Bob Lyons recalls his first job interview. “Stand up,” the superintendent said. Lyons stood up, and suffice it to say, he’s a tad shorter than even Billy Keller, the former Purdue University basketball star. “How will you control those kids?” the superintendent asked.
“I will get the job done,” Lyons told him. In 46 years of teaching vocational agriculture in the same district, he never once sent a student to the principal’s office.
Lyons retired from Jay County High School 10 years ago. “I started out that first year with 17 students,” he says. “When I retired, we were helping over 600.”
Indeed, the vo-ag program in Jay County, Ind., has more than 600 students today, with four teachers and a state-of-the-art greenhouse. “Heck, I remember I tried to be funny when I wanted to start a horticulture class,” Lyons says. “I needed to get kids involved, so I billed it as a class for basketball players and cheerleaders. I got some other kids, too, but it worked.
Jay County FFA has well over 200 members, and perennially produces roughly two dozen members who receive their State FFA Degree.
Fruits of his labor
Recently, Lyons led a bus tour of interesting farms in Jay County. Whenever the bus pulled into a farm, either a farmer or his son was quick to meet the bus. In every case, Lyons had taught not only the younger generation, but the dad, too.
His pride was obvious when he described how a former student had established a large livestock operation in one case, and how another had started virtually from scratch with hard work and dedication in another. He also traded jobs with a former student who now owns his own tiling and metal fabrication business.
“I’m proud of so many of them,” Lyons says. “Many worked hard and became leading members of the community.”
Farming and tractors
Lyons hasn’t let any grass grow under his feet since retiring. He’s devoted more time to farming and to one of his favorite pastimes — collecting antique and rare tractors. He’s also still an active member of the Jay County Fair board. It’s no ordinary fair board since the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show is held on the fairgrounds and the adjoining property owned by the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association. The show is a four-day event that brings a huge economic boost to Portland. Lyons is also a driving force behind the annual tractor drive held the day before the show each year.
Joe Park, director of the Indiana FFA Leadership Center and a former vo-ag teacher with 43 years of experience, recently visited Lyons on the eve of the annual show.
“Don’t forget that we will have a luncheon for retired ag teachers in December at the FFA center,” Park said. “We would love to have you come.”
“Well, if I am shelling corn, I just won’t be able to make it,” Lyons said. “I loved teaching and farming all these years, and now I really enjoy the time I have farming. I enjoy collecting tractors and this show, too. I just enjoy what I do.”
Every Hoosier owes a debt of gratitude to Bob Lyons, a man who has not only impacted thousands of students, but also has kept his chin up, displayed a positive attitude and enjoyed whatever he is doing for so many years.