WOONSOCKET — For the Linke siblings of Woonsocket, participating in the National FFA Organization has grown into more than simple participation in a youth leadership organization. For Jonathan, Aaron, Nathan and Megan Linke, it has turned into more of a tradition.
That tradition led all four to take part in the organization, with three of the four holding state FFA office during their tenure with the group and taking part in both state-level and national-level events. Their experiences took them through graduation at Woonsocket High School to South Dakota State University, where they decided to pursue their education. It even led one to find the love of their life, with a wedding planned for this summer.
The three brothers and sister have all been active in FFA since Jonathan, who graduated from South Dakota State University in May, joined the Woonsocket/Sanborn Central FFA after developing an interest from working on the family farm.
“We grew up on the farm that we’ve been on for over 125 years now. My siblings and I are the fifth generation to grow up there, and from a young age we were involved in the farm, and through that we started getting involved in 4-H,” said Jonathan, the oldest of the siblings, in an interview with the Daily Republic recently. “And then as we got old enough to join FFA, the one kind of flowed right into the other.”
He began his FFA experience in seventh grade, and he retained his membership throughout high school until he aged out of the organization about a year ago while he was in college. In that time, he attended four national conferences where he also served as a National FFA Convention arena crew member and various other roles at the state level after logging nearly 10 years of membership.
He also began the tradition of Linke siblings serving as officers at the state level. He served as state treasurer from 2015 to 2016, something his brother Aaron did from 2017 to 2018 and his brother Nathan did from 2019-20. The family believes the brothers may be the first three members of the same family to serve as state FFA officers in South Dakota.
“State officers are the face of the organization for the years they serve, and the interaction with members hopefully continues to inspire them to be the best they can be and find their place,” said Jonathan, who among other roles also currently serves as the interim co-state FFA executive secretary.
Aaron Linke was the second sibling to find a place in FFA. Also an SDSU student who just finished his junior year at the school, he started his experience in seventh grade and has continued to be active in the organization in the subsequent years. He also served in various other capacities at the state level, including the state FFA retiring address coach.
For Aaron, the interest in the organization was always there, though he did take some inspiration from his older brother.
“As far as interest, it was kind of a combination of my older brother did it and had fun with it, and taking the ag classes and being interested in the production ag side of it and seeing the different events I got to compete in,” Aaron said. “I was introduced to the leadership side of it, as well.”
His time in the organization has been rewarding, he said, and has served him in a broader sense than simply exposing him to ag-based education and programs.
The National FFA Organization has greatly expanded its scope since it was known simply as Future Farmers of America. With a focus on leadership, the organization now develops members’ potential and helps them discover their talent through hands-on experiences, which give members the tools to achieve real-world success. Members are future chemists, veterinarians, government officials, entrepreneurs, bankers, international business leaders, teachers and premier professionals in many career fields, according to the organization website.
“FFA is actually just called the National FFA Organization, because we’re not just future farmers anymore. And whether you’re a farm kid or a city kid, it has a place for everyone, from the different events we do to the leadership side of it and preparing you for after high school, like college,” Aaron said.
Nathan, also currently attending SDSU, agreed that there was more to discover in FFA than just lessons on agriculture.
“You learn that it is so much more. There is so much to explore and it helped me find my future career and what I want to do with my life,” Nathan said.
Nathan, who is studying mechanical engineering at college, is the most recent sibling to serve as state treasurer. He was in the midst of preparing for a final session of the South Dakota State FFA Convention when he spoke to The Daily Republic last week, which was held in a virtual format this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We couldn’t have it in person and we went virtual. We’ll be electing a new state officer team for next year and electing new ambassadors for the coming season,” Nathan said.
Nathan said while the programs and lessons he was exposed to in FFA were rewarding, it was his fellow members that set the experience apart for him.
“The people. My brothers are in it, but I stayed because of the people you meet and the experiences you get to have with those people,” Nathan said. “If I walk to class (as SDSU), I’m going to see one or two people I know and a lot of that if from FFA. People are a resource, you meet so many people and there are so many opportunities that you would never get to have otherwise.”
Megan, the youngest of the siblings at 17, is wrapping up her senior year at Woonsocket High School. She is the latest in the Linke family legacy of taking part in FFA, and while she has not served as a state FFA officer like her brothers, she said she has grown with the experience of programs the organization has to offer.
“I started out with creed speaking, which gets you talking and more comfortable in front of people, which is important these days,” Megan said. “I’ve competed in things like job interview and competed in ag issues.”
Megan plans to attend SDSU to major in health sciences and ag leadership, following in the steps of her brothers, whom she credits with getting her involved in FFA, as well as giving her an easy conversation starter when she joined the group’s ranks.
“I would say definitely that’s what got me involved, because I had three older brothers who were very involved, and just starting off with going to state convention, which I obviously wanted to be a part of,” Megan said. “One of my favorite things was going to places and introducing myself as Megan Linke. And they would respond, ‘Oh, you’re Jonathan’s sister!’”
New FFA family
All four siblings said they have benefited greatly from their experience in FFA, but Jonathan took that one step further. During his time running for state treasurer, he met another candidate who ended up on the elected team with him as state secretary. Jeanette Klein soon became a good friend to Jonathan, and over time, that good friendship blossomed into something more. They are now engaged, with the wedding planned for June.
It was a serendipitous development, she said.
“We were pretty good friends through our years of service, nothing more. But after we retired we reconnected at SDSU,” Klein, a native of White, said.
The two both served on the stage crew together for the state and national conventions, and next month they will set out on a new adventure together as husband and wife. She said it was easy to make the announcement about their engagement, as most of their friends were mutual and a part of FFA themselves. And word spread quickly.
“We didn’t even have to tell that many people ourselves,” Klein laughed.
The three brothers, the sister and the soon-to-be wife and sister-in-law all reflect warmly on their time in the National FFA Organization, and praise it for giving them the opportunities to expand their horizons and for the inspiration it has provided.
Jonathan said he is proud of his siblings’ and fiance’s accomplishments in FFA, and knows interested high school students will find similarly rewarding experiences, relationships and lessons through the organization.
It’s worked for him and those closest to him, he said, and it’s worth a try.
“FFA provides opportunities for students to develop themselves personally and to develop personal growth, leadership and career successes,” Jonathan said. “It all helps you develop as a person. If you take part in the wide range of the opportunities it has to offer, it gives you a chance to develop as a well-rounded individual.”