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Your Schools: Classic story has deep-rooted, far reaching impact on past, present and future times

Classic story has deep-rooted, far reaching impact on past, present and future times

The children's book, "The Giving Tree," by Shel Silverstein, was the favorite gift I received this holiday season.

It's not a new book. In fact, the book given to me was "re-gifted." I had actually given it to my parents 35 years ago on my wedding day.

"The Giving Tree" is about a tree that gives and gives unconditionally to a boy (its trunk for climbing, its branches for swinging, its apples for munching, its shade for resting, its lumber for building) as the boy grew to an adult, much as parents do in bringing their own children from the dependency of infancy to the independence of adulthood.

I gave this book to my parents to thank them for their endless giving to me as I began my new life as a married person.

This Christmas, my parents returned the very same book to my wife and me with a gentle reminder to always be "giving trees" to our children and grandchildren.

It seems that our school district has had in the past, and has now, many "giving trees" in its employees. Staff members are daily giving their "shade" and "branches" and "fruit" as students are nurtured and grown first into adolescents, then adults.

One "giving-tree" employee from the past recently brought to my attention by a parent of a former student is DeWayne Benedict.

I never had the honor of working with DeWayne (Benny), as he retired in 2003. He taught agriculture in our high school for 28 years (1970-79 and 1984-2003). He was the advisor for the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program for 18 years, and was involved in countless other student activities.

It seems that this teacher, a "giving tree" to hundreds of students, reached a pinnacle of his career in 2001 when his FFA team consisting of four high school students earned recognition at the 74th annual National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky.

According to an article in the River Falls Journal at the time, Coach Benedict and students Joe Jensen, Kyle Killian, Brad Peterson and Phil Rohl placed first in the national convention against 41 other teams. That was a first for our district and the state of Wisconsin.

Not only did students win top honors as a team in agricultural mechanics, but individually they all placed in the top 20 in the nation, each earning a $1,000 scholarship.

By now you're thinking to yourself, "That's old news. Why is he reporting on that now?"

One of the challenges that educators face as "giving trees" is that they often don't know the real impact of their endless giving until many years afterwards. While Benny saw his students succeed on a national level, perhaps he didn't know that success would circle back to River Falls in future years.

Fast forward to 2010: Pierce County will be hosting Farm Technology Days July 20-22, a statewide event that showcases the latest in farm technology and industries related to farming. The annual event celebrates the value and power of agriculture to the state of Wisconsin. Thousands of visitors will take part in this celebration, and I've personally witnessed some of the enormous detailed planning taking place to ensure its success.

Farm Tech Days will be hosted by the Roger and Bev Peterson family on their farmstead. The Peterson name, not coincidentally, is of the same family of Brad Peterson, a student on the national championship FFA team coached by DeWayne Benedict in 2001.

Brad, who now farms with his dad, is very active in preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime event on his family farm next July. In fact, I'm told that Joe Jensen, Phil Rohl, Kyle Killian and, you guessed it, DeWayne Benedict are all active volunteers preparing for Farm Tech Days.

It seems to me that the excitement for agriculture, first built in the families, then fueled by great educators like Benedict, has found its fruits in Farm Tech Days which we will have the opportunity to experience, celebrating agriculture in our state and region.

That feels to me like the "giving trees" of a good teacher and nurturing parents.

The gift goes on. That's something to truly celebrate.