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Moms, grandmas matter for FFA members

Show-Me Life: Scenes from the Missouri State FFA Convention show dads and grandpas are no slackers either in the lives of rural youth.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

April 26, 2024

3 Min Read
Missouri State FFA president Andi Belt and her grandmother Mari Eckler
MAKE MEMORIES: After Andi Belt was installed as the 2024-25 Missouri State FFA president, she made her way to the floor where grandma Mari Eckler and her granddaughter celebrated and commemorated the moment through hugs and photos.Photos by Mindy Ward

I walked across the Missouri State FFA Convention floor and noticed the small section of seats where state officer families sit. There with one grandkid on her lap and another by her side was Mari Eckler. I leaned in.

“You know it is an amazing feeling when your kid is a state officer,” I said, “but I think there is a whole different level of joy when it is your grandkid.”

Mari, along with her husband and North Shelby FFA advisor Harold Eckler, raised a few state officers in their time. Daughter Jessi (Belt) was on the 2000-01 team, while Gina (Pollard) was state president in 2003-04.

Now, 20 years later, the duo sat front and center watching their granddaughter, Andi Belt, become the 2024-25 Missouri State FFA president.

I took a moment and looked around the arena. There were so many moms, grandmas, dads and grandads, and the occasional aunt like me, there to support our next generation in agriculture. What an amazing sight.

But these individuals are not there just for that one day, one moment, or even one success. No, they are there through all the ups and downs.

Mom helps prepare for competition

It was nothing but a roller coaster ride for my niece Charleigh Spoonster, a freshman at Clopton High School, whose goal was to walk across the stage in the Missouri FFA Creed Speaking competition.

Charleigh followed in her mom’s footsteps. Jessica was also a creed speaker in FFA, competing at both the state and national levels. The duo spent hours memorizing, practicing and reciting. Then came the competitions.

There were calls of joy as Charleigh won, and disappointment when she came in third. But with each conversation, there was reassurance from her mom. That was all she needed to press on.

FFA member Charleigh Spoonster and her mother Jessica Spoonster

As Charleigh walked from behind the screen onto the Missouri FFA convention stage, her mom and dad were in the floor seats, holding their breath, knowing that no matter the placing, their daughter accomplished her goal. She was of the top six creed speakers in the state, earning fourth place.

It is important to start at an early age encouraging our youth. Trust me, when they are older, they will not forget.

Retiring state officer thanks grandpa

One of the most touching moments was the retirement ceremony when 2023-23 State FFA Vice President Wyatt Hendley of Bloomfield took off his jacket.

Each officer had individuals on stage who affected their lives — Wyatt’s was a towering figure — his grandpa Leon Pullum.

As Wyatt spoke through tears about his grandfather, their tractor rides together, the chores he made fun and always being there for him at every stage of life, it was evident this man meant the world to him. But that hug … it made even this stranger’s eyes well.

Wyatt Hendley hugs his grandfather Leon Pullum

In that moment, I’m sure his grandpa thought like Mari and Jess — this is the BEST!

To those with kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews in FFA, thanks for supporting, encouraging and uplifting them. Our industry is not easy, but with you in their corner, I know they will find great success in FFA, but more importantly, in life.

Family matters to FFA members.

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About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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