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State FFA officer shares challenges to inspire others

Owen Coon in fireman's coat
MEET THE CHALLENGE: Owen Coon wears a volunteer firefighter’s outfit from the department where he serves as he delivers his retiring address as an Indiana FFA state officer earlier this summer.
A devastating house fire impacted this young leader.

If you’ve ever attended the Indiana FFA Convention, you know one of the features is each state officer gives a retiring address. Many inspiring speeches on a wide range of motivational topics have been delivered on the stage at Purdue University. One by Owen Coon this year ranks among the most memorable.

All seven state officers delivered speeches with important messages. Each officer developed a speech around a topic he or she wanted to share with FFA members. Coon, a farm boy from Montgomery County, Ind., and North Montgomery High School, built his talk around a topic very near to his heart.

“I still remember that day about 10 years ago,” Owen recalled. “I was just a young boy in elementary school. A relative picked us up from school and took us to their house instead of taking us home. It took me a while to figure out what had happened, and longer to grasp the significance of it.”

The family farmhouse had burned to the ground earlier that day while Owen was at school. You never forget an event which impacts your life that directly, he noted. All things they considered valuable and memorable were lost in the fire. His family was met with an immediate challenge —  holding the family together and putting their physical lives back together.

Help others
“What I remember most looking back is how many people in the community rallied around us,” Owen told the audience of FFA members and advisors as he delivered his address. “Help seemed to come from everywhere.”

You might not think a young boy of elementary-school age would understand the significance of what it meant for others to help his family, but Owen did. He learned that it is OK to accept help when you truly need it.

“It also taught me the importance of helping others in need,” he said. “You’re going to face challenges in life. Other people will face their own challenges. Sometimes you need help, and sometimes you can be the person who helps others.”

Owen was especially thankful for the firefighters who came from many different places to help put out their fire. They couldn’t save the house, but they worked valiantly to control the fire all the same. When Owen was old enough, he became interested in what it took to be a volunteer firefighter. Many of those who responded to his family’s house fire were volunteers. It’s a tradition that helps keep houses, barns and all kinds of buildings protected in rural areas all around Indiana. Many of the people who serve in volunteer fire departments are either farmers or have rural roots.

Today, Owen helps one of the volunteer fire departments that responded to his family’s tragedy all those years ago. To emphasize his point that you need to serve others, he donned a fire coat from his department during the conclusion of his speech. Talk about impact!

Owen Coon left FFA members and advisors with a valuable message and a challenge. Be ready for life’s challenges. Accept help when you need it. Plenty of people are willing to assist in any way they can if you let them. Then serve others when you get the opportunity.

It’s a message we should all take to heart.   

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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