You might not be reading this article if it weren’t for special people in my life who guided me as I grew up. My late father and mother, Robert and Virginia Bechman, top the list. Behind many somewhat successful people are parents who instilled discipline, integrity and moral values.
Not far behind my parents on that list is Jim Cummings, my vocational agriculture instructor and FFA advisor. He taught at Whiteland Community High School from the early ’50s through 1972, and then finished his career as the first horticulture instructor and FFA advisor at Central Nine Vocational School near Greenwood, Ind. Today, at 92, he and his wife, Lois, also a retired teacher, reside on the home farm in rural Jackson County.
It was my honor to sit beside Mr. Cummings — sorry, using “Mr.” is not our publication’s style, but he will always be “Mr. Cummings” to me — at a recent luncheon for retired ag teachers at the Indiana FFA Leadership Center.
“He loves to come to these, so I bring him whenever I can,” said his son Don, now retired himself from a career in dentistry. “It’s a thrill for him to come back to the center he helped start, and see people whom he worked with over the years.”
It was also an honor for me to sit beside Mr. Cummings and share a few memories. Don chimed in too. He was a young boy when I was in FFA, and tagged along when his dad made farm visits. “I still remember your mom, dad and grandpa sitting on the porch shelling peas while you guys and Dad worked on some project under the shade tree,” Don said.
The project might have been practicing tractor troubleshooting on our Allis-Chalmers D-17 or studying for a state contest. Seeing potential in students and giving them the tools to succeed was one of Mr. Cummings’ greatest attributes.
His students went on to become successful farmers, leaders in state organizations, salesmen, farm managers, veterinarians and more. One developed a show feed for a major company, which is still used today. His graduates even include a famous drag racer, and yes, an ag writer.
Mr. Cummings doubled as the 4-H leader, first because the school expected it, and later because he enjoyed it. That’s where he pursued his love of teaching gardening, which served him well later as the horticulture instructor at Central Nine.
Why does he mean so much to me? Because he believed in a backward, often-nervous kid who lived in the country and had little idea what lay ahead in the big world, away from the farm and the then-small community of Whiteland. He probably had to turn his head to keep from laughing at me a few times, but his enthusiasm became legendary among his students. It rubbed off on me.
I’m not sure I said, “Thank you for all you did for me,” sitting at the center that day. I’m not sure I ever have said it. Taking time to say thank you to our mentors is something we tend to put off.
Thank you, Mr. Cummings, for all you did for me and for hundreds of other young people throughout your career. I hope you continue enjoying retirement for a long time.
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