commitment.

I was privileged to be selected for LEAD 7 (1987-89) and continued to enhance my leadership and communication skills — and expand my knowledge of agriculture and many other sectors. My 29 classmates and I traveled across the state and parts of the U.S. — as well as Argentina, Brazil and Peru — during our international study travel seminar.

Today, there are nearly 1,200 LEAD graduates who have served in various leadership roles at the local, county, state and national level. In addition, there are 49 LEAD fellows engaged in the program (LEAD 41 and 42). The application deadline for LEAD Class 43 is June 15, 2024.

As the new year opens, reflect on the organizations that have most affected your life. How can you remain involved and encourage others to become members and volunteer?

I also recommend staying current on what’s happening in your corner of the world and beyond. And, as a retired reporter and editor who worked at a family-owned newspaper, I encourage you to continue to support local journalism. Here’s to the best in 2024.

Finn-Hoag is a graduate of LEAD 7.

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