November 23, 2022 at 2:49 p.m.
Over the span of a decade, Scott and Denise Gathje’s half-dozen children – Joe, Anne, James, Katherine, Greg and Jonathon – have achieved the American FFA Degree, the highest degree possible for the organization’s members.
The American FFA degree is achieved by less than 1% of FFA members.
Tracy Huhn began teaching agricultural education at Eden Valley-Watkins High School in 2008 and was the FFA advisor for all of the Gathje children.
The FFA chapter has grown to include three advisors, Huhn, Tyler Warren and Kayla Gratz.
“It made me proud to see all of them go all the way to get their American Degree,” Huhn said.
All of the Gathjes held the office of president or vice president with their chapter but each chose their own path in FFA. They competed in a variety of career development events and took classes of interest. Some went on to be regional officers; others attended the Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.
“It was pretty cool to see all of them go as far as they did,” Scott said.
Scott was in FFA but said it never crossed his mind to get his American Degree.
Denise said she enjoyed seeing her children grow and develop leadership skills. She said FFA allowed her children to practice skills of interviewing, writing, filling out applications and making connections that encouraged them to pursue other opportunities.
“They all enjoyed it,” Denise said.
The Gathjes milk 65 Holstein, Brown Swiss and Jersey cows. They farm 200 acres of alfalfa and corn and raise their youngstock. In addition to the cows, they also have a horse, ducks, sheep and chickens. Each of the Gathje children showed the various animals in 4-H.
For the kids, the relationship with FFA started in 2008 when Joe joined FFA as a freshman. Huhn encouraged Joe to begin a supervised agricultural experience and obtain the State FFA Degree.
Joe said he enjoyed his time in FFA and was involved in dairy evaluation, dairy foods, helping with the chapter corn drive, helping with the chapter corn test plot and becoming a chapter officer.
“FFA was what I looked forward to,” Joe said. “It really helped carry me through school.”
After achieving the State FFA Degree, Huhn encouraged Joe to try for his American Degree. Joe agreed to apply.
In 2012, at the 85th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana, Joe walked across the stage to receive his American FFA Degree.
Joe went to college at South Dakota State University for agricultural science and now works at a cooperative, helps his parents on the farm and runs a manure pumping business on the side.
When Anne started high school, she too joined FFA, but she chose to be on the meat judging, dairy handling and prepared public speaking teams. Anne said she enjoyed her time in FFA so much that she chose to pursue an agricultural education degree at South Dakota State University. While in college, she decided to take what she learned in her business and accounting classes to form a career.
“I am currently working in accounting for Novita Nutrition, an animal nutrition company located in Aurora, South Dakota,” Anne said. “With the background and connections I have made in the agricultural industry, it has been fun to be growing my accounting career within the agricultural industry.”
After seeing his two older siblings meet the requirements and get their American Degree, James also set his sights on the degree. He had already met many of the requirements with his dairy production SAE, volunteering with his 4-H club and working on his parents’ dairy farm. James was involved on the dairy judging team, was a chapter and region officer, and attended the WLC
“I loved that I got to travel all over the Midwest and to WLC,” James said. “I was very grateful for that.”
James said because he had a positive experience while in Washington, D.C., he went to school at St. John’s University for political science and economics. While in college, James returned to Washington, D.C. for an internship.
“FFA has impacted me in so many ways,” James said. “The skills are very transferable to real life.”
James credits FFA for helping establish his skills in writing, job interviewing, leadership development and teamwork.
Katherine became the fourth of the Gathjes to get her American Degree and credits her active chapter and her advisors with spurring her on.
“The leadership experiences I gained in FFA gave me the foundation for my career,” Katherine said. “It gave me the good leadership and good communication skills I needed to succeed.”
Katherine now oversees the leadership development program for young professionals at the Kanas City Chamber of Commerce.
Unlike the rest of his siblings, when Greg joined FFA, he was in poultry judging and took classes in fish and wildlife. Greg said he never considered getting his American Degree until he walked across the stage at the Minnesota State Convention and received the State FFA Degree. Then, the American Degree became a possibility.
Greg said he enjoyed being in FFA with his friends and getting to know kids from other schools.
“FFA helped expose me to the career path I am on,” Greg said.
Greg is attending Bemidji State University and majoring in biology.
Jonathon also joined the poultry judging team. Additionally, he joined the parliamentary procedure team and helped on committees. For Jonathon’s SAE project, he chose sheep entrepreneurship. He purchased two bottle lambs and raised them. Jonathon now has six ewes and one ram. Jonathon wanted to get his American Degree not only because the rest of his siblings did but because he felt it was easy to do once he got his State FFA Degree.
“It is a nice final touch to my FFA career,” Jonathon said.
Jonathon attends Alexandria Technical and Community College for diesel mechanics and has a job lined up after his graduation this spring to work with Arnold’s Equipment in St. Martin.
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