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End of the Rowe

Iowa Valley agricultural education teacher Andy Rowe, center, teaches Marengo FFA students, from left, Andrew Jacobs, Ben Folkmann, Max Franks and Josh Meeks, about production of vegetable plants in the IV greenhouse Saturday, May 15. Rowe is retiring at the end of the school year after teaching at Iowa Valley for 34 years.

Andy Rowe will end his 34-year career teaching agricultural education and serving as FFA advisor at Iowa Valley at the end of the school year.

Rowe announced his retirement in February. Though the decision came with mixed emotions, he said he is convinced that the timing of his retirement is right.

“There is never going to be the right time to retire as an agricultural education teacher. It was hard for me to let loose,” said Rowe. “Many of the students have said, ‘can’t you stay until I graduate?’ Yes, I would like to see all of my students participate in the FFA, finish their high school career, graduate and be successful. But, every year there are new students coming in. Telling the students in class about my decision was definitely difficult.”

Rowe, 56, grew up on a farm near Wellman and was active in 4-H and the FFA chapter at Mid-Prairie High School.

“By being involved in these youth organizations, I had a good foundation for my future career ¬ — working with youth with an interest in agriculture,” he said.

He attended Iowa State University and Rowe also worked for the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Service during the summers of his sophomore and junior college years. During his senior year of college, he had opportunities to either work as an extension director or teach agriculture education in a public school, agricultural education and the FFA won, Rowe said.

He was finishing up his bachelors degree and beginning his masters at Iowa State when he was hired at Iowa Valley for the 1976-1977 school year. Clayton Morlan, then superintendent, Dr. Dennis Dougherty, then principal, and Nyle Felling, a board member, wanted to build the program after a stint of four different teachers over an eight-year period, Rowe said.

“Over the years I personally have met most of the former teachers. They were all good people.  The problem was no one ever stayed long enough to build any continuity,” he said.

Rowe said he wasn’t always sure that he would stay at Iowa Valley. During his first few years at IV he had the opportunity to go back the Iowa State University and teach agricultural mechanics to students in the College of Agriculture. Then there were the various sales positions offered in the agribusiness sector, consulting positions and a couple of opportunities to be the working manager of some large farming operations.

“There were even a few other high schools that tried to hire me,” Rowe noted.

He discovered early that his gift was not selling seed or herbicides, but working with youth in agriculture.

“The agricultural education department has helped hundreds of students find some kind of success. I guess it always worked out that I continued my teaching career and I am happy I spent the last 34 years at Iowa Valley,” he said.

Over the last 34 years Rowe said agriculture has changed greatly and so has the agricultural education program.

“When I first started teaching in 1976 most of the students in class were young men and most came from farms,” he said. “A good share of the farms had hogs and cattle along with the crops. I had some families still milking a cow and having a few egg laying hens. Typical farms then were 200 to 300 acres. Now you can drive around the school district and hardly see a hog. A tractor the size of a John Deere 4020 or a Farmall 806 and a four-row planter were pretty much the norm when I started teaching. Who would have thought that 400 horsepower tractors, 24 row planters and 12 row combines would be common place.”

This change in farming has led to changes in the agricultural education curriculum. Today, some of Rowe’s classes are nearly one-half female students.

“There are many young ladies involved in the FFA today,” Rowe said. “This change is reflected in the agricultural industry as well. Today we find many women in agricultural careers from agronomy, bio-technology, veterinary medicine and sales to research.”

Today, Rowe’s program includes a lot more emphasis on agricultural sales, marketing, agricultural law, finance, human relations, natural resource conservation and leadership.

“A concept we learned at Iowa State University still applies today,” said Rowe. “In agricultural education you have to teach to the needs of the students and the community.”

Even though both the agricultural education department and FFA chapter have had numerous awards at the state and national levels, Rowe states the most important factor to him has been the success of his students after graduation. He said it has been real rewarding to watch students he has had in agricultural education and the FFA become not only successful business people in the community, but all across the nation.

“My past students are part of the community, working at or operating successful businesses, I guess I would like to think that something they learned in agricultural education and the FFA might have helped.”

One of the biggest compliments and humbling for Rowe is the number of parents who have written notes or just in conversation have thanked him for helping their children over the years.

“I think I have kept just about every letter and note that parents have sent. Sometimes when they personally thank me, I hardly know what to say, but I have always appreciated it and will always remember it. I have always just tried to care for kids,” he said.

Rowe is not ready to slow down. He said even though he is leaving a job in which he had some success, it is exciting to be able to explore other avenues and have a number of years to pursue those interests. He said that is one of the benefits of starting his career early and keeping his “nose to the grindstone.” After spending countless hours with the agricultural education program and FFA chapter, he said he will have to find something new to devote his time too.

“My dad just passed away in March and he was still farming at the age of 85. I will add that farm to my current operation. That will help keep me busy, but I am keeping my options open for what opportunities might come along. I think I will need to have a ‘people’ aspect to my life,” said Rowe.

He said he will stay involved in FFA in some shape or form. For instance, he has judged at contests in the past, including the national contest, and said that is something he hopes to continue. He also said he will be available as a resource to whoever the school district hires as his replacement.

But before he gets too involved in anything, Rowe said he plans to “take a good breather.”

Rowe leaves the agricultural education program and the Marengo FFA Chapter in solid shape.

“I want to thank the community for all of the support the agricultural education program, the FFA chapter, and I have received during my tenure,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the new instructor find the same success I had and to see the program develop into the future.”

Rowe and his late wife Julie have two children, Adam, 28, and Amy, 23. Adam lives in Denison and works in sales for Pioneer. Amy, Iowa City, is a grad student in the University of Iowa School of Pharmacy.

UPDATED May 18, 2010 12:42 PM

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