Dakota Farmer

Officer team from 25 years ago gives back in varied ways.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 28, 2021

4 Min Read
1995-96 FFA officers at leadership camp
COME TOGETHER: One of the first items of business as the newly named state FFA officer team in 1995 was for Dusty Oedekoven (left), Suzie Behlings, Jon Petersen, Carrie Vugteveen, Craig Winquist and Janelle Olesen to attend a leadership camp in Nebraska. They started as six individuals but came back a unified team of one. Courtesy of Janelle Olesen

Editor’s note: This is the second part of an eight-story series on catching up with the South Dakota state FFA officer team 25 years after their retiring addresses.

Twenty-five years has given the South Dakota state FFA officer team of 1995-96 a lot of time to ponder what the organization has meant to them and how it has shaped their lives. That time has also allowed them to establish their lives and careers, and develop knowledge to pass along to today’s FFA members.

“I just think about the opportunities that I had through FFA and the things that I took advantage of,” says Dusty Oedekoven, vice president of the 1995-96 team. “I often think about just what a benefit that I had through FFA and with all of you, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” he says of his fellow state officers.

Part 1: Former SD state FFA officers look back

As of yet, he hasn’t encouraged his five children to follow the same path. “But there are other things to be involved in and other opportunities, too,” he says.

Oedekoven has given back to FFA, serving on the state officer selection team a couple years ago.

“It was a good reminder of that intensity and the emotions of that whole process to see young people going through that,” he says. “In addition, it did call back memories to just how nerve-racking that process is.”

Mentoring others

Though she has stepped away from FFA, former president Janelle Olesen has still influenced FFA members. One young lady whom she coached in track served as a state officer in Iowa this past year.

“Unfortunately, with COVID and everything, she didn’t get that full officer experience,” Olesen says. However, she says the two talked about “seizing this moment” and the position being an opportunity “very few kids get at this age.”

“The people that we were able to network with and the career connections we were able to make” as officers — “I think that’s just invaluable,” Olesen says.

Craig Winquist, former treasurer, uses his position as ag teacher to demonstrate the opportunities that lay ahead of his students if they so choose. He says his 14-year-old son, Corbin, has joined FFA in Canton, S.D., and can’t wait to wear the blue jacket.

“I can’t help but be filled with pride with that,” Winquist says about his son. “But I don’t want to tie that to the expectations. I just want them to know there’s opportunities out there. And whatever gives them that fire in their belly, that’s what you need to follow. You’ve got to find something that motivates you, and for me, that’s what FFA did.”

Due credit given

Career paths can have twists and turns, and Carrie Vugteveen, former sentinel, believes her path would have been quite different had it not been for FFA.

“I believe that my opportunity as a state officer brought me to where I am today, really, in terms of my career,” she says. “Professional networking, and the ability to express and learn more about your own leadership qualities helped me get my very first professional position out of college. I really truly believe that — which set me down the whole path of life.”

Sometimes, it takes someone else or an organization to bring out the best in us, and former reporter Suzie Behlings found that in FFA.

Becoming a state officer, “I wasn’t completely confident,” she recalls. “I know going in it seemed like a big, big undertaking for me, but I think sometimes other people see more in you than you see in yourself. And I think that’s one of the really good things about FFA.”

Behlings credits her FFA advisor, Craig Shyrock, for being “a really supportive instructor who really cared and was invested in the students that he worked with.”

“FFA experiences provided leadership skills and confidence that have helped me to be successful in my career,” she says. “Learning to be part of a team and to set high goals provided valuable life skills as well.”

Jon Petersen, former secretary, can’t say his current career would not have happened without FFA involvement, but he knows his life would be different.

“The friendships and associations that you make with other people through the FFA organization — a lot of those people are still in my circle of people,” he says. “FFA is a common bond among several of those people in my closest business and social circles. We all go our own way within different career paths as we mature, have families and live our lives.

“But the FFA is a common denominator among us — no matter what your views, the current events in the media or political mainstream. We believe in the future of agriculture, and we believe we can be an influence in our homes and communities to make an impact for future generations.”

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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