By Abbey Nickel, National FFA Convention & Expo Newsroom Reporter
Richard Waybright may be the oldest living past national officer to serve for the National FFA Organization, but he still talks about it like it was yesterday.
Waybright served as the eastern region vice president in 1949. He’s had coffee with Eleanor Roosevelt, and he’s traveled to 41 countries in his lifetime. It’s not a stretch to say that Waybright has been around the world ― but to this day, he still credits FFA for the opportunities he’s had.
“Being a national officer really opened the door for me. I’ve had a lifelong commitment to agriculture, and it started right here,” he said.
When Waybright glances at a slideshow revealing group photos of past officer teams, he pauses and smiles. It’s clear that even though the photos may be faded, the memories are still alive.
“You know, I’m really proud of our recognition at a national level as leaders in agriculture. I know that was kind of our song and dance back then, but that still lives on today. I can still remember the speeches, the memories, and the people to this day, and that’s pretty special to me.”
The National FFA Foundation has been making an effort to reunite past national officer teams for several years now at the National FFA Convention & Expo
“I want them to feel and experience what they did when they first served, however long ago that might be. I hope good feelings are ignited and they always keep that spark alive,” said Kylah Reynolds, stewardship intern for the National FFA Foundation.
At the 86th National FFA Convention & Expo, the National FFA Foundation hosted several different events to continue to fuel that spark for former national officers, including a reception designated especially for them.
According to Reynolds, the foundation is trying to bring back reunion teams every year – and the most critical component of their attempts to bring back former national officer teams is to establish and maintain constant communication with as many former teams as they can.
The 1957-1958 officer team makes an effort to return every year, and they plan on continuing that trend for as long as they can.
“The friendship we established back then is very important to us, and we always look forward to coming back to convention,” said Nathan Reese, who served as the 1957-1958 secretary. “It always reinforces our desire to help young people. Some of us are pretty strong supporters of FFA at the local and national level.”
Another member of that officer team was Howard Downing.
“We all had outstanding agricultural education teachers, experiences, and we were involved in great programs, and obviously it had a great impact on us. We took that influence and built on it, and it still stands strong today,” he said.
Rita Robertson, individual giving coordinator at the National FFA Foundation, says that witnessing the reunion of former officer teams has always been a special moment for her – and she hopes that future officer teams continue to make an effort to reunite long after they’re completed their year of service.
“Watching some of these individuals continue their friendship and their love for FFA, nothing gets better than that, now does it?” she said. “Watching the team from 1957-1958 is always special to see, because even the wives know each other really well, which to me, is incredible. They know everything about each other, and they can go years without seeing each other and pick up like it was yesterday. And the best part is, it started with FFA.”
The National FFA Organization has grown exponentially over the years, and many changes have taken place within the organization since 1949. But something that Waybright says has continued to remain resilient to change are the FFA members themselves.
“The kids have always behaved well, and have made a big impression on a lot of people. They’re really upheld the reputation of FFA throughout the years. That’s really hard to do for an organization this big. The hearts of these kids have always been full of good intentions from the very beginning. They’re here to make a difference.”
Abbey Nickel is a junior studying journalism at the University of Findlay. This year, she’s reporting on the convention and expo as part of the National FFA Convention & Expo Newsroom Crew.