Prior to his death in April 2014 at age 72, Jim Tracy decided what would happen with his Dennison, Minn., property after his passing.
Active in 4-H and FFA in his youth and dedicated to farming as an adult, Tracy appreciated the important of agricultural education and hands-on learning. Without hesitation, the unmarried farmer decided to bequeath his estate to the Minnesota FFA Foundation and the Randolph FFA. After his death, the Randolph FFA was given 40 acres. The foundation received everything else — cattle, liquid assets and real estate.
It’s taken several years for trustees to organize Tracy’s farm items and home goods for sale. The effort is finally nearing completion as trustees await word about a mid-November land auction. Previous sales have generated close to $1 million, which has been used to create the James W. Tracy Scholarship fund, handled by the Minnesota FFA Foundation. Since 2016, the foundation has awarded 81 student agricultural scholarships totaling $81,000.
“It will be impossible to truly measure the impact of James Tracy's gift,” says Val Aarsvold, Minnesota FFA Foundation executive director. “His investment in hundreds of Minnesota youth by supporting their education will grow the next generation of leaders for agriculture and local communities. His generosity and his desire to support a brighter future is a legacy that we all hope to achieve.”
Behind the scenes
While all involved in FFA are deeply appreciative of Tracy’s lasting gift, there has been tremendous effort behind the scenes in moving ahead on the property sale to provide funds for the scholarship program.
Ed Terry, Randolph teacher and FFA advisor, was a youngster when he got to know Tracy and Tracy’s younger brother Gerald, who were both older than him, through 4-H and FFA. The Tracy family were all frugal farmers, Terry recalls. They shipped milk in cans until 1957 when they installed a bulk tank. Their first in-house bathroom was completed in 1983, and they milked cows in their wood-stanchion dairy barn until 1994 when they quit milking.
Both Tracy brothers served in the Vietnam War. Sadly, Gerald was killed in 1968. Tracy served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon returning home, he farmed and donated generously to his church and numerous local civic and youth organizations.
As a member of the Randolph FFA alumni, Tracy saw first-hand the importance of ag education for students as they gained experience with planting and harvesting crops, Terry notes.
“He wanted students to do research and learn,” he adds.
As lifelong friends, Tracy reached out to Terry in 2011 and talked with him about his plans for passing along his farm upon his death. Initially, Tracy considered a few local civic and youth organization benefactors. However, in the end he narrowed it down to FFA.
Terry and Steve Koziolek took over as estate trustees in 2017 following lack of follow-through and questionable actions taken during the previous trustees’ tenure. The properties — two farms totaling 360 acres — were in poor shape and cluttered with junk. Between Terry and his family, Koziolek, Randolph FFA students, FFA alumni and others, more than 3,000 volunteer hours have been spent cleaning, sorting and repairing. Alumni worked on old farm machinery. Randolph FFA members cleaned the farmhouse, carrying out numerous boxes of old business papers.
House-cleaning was a big challenge, Terry notes.
“The trustees sorted through all the old papers, finding old savings bonds and other important paperwork that might have been lost,” he says. “We knew we couldn’t just dump drawers. We had to go through every paper.”
Overall, FFA members filled three big trucks loads of selvage iron. Farm machinery was repaired and sold at three machinery consignment sales.
As volunteers cleaned and sorted they found several worn-out manure spreaders, ranging in age from horse-drawn to modern PTOs, Terry says. With age and weather, the wood and tires had turned rotten or were completely gone so the remains went for scrap metal.
FFA members became attached to one piece of equipment that ended up selling at auction: a John Deere 4020 tractor. The tractor, named after Tracy's younger brother Gerald, had deep sentimental value. His parents used the government death benefit they received for Gerald to buy the 4020.
“It was always called ‘Gerald,’” Terry says. “My FFA kids wanted to buy it so bad.”
Terry and his FFA members had agreed ahead of time on a price, $15,000, using funds raised by the Randolph FFA students.
“But some people from eastern Wisconsin had deeper pockets. They had brought a trailer and planned to take it home,” Terry says. “As bidding went up, I gave the okay for $16,000. It went for $17,000.”
The Tracy land will be sold Nov. 16 by Maring Auction at Jesse James Lanes in Northfield beginning at 6 p.m. Terry says there will be 74-acre, 56-acre and 53-acre parcels for sale in Goodhue County and 74 acres in Rice County. Learn more online about the property online.
Using a conservative estimate, Terry thinks the remaining property could bring in another $1.5-$1.8 million for future ag ed scholarships.
“Jim’s whole life was agriculture and farming,” he adds. “It has been an honor to work as trustee.”
Applications open Nov. 15 for Tracy scholarship
Graduating Minnesota high school seniors pursing a degree in an agricultural-related field at any college or university throughout the U.S. are invited to apply for the James W. Tracy Scholarship.
The application process opens Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 1, 2021.
Approximately 20+ $1,000 scholarships will be awarded to chosen students.
Visit the Minnesota FFA Foundation online to apply for the scholarship.