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Birds of a feather … you know the drill

Front Porch: Retired ag teachers look out for one another.

Tom J. Bechman

March 10, 2023

3 Min Read
Kenny Brashaber, seated, with Gary Heshelman, Jack Simmerman, Ben Helms and Joe Park standing behind him
FAST FRIENDS: Singing “Happy Birthday” to Kenny Brashaber (seated) are (from left) Gary Heshelman, Jack Simmerman, Ben Helms and Joe Park. Tom J. Bechman

On the first Monday of every other month for 20 years, half a dozen retired ag teachers have gathered for breakfast at Chambers Restaurant in Spencer, Ind. The food is good, but that’s not what brings them together. Instead, it’s a common bond forged from decades of teaching vocational agriculture in Indiana.

“We catch up, but mainly we swap tales from days gone by,” explains Joe Park, Trafalgar. Park taught for 43 years, 42 at Indian Creek High School.

Other attendees include Jack Simmerman, Spencer, who taught for decades at Owen Valley High School; Ben Helms, Bloomfield, former Bloomfield FFA advisor; Ken Brashaber, Rushville, longtime ag teacher at Rushville High School; and Gary Heshelman, Bloomfield, who spent his career teaching in Greene County. Two founding members, Gerald Runyon of Clay City and Charlie Hines of Greene County, passed away.

Sometimes they allow me to attend. “You just need my four years to give you over 200 years of combined experience teaching ag,” I tell them. Together, the five of them have 198 years of experience.

Special trip

Kenny Brashaber lives in a nursing facility in Rushville now. In January, he celebrated his 93rd birthday.

“Hey, let’s go surprise him,” Joe Park told his buddies.

On Feb. 6, Gary Heshelman headed his Econoline van north, destination Rushville. That’s a three-hour one-way trip for the Greene County crew.

We arrived in Rushville before lunchtime. Joe went to Kenny’s room to announce our arrival. “He was quite excited,” Joe related.

What do old ag teachers talk about when they get together?

Food. “We’re going to take you to lunch, Kenny,” Gary said. By the way, Kenny already had his hat on. “Do you want to eat here?”

“Heck, no!” Kenny exclaimed. “First thing I thought when I saw you boys was that you could spring me for lunch.”

“Don’t you have good food?” Joe asked.

Kenny made a face. “The worst part is we have a residents committee, and I am in charge.”

What’s fine dining to old ag teachers? “Wendy’s would be just great,” Kenny says. Wendy’s it was!

Former students. “You know you’re old when you go to a former student’s funeral,” Jack said. “It’s happened more than once.”

“Isn’t your oldest, Travis, National FFA advisor?” Gary asked Joe.

“Yes, but he is still a professor at North Carolina State, too,” Joe responded.

“Man, I remember when he was just a little tike at FFA events with you,” Jack said.

I remember him when he couldn’t even walk. It was the summer I was an FFA intern for Joe. But then who is getting old?

FFA exploits. “We had great times,” Gary began. “Ben, remember when we looked for the canoe supposedly resting at the bottom of the FFA Center lake? We tried snagging it with a device we rigged up.”

“All we snagged was a gallon milk jug and a steering wheel off a pontoon boat,” Ben said.

“So is the canoe down there?” I asked.

“Who knows?” Gary answered. “They claim it is.”

Each other. “Well, Kenny, we’ve got you back here, and we’re going to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Is it OK?”

Like Kenny had a choice! It was off-key but heartfelt.

“I sure appreciate you fellas coming,” he said.

Fellow ag teachers stick together — always have, always will.

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