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Champion of agriculture: Jeff Voss inducted into Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame

Jackson County Central FFA Advisor Jeff Voss poses with his plaque Monday evening after being inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame. (Special to The Globe)

MINNEAPOLIS — Jeff Voss will forever be known as a dedicated and influential FFA advisor.

The longtime Jackson County Central FFA advisor was inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame Monday, during the organization’s 90th state convention in the Twin Cities.

“It was a huge honor,” Voss shared, noting his wife Kathy, and three children also attended the induction ceremony. “I looked back at the different (honorees) who have already been inducted. Quite a few of those people were ones that I looked up to. To be considered part of that group is really a high honor for me.”

During his 31-year career in the Jackson school district, Voss has racked up an impressive portfolio. While he’s been an advisor, students have earned 204 state FFA degrees, 91 state championships, 35 proficiency awards, six state officer positions, two national championships and one team qualification for international competition.

Voss is quick to share much of the chapter’s historic success with Laura Bidne, who has taught alongside him at JCC for 19 years. Bidne and retired Mountain Lake ag instructor Tom Appel nominated Voss for the Hall of Fame distinction.

A Jackson County man born and raised, Voss began his ag teaching career at Westbrook High School. In his third year as an ag instructor there, the opportunity to teach at Jackson arose. He enjoyed the Westbrook community, but the Jackson opportunity allowed him to teach in a program he admired as a student at Sioux Valley High School.

“(At Sioux Valley) we kept going through ag teachers during my time and we could never get anything rolling because of that,” Voss said. “I’d look over to what Lakefield and Jackson were doing … and thought, ‘man, I’d like to do that.’”

The teaching opportunity at Jackson back then was due in part to the community, which was determined not to see the school district’s ag program cut.

“When I moved here, there were 29 students total in the whole ag program,” he said. “I was hired with the idea that the school would pay half (my salary) and the community would pay half. Now, 31 years later, they still can’t get rid of me.”

With a thriving program, community and school support, the JCC ag program now has three instructors. Voss, Bidne and former JCC student Kate Anderson lead the program. Voss said it was exciting that Anderson wanted to return to teach at JCC after earning her degree from South Dakota State University. Voss and Bidne also attended SDSU.

All of the program’s accomplishments haven’t come without hard work and sacrifices.

Contrary to what many may assume, Voss said, FFA-related activities and practice do not occur by and large in an ag class during school hours. It happens before school, after school and on some occasions, Saturdays.

Voss is very appreciative of his wife, crediting her with taking care of their children as he was often at FFA-related activities.

“She’s a pretty exceptional woman,” he said.

He also credits the students he’s had over the years, as their excitement and successes have driven him to make the personal sacrifices he has.

Voss doubts the program would be what it is with just the teachers and students alone.

“I think people would be shocked how many community members come in and work with our students,” he said. “I can get the kids 80% of the way, but (the community volunteers) are the ones that really put it over the top.”

He’s also thankful of the administration, who was receptive to the idea of integrating ag curriculum into the schedule at the middle school level.

Despite living in a rural area, Voss witnessed a gap in student understanding of how their food gets to the table. About 25 years ago, he proposed a quarter-long exploratory ag class at the eighth grade level. Other districts across the state have since emulated the program.

The administration has also supported student trips and travel to competitions across the country, Voss said.

“We’ve been just about through 30 of the states,” he said. “It’s been great, the support of our administration and our community to allow us to do it.”