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Former SD state FFA officers look back

Courtesy of Janelle Olesen 1995-96 FFA officers Christmas card
‘FAMILY’ CHRISTMAS: Back row from left are state FFA advisor Gary Grey, Jon Petersen, Craig Winquist and state FFA secretary Bob Bell. From front are Janelle Olesen, Suzie Behling, Dusty Oedekoven and Carrie Vugteveen.
1995-96 team reminisces about their time in FFA — and life since they were a team of six.

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

Every year the state FFA convention is run by the current state officer team, only to be replaced at the conclusion by a new slate of officers. What happens to the state officers after they give their retiring addresses and move on with their lives?

Here we catch up with the South Dakota state officers who led FFA members in 1995-96:

  • Janelle Olesen, president
  • Dusty Oedekoven, vice president
  • Jon Petersen, secretary
  • Craig Winquist, treasurer
  • Carrie Vugteveen, sentinel
  • Suzie Behlings, reporter

Though their careers and families have evolved in the 25 years since they last wore the blue and maize, they say they cherish their time wearing the corduroy jackets and especially the year spent as a team.

Olesen, who was Janelle Stuwe when she held the FFA president’s gavel, fondly looks back on her year as a state officer, remembering the camaraderie that developed between her five teammates. During their year as state officers, they all attended South Dakota State University and their bond grew as they worked together promoting the FFA mission and making chapter visits across the state. And that bond spread beyond these six members.

“We became parts of each other’s families, as the team would travel across the state for chapter visits,” says Olesen, who graduated from Hoven High School. “We really became a family and I know our parents loved having that time with everybody and getting to know the officer team too.”

Oedekoven, now South Dakota’s state veterinarian and executive secretary of the state’s Animal Industry Board, remembers Behlings’ home near Wessington Springs, which was more centrally located in the state than the other officers’ homes, as a gathering place for the team. “We kind of hung around there more often than anywhere else,” he recalls. Behlings’ maiden name was Lutter.

Bonds began during process

That melding of individuals into a team started during the officer selection process. Vugteveen, who was Carrie Solum from Florence High School, remembers not only the strenuous process they each went through, but also the networking that went on while all the candidates waited.

“We enjoyed each other’s company,” she says. “And of course, the part that was maybe a little nerve-racking was right before they made the announcement of who was going to be the next state officers. That’s when the heart was pumping and not knowing what was going to happen.”

Petersen, from De Smet, recalls that being a state officer was a lot of pressure, and the interview process attempted to expose candidates to that. “I threw myself into it [being a state officer],” he says, and “it wasn’t until we were done serving that you then realize how much you put into it and I don’t mean that to discourage anyone from trying today, because it is a lot of work, but it is worth it.”

While his teammates all became state FFA officers during their senior year in high school, Winquist ran as an SDSU freshman. “There is no way I would have been a state officer if I would have run in high school,” he says. “I think for me, personally, I grew a lot, through FFA specifically, from the end of my junior to senior year, but I still wasn’t very confident in myself. And then that first year of college, I realized that ‘Hey, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t use for skills and talents in high school that I’m just gonna let my little light shine.’ And I would have never done that as a senior.”

Winquist is now molding young minds to potentially follow in his footsteps as he teaches ag education at the West Lyon High School in Inwood, Iowa.

FFA is just one organization that can prepare youth for life, and Winquist remembers the interview process as “being the first time of being asked real questions, things that made you think about not just what you had done as a person, but what your goals were and what your future was going to be about. It was kind of a good kickstart for what the real world is going to be like.”

They each agree that FFA set the course for where their lives have ended up:

  • Olesen as middle school and high school special education coordinator for Sioux City (Iowa) Community Schools
  • Oedekoven as the state veterinarian
  • Petersen starting his own trucking company after a career in finance and farming
  • Winquist as an ag teacher and singer-songwriter
  • Vugteveen as a communications and government relations professional
  • Behlings in human resources and project management
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