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McCook Central’s Stiefvater grows roots for life, career in FFA

Senior named 2022-23 South Dakota FFA State President

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Ella Stiefvater, left, was recently named the 2022-23 South Dakota FFA State President. Also included on the new state leadership team are Megan Sanders, Kathryn Rausch, Jacob Olson, Sidney Peterson and Caleb McGregor.
Submitted Photo
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SALEM, S.D. — As someone who grew up on the farm and with a sister who was heavily involved in Future Farmers of America, it stands to reason that Ella Stiefvater would gravitate toward the FFA program at McCook Central High School.

Now, after six years of involvement with the program, Stiefvater is getting ready to graduate and take the next step in her educational career. But not before she puts in a little more time with South Dakota FFA after she was named president of the FFA leadership team at the organization’s state convention, which was held April 24-26 in Brookings.

“It’s hard to believe. It’s the end of an era, but it’s good,” Stiefvater told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview.

Stiefvater joined the McCook Central chapter of FFA when she was a seventh grader and has remained an active member ever since. She grew up on a farm outside of Salem, which naturally gave her an interest in FFA, but it was also the involvement of a family member who spurred her to get involved with the program.

Her older sister Hadley was an active member of the McCook Central and state FFA teams, and growing up, Ella found herself wanting to have a similar experience. Stiefvater is a fifth-generation agriculturalist, which gives her deep roots in the agriculture business and lifestyle.

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“My older sister Hadley was the (state) secretary for the FFA officer team last year, and it was definitely her that kind of helped me get motivated and started in it. She had so many opportunities that she got to take, so many trips and so many events. So I really wanted to try it for myself,” Stiefvater said.

Over the course of her high school career, Stiefvater has taken lessons of every stripe through her FFA program. And she expects every one of those lessons to have an impact on her life and career moving forward, she said. Like many others who take part in FFA, she has enjoyed a wide range of experiences, ranging from studies in communication to agricultural concepts that deepen her range of farm knowledge.

Those experiences have helped her become a well-rounded student, and will likely benefit her no matter what path she chooses to pursue in her future life and career.

“There are a lot of lessons that FFA lets you apply,” Stiefvater said. “Whether you’re working at a vet clinic, or having your own land or cattle or starting your own business, there are so many different ways kids can get involved. Especially with farm kids being able to take what they know from the farm – like growing up with livestock like I did – they get to go and do livestock judging and meat judging or gain proficiency in beef or sheep production. There are just so many different areas that apply to both kids on the farm that make it a good fit, and also kids on the outside of farming to bring in their own interests, as well.”

She said taking part in FFA can provide skills that are useful even if one isn’t necessarily expecting to go into the agriculture field for a career. She said the leadership and communication skills she has developed during her time in the program can be applied to any goal in life.

For her, those goals include attending South Dakota State University in the fall to study agriculture communication.

“I love the leadership and speaking programs that they’ve developed for kids. I was a district officer so I got to be District 4 president and treasurer, and the opportunities to go to district officer training and go through leadership courses make you a better leader,” Stiefvater said. “Events like prepared public speaking and ag broadcasting — that’s where I found my passions for speaking and communications, which is what I’ll be pursuing at SDSU this fall.”

While she didn’t necessarily expect to find a specific career path through the program, she’s thrilled that she did.

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“It was a huge career find for me – to apply my passions to an area that would eventually turn into a job and degree,” Stiefvater said.

As a senior, she does have a few tasks to wrap up at McCook Central before she can take the next step. Graduation is right around the corner, and she is currently on official FFA business in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she is taking part in the 2022 National Land and Range Judging Contest. There is also state officer training to take part in, so even as the school year draws to a close, she expects to stay busy.

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Ella Stiefvater, upper left, a senior at McCook Central High School, was recently named the 2022-23 South Dakota FFA State President.
Submitted Photo

“It will be a hectic couple of weeks, but that’s all right because we’re used to that. And we’re organized,” Stiefvater said.

In the end, she said it’s exciting to move forward, but she will miss her fellow FFA members and the advisors who have helped guide them through the program at McCook Central.

“It’s been a huge blessing. We have such an amazing program at McCook Central. We have two incredible advisors and students who are willing to work, and a community that supports us unwaveringly. We’ve got an amazing tradition that we really stick to and are open to new ideas. I’ve been so blessed by those opportunities,” Stiefvater said.

She stresses that FFA has been a huge positive in her high school career, and she encourages other students, even if they don’t have any particular background in agriculture, to consider giving it a try. It can lead to new skills, new friendships and new industry contacts. And it can lead to future educational and career opportunities, like it has for her.

It may be winding to a close for Stiefvater, but that doesn’t mean she’s not looking forward to the next chapter, she said.

“I’m really looking forward to the year. I have some amazing (state leadership) teammates and I think we’re going to have an exceptional year,” Stiefvater said.

Related Topics: FFASALEM
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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