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McCook Central FFA adviser ready to retire

SALEM--McCook Central's award-winning Future Farmers of America program will have a new face for the first time in more than 30 years. Terry Rieckman, the school's FFA adviser and agriculture teacher, is retiring this month after developing a nat...

McCook Central teacher and FFA Advisor Terry Rieckman is retiring this year after 32 years. (Matt Gade/Republic)
McCook Central teacher and FFA Advisor Terry Rieckman is retiring this year after 32 years. (Matt Gade/Republic)

SALEM-McCook Central's award-winning Future Farmers of America program will have a new face for the first time in more than 30 years.

Terry Rieckman, the school's FFA adviser and agriculture teacher, is retiring this month after developing a nationally recognized FFA program from scratch, though it's the students he'll remember most.

"I'm always going to be more proud of the students. You like to see what they can accomplish and what they have accomplished," Rieckman said.

When Rieckman arrived at McCook Central, the school was on the cusp of eliminating the FFA program entirely. The students, at the time, urged the school to give the program one more year, so Rieckman was hired in 1984 to inject new life.

Now, McCook Central is a perennial competitor at national events. Rieckman has coached 17 students into becoming national proficiency winners - recognized for outstanding supervised agricultural experiences - with more than 60 finalists. Additionally, seven McCook Central students, during his 32-year tenure, have earned an American Star, a national honor given to only four students each year.

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"I know people who have taught their entire careers and never get one," Rieckman said.

Rieckman said he has overseen more state degree recipients and proficiency awards than any other chapter in the state in the past 32 years.

"Are we the best at everything? Absolutely not. We're pretty good at a lot of things," he said.

Jeff Hoffman, FFA adviser for Mitchell High School, said Rieckman's retirement is a big deal, as he has been a longtime leader for FFA advisers across the state. Rieckman has created a program that Hoffman sees as a top competitor.

"His chapter is probably one of the top chapters in the state," Hoffman said. "I think he makes us all work harder."

Rieckman also made an impact on the school's course book. For the 2015-16 school year, Rieckman taught agriculture and shop classes for seven of the school's eight class periods, plus one class in the fall that met before school at 7:30 a.m. These classes spanned all four years of high school, as well as seventh grade, and Rieckman always promoted FFA.

Of 110 high schoolers, Rieckman said 91 were in FFA this year. Furthermore, he convinces all the seventh-graders to join, and assistant FFA adviser Tracy Chase draws in the eighth-graders, so 171 students were in McCook Central's FFA program this year.

"The FFA program has impacted a lot of areas in our school and in our community, and Terry's a big part of that," said McCook Central Superintendent Daniel Swartos. "FFA is really his life."

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But Rieckman's influence does not end in South Dakota. In December 2015, he was elected to be president of the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and he has continued a five- or six-year push with the organization to increase the number of agriculture educators around the country.

"We're short ag teachers, not just here in South Dakota, but across the nation," Rieckman said. "And not just ag teachers, we're short teachers."

Rieckman, who is the third South Dakotan to hold the office, praised the Legislature's bill to raise the state sales tax to boost teacher pay, but said there is still "a ways to go."

Wrapping up

Rieckman, 61, said this was the last year he could take advantage of the school's early-retirement program. Although Monday was the students' final day of school for the year, Rieckman said he'll likely be working through the week to get everything wrapped up.

So far, he has few plans for retirement. He said he plans on spending time in Pickstown on the Missouri River with his wife, Patsy. He'll also travel for meetings and conventions for NAAE until his presidential term is up in December.

Beyond that, Rieckman doesn't know what the future holds, but Swartos said the door to the school will still be open to him if a new agriculture teacher isn't hired before the next school year begins.

"We're trying to see what we can do to fill the position, and if we can't find anybody, maybe we'll try to beg him to come back in the fall," Swartos said.

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Rieckman urged the school to find someone young and energetic to take his place, and said he has no plans to return to the school for one more year, but he remains open to the possibility.

"Never say never. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," Rieckman said.

Rieckman hopes his replacement will continue the program's success. One of his students, Julia Loudenburg, is not worried.

"I have faith in our chapter that our board will continue to maintain what we can, and hopefully, take ideas from the new adviser and integrate those as much as possible, to keep our proud McCook Central name as big as it can be," Loudenburg said.

Loudenburg, 17, of Spencer, is completing her senior year at McCook Central. Next year, she will attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to study international affairs.

Loudenburg said she and the other students convinced Rieckman to postpone his retirement for one year, and she credits him for the program's success.

"We definitely have a very competitive program, which we can contribute to our amazing adviser. He always pushes us to do as much as we can and teaches us as much as he can," she said.

Rieckman, on the other hand, credits the program's success to the support provided by the school and the community.

"I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is just the community support this program received. This is just a good community," Rieckman said. "I don't know if I can give them enough thanks."

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