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thedrifter
02-25-07, 06:35 AM
02/23/2007
'Here by the flag'
By: Jim Hamilton, senior CPI writer jimh@cpimo.com

"Here by the flag." Once a month through the 1964-65 school year that was my answer to the ceremonial roll call in opening ceremonies of meetings of the Fair Grove chapter of Future Farmers of America.

"Reporter," the vice president called.

"Here by the flag," I stood and answered.

"Why by the flag?" he asked.

"As the flag covers the United States of America, so I strive to inform the people in order that every man, woman and child shall know that FFA is a national organization that reaches from the state of Alaska to Puerto Rico and from the state of Maine to Hawaii," I answered.

I took the office seriously, though I hardly expected to get every "man, woman and child" in the country to read what I scrawled out and sent to the Springfield newspaper. The fact is, I didn't know what to expect the first time I mailed in a story - a report on our chapter barnwarming - at the urging of our FFA adviser. But when the rewritten story appeared in print, I was hooked. I was soon mailing in reports on every chapter activity and clipping the rewritten articles from the newspaper. My initial foray into journalism was cut short, however, when someone in the school administration apparently took exception to news releases bypassing his desk. I think maybe we weren't supposed to be using school envelopes.

Whatever the reason behind it, I was told to stop mailing news items to the newspaper. So I did.

If the same thing were to happen today, someone would threaten a lawsuit, and TV news crews would be on campus. In 1965 it wasn't even a blip on the news radar screen. We had strict dress codes, hair length restrictions and corporal punishment. Kids with cars got ticketed for loud pipes (imagine if the same standards were applied today to car stereo speakers). We were accustomed to rules and absolute authority.

Back to FFA.

It's kinda like the U.S. Marines say of their service: "Once a Future Farmer, always a Future Farmer." In my case, the same applies to reporting. I began writing about farm kids in 1964, and it seems I can't quite get away from it. Covering agricultural news is about the favorite part of my job as a community newspaper writer. Ask me about my job, and I figure "Here by the flag" just about sums it up.

Vocational agriculture and FFA provided me with more useful education and experiences than all the rest of my high school classes combined, with the possible exception of my sophomore English class (that was when I discovered writing).

Nearly a half-million strong, FFA today is a lot different than when I was a member. They now let girls in. Just goes to show that it is possible to improve on a good thing.

Many prominent citizens are former FFA members, including Miss Oklahoma for 2004, Elizabeth Kinney, an ag communication major at Oklahoma State University and State FFA reporter. The FFA Web site has a long list of big-name FFA members, but for some reason Miss Oklahoma caught my attention.

At the top of the list of FFA alumni is President Jimmy Carter, and the entertainment business has a host of 'em, including cowboy poet Baxter Black and singers Trace Adkins, William Lee Golden, Don Henley, Lyle Lovett, Tim McGraw and Willie Nelson.

None of the famous, however, are any more significant than the thousands of lesser-known former FFA members who today apply their practical education and problem-solving skills in many occupations, both within and outside agriculture.

They may have been stationed by the ear of corn (secretary), by the plow (vice-president), by the bust of Washington (treasurer), by the rising sun (president) or simply have worn the blue jacket. Whichever, it's part of who they are today.

I remember Dad's FFA ring, worn nearly smooth by the time he showed it to me. My Chapter Farmer and reporter pins I keep in my dresser drawer to this day.

While other things of youth are left behind, FFA is with us for a lifetime.

Forty-two years after hanging up my blue jacket, I'm still stationed "Here by the flag."

Jim Hamilton is a senior staff reporter for Community Publishers Inc.

Ellie