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Virtual success: Illinois FFA elects 5 new leadersVirtual success: Illinois FFA elects 5 new leaders

Nearly 400 FFA members zoomed in from every corner of the state to elect state FFA officers, in a first-of-its-kind convention.

Holly Spangler

June 12, 2020

5 Min Read
0608Hx-3207a-SIZED.jpg FFA Officers Illinois
LEADERS: Taking the helm of the Illinois FFA during unparalleled — and often masked — times are (from left) Treasurer Emma Kuhns, Secretary Jordi Oliver, President Lexi Mueller, Vice President Molly Schempp and Reporter Margaret Vaessen. Photo courtesy of Illinois FFA

In the first-ever entirely virtual Illinois State FFA Convention, members from across the state joined in via Zoom, Facebook Live and more to watch and elect five new state FFA officers.

New officers include:

  • President: Lexi Mueller, Valmeyer FFA

  • Vice president: Molly Schempp, Olympia FFA

  • Reporter: Margaret Vaessen, Amboy FFA

  • Secretary: Jordi Oliver, Vienna FFA

  • Treasurer: Emma Kuhns, Altamont FFA

Typically held in Springfield, Ill., the convention was moved to an online platform due to COVID-19. And yet, 390 delegates were able to cast ballots in a live election, thanks to careful planning by the 2019-20 state officer team and state FFA staff. By all accounts, the election — and convention — went off without a hitch.

“This is crazy — this is not a normal convention!” said Lexi Mueller with a laugh, immediately after her election as Illinois FFA president. She added, in what may be the motto for 2020, “I didn’t even cry, so we’re killing it!”

Mueller may be uniquely prepared for her new office, as she recalled the first chore she ever had was feeding and watering the chickens. “I have two older siblings, so anything they thought was below them, I got to do,” she said.

That experience as a younger sibling has gone deep, and Mueller said she’s a strong believer in compromise and in listening more than you talk, adding that each of the new officers are people who can do that.

Like a lot of FFA members, Mueller said she was a quiet freshman, but then-state-officer Joey Birrittier came up to her at her section quiz bowl and pushed her to make friends in another chapter — friendships that have stuck over time.

“I love leaders who are personable and can sit down to have a one-on-one conversation with members, and can give a speech and really connect, too,” she said. 

This officer team is the second in Illinois FFA history to be an entirely female team, following the election of five young women in 2018.

The officers were elected from a group of 10 candidates selected by committee earlier in the spring. According to the Illinois FFA, the state officers will travel more than 20,000 miles over the next year, visiting chapters around the state, conducting workshops and meetings, representing Illinois FFA in professional settings, and promoting agricultural education. Illinois has elected a State FFA Officer Team each year since 1929.

Lexi Mueller, president. Mueller is a member of the Valmeyer FFA chapter in Monroe County. She’s the daughter of Matt and Pam Mueller, Columbia, Ill., and is a 2020 graduate of Valmeyer High School. She grew up on a small family farm near Columbia, Ill., where they raise sheep, goats, horses, chickens and rabbits, along with a row crop operation. Mueller also raises pumpkins and Indian corn. Like a lot of FFA leaders, she enjoys parliamentary procedure because it’s helped prepare her for moments like state FFA elections and for future business meetings.

“I’ve had so many people who were inspirations to me,” Mueller said. “I’m very faithful, and I ran for this office because I feel it was a calling from God, and because I wanted to give back to FFA.”

After her year in office, Mueller plans to go to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, majoring in ag education and minoring in horticulture. She hopes to come back to Section 22 to teach agriculture and serve as an FFA advisor.

Molly Schempp, vice president. Schempp is a member of the Olympia FFA chapter and just completed her freshman year at the University of Illinois. Back home, she raises livestock with her brother and shows in 4-H. She enjoys public speaking and competed in both prepared and extemporaneous public speaking.

Schempp ran for state office because she wanted to work with members and serve FFA.

“I want our members to know FFA is a family organization, and they can have a place anywhere in the blue and gold,” she said.

After her year as vice president, Schempp will return to the University of Illinois to continue her major in ag education, with plans to teach agriculture in Illinois.


EXCITEMENT: “I want our members to know FFA is a family organization and they can have a place anywhere in the blue and gold,” says newly elected vice president Molly Schempp, a freshman at the University of Illinois.

Margaret Vaessen, reporter. A member of the Amboy FFA chapter, Vaessen is a 2020 high school graduate who decided to run for state FFA office because of the impact the organization has had on her development.

“Standing here today, I’m not the same freshman that walked into the ag classroom,” she said. “I’ve developed so much as a person, and I want to help everyone in the FFA do the same.”

Vaessen says she wants to help her fellow FFA member create their own legacy, whether that’s in agriculture or another field. Following her term as reporter, she’ll head to Joliet Junior College and then hopes to transfer to the University of Illinois, double-majoring in ag education and secondary math education.

Jordi Oliver, secretary. Oliver hails from the Vienna FFA chapter in Section 25. She recalled being terrified of public speaking as a freshman — a far cry from where she is today. “My advisor challenged me to face my fears and compete, and inspired my love for public speaking. It’s become my favorite competition in all my years of FFA!”

Oliver went for total honesty when asked how she felt after her election: “Honestly, I feel really sweaty! I was so nervous! But I feel confident I can serve others in the state and make an impact.”

Next year, Oliver hopes to attend Lakeland College and then transfer to the University of Illinois, majoring in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. 

Emma Kuhns, treasurer. From the Altamont FFA chapter in Section 20, Kuhns is a 2020 high school graduate who didn’t realize as a younger FFA member how much older members impacted her.

“That came full circle today,” she said. “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

Kuhns has competed in extemporaneous public speaking and her swine production placement project won the state contest this year. “I worked with my dad and grandpa on our hog farm, and that’s something I’m very proud of — and it’s a family tradition,” Kuhns said.

After her year as treasurer, she plans to attend the University of Illinois, get a degree in agricultural economics and then pursue a law degree, with hopes of becoming a lobbyist and running for office in Illinois.

Read more about:

Illinois FFA

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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