Charter member of local FFA chapter got much out of program
By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
National FFA Week is being observed this week all over the United States. For the Caledonia Future Farmers of America Chapter this year’s observance holds special significance.
The local FFA chapter will be celebrating its 60th anniversary.
The chapter was formed in 1952 when Caledonia High School industrial arts instructor Wayne Rowe talked the school board and a small group of farm boys into creating a local FFA chapter.
Caledonia area resident Curt Schroeder remembers when the chapter was formed 60 years ago. He was a high school junior and was elected the chapter’s first president.
“I’m not sure if I was elected or just agreed to take the position,” Schroeder said with a laugh last week from the farm home he shares with his wife Shirley one mile south of Caledonia.
“That first year was pretty bare bones. When we went to the district convention in Rochester, the entire chapter fit in a car,” Schroeder recalled. “We were a small group of farm boys, wanting to learn more about modern farming practices. We didn’t have any ag classes in school. There was shop, but not any classes that really taught us about farming. The FFA program had a big impact on my life.”
Schroeder was raised on a 160-acre farm in Caledonia Township, less than a mile from where he and his wife raised their four children. Schroeder’s father Ewalt passed away when Schroeder was just eight years old. Schroeder’s mother Edna and his siblings, along with some hired help, continued to operate the farm.
“It was your typical farm back then. We had dairy cows, hogs and chickens,” Schroeder noted. “We had 22 dairy cows. That’s all the barn would hold. I can remember when Mom and Dad got milking machines. I was quite young.
“We raised 40 acres of oats, 40 acres of corn, 40 acres of hay and had 40 acres of pasture. From the time I was very young, I figured I’d be a farmer. After my father passed away, I didn’t have much of a choice.”
Schroeder admits that when Wayne Rowe first brought the idea of an FFA chapter to the farm boys, he hadn’t even heard of FFA. But it didn’t take him long to realize that the fledgling chapter was a window to a world of modern farming practices.
“Even though I was only in FFA for a short time, I learned so much about conservation farming,” Schroeder said.
“This was at a time when the area was just beginning to embrace conservation. Sixty years ago wind and water erosion were big problems. Through FFA, we learned about conservation farming practices… how to better take care of the land.
“I’m not sure if I ever did completely learn the FFA creed before I graduated from high school. But what I learned about terraces and strip farming stuck with me.”
Schroeder embraced what he learned through FFA and became a strong proponent of conservation farming. He and his brother Roger farmed together for many years and at one time farmed 560 acres of land just south of Caledonia.
That was a lot of land to operate in the late 1960s and 1970s. During that time they fed out more than 300 head of cattle.
While Curt was farming with his brother, Shirley taught school in Caledonia and they raised four children: Cari, Craig, Patti and Todd. When asked if any of their children followed their father’s footsteps and became farmers, both Curt and Shirley replied, “No.”
“We encouraged them to further their education and they all went to college,” Shirley said. “They all helped on the farm when they were growing up and I feel the work ethic they learned because they grew up on a farm has carried on to help then in their careers.”
The Schroeders got out of farming about 11 years ago. Shirley retired from teaching in the 1990s, but both remain quite busy. Curt works part time driving for a transport company and Shirley works with child advocacy issues.
When asked what was the most rewarding aspect of farming, Schroeder said it was being able to work with his family.
“Our family was so close when the kids were growing up. Working together on the farm kept us close. And our nine grandchildren have enjoyed the farm too. They always seem to look forward to coming out here to the farm,” Schroeder said.
“This is a great place to live. We are out in the country, not stuck right next to neighbors like folks in cities are. But yet we are only a short distance from town. We’ve really had the best of both worlds here,” Schroeder concluded.
You can contact Charlie Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org