RAVENNA, Ohio — It’s not every day that $50,000 falls into your lap. Even if you’re lucky, there’s a good chance you’ll never see this kind of windfall.
But fortunately for the Southeast FFA chapter, Lady Luck paid a rare visit last year. The group received the largest donation in its history, thanks to one of Portage County’s most enthusiastic farming advocates.
Early in 2007, Southeast High School’s FFA adviser and ag educator, Ben Campbell, got a notice that he was supposed to attend the district’s next school board meeting. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing and no one offered any clues about why he needed to be there, but he eventually figured out that it was going to be positive.
At the meeting, Marty Hatcher announced the news. Her mother, Eleanor McConnell, who had passed away the previous summer, had left the FFA chapter a $50,000 donation.
“I was speechless,” Campbell said. “I didn’t know what to say or what to do. How do you thank someone who’s gone?”
McConnell and her late husband, Mason, had owned an apple orchard in Ravenna for many years. Their son, Alan, was a member of Southeast’s FFA chapter when he was in high school and the family had always supported agriculture.
“She [Eleanor] was always just particularly fond of the FFA and the projects they did,” Hatcher said.
Eleanor was also the ag reporter for the Record Courier in Ravenna, Ohio, and Campbell said she never missed an FFA banquet until 2004 when she became too ill to attend.
For now, the chapter is trying to make money last as long as possible.
The entire donation is in an endowment earning interest. The interest is used to give scholarships to graduating seniors who are pursuing a secondary education.
“We thought about going a lot of different directions with it, but we thought we’d do this so it would always be there,” Campbell said.
The extra security is nice since the size of the Southeast FFA chapter, which is led by Campbell and Lisa Arnold, has tripled over the past six years from 42 students to 130.
But just because the chapter has some extra cash doesn’t mean the students are off the hook when it comes to fundraising. Like all the youth who went before them, the chapter’s current members still have to raise money for scholarships.
The chapter’s annual fundraiser is the Student Service Auction. This year, about 40 boys and girls in grades 9-11 stepped into the sale ring and Auctioneer Randall Kiko sold them to the highest bidder.
In exchange for their winning bids, auction goers get eight hours of labor from the students they purchase. The work can include anything from yard work to painting fences to baling hay.
The auction generated about $4,600 this year, or $110 per student.
The chapter began the auction in 2003 and over the years it has grown to be more than a simple fundraiser. Campbell said students sometimes get part-time jobs as a result of the auction and bidders often become references for students as the youth apply for jobs and scholarships outside school.
Funds from the auction, combined with McConnell’s donation, have allowed the chapter to increase the amount of its scholarships. In the past, scholarships were $500, but that number recently jumped to $1,000.
The chapter has handed out $12,000 in scholarships since 2003.
Also, money from the Student Service Auction will be used to send chapter members to FFA camp in 2008.