FFA adviser honored for role in ag education

FFA adviser Holton
East Knox agriculture education teacher Tom Holton is surrounded by chapter FFA members after a surprise assembly announcing he was a finalist for the first-ever Golden Owl award, presented by Nationwide Insurance, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and the Ohio FFA Organization. (Submitted photo)

By Mickayla Overholt | Contributing Writer

HOWARD, Ohio — Not one for the spotlight, East Knox High School agriculture education teacher Tom Holton got a surprise right before East Knox High School went on winter break — he learned he was a top 10 finalist for the Golden Owl Award, which is presented by Nationwide, the Ohio FFA and Ohio Farm Bureau. 

“I wasn’t expecting it and I was certainly surprised by it,” said Holton. “I’m not a big self-promoter, but whoever nominated me, I want to try to do my best and not let them down.” 

East Knox held an assembly the last Friday before winter break, but the reason for the assembly was unknown, so Holton stayed back in his room to do paperwork until he was paged to make his way to gymnasium. 

He went into the gym and leaned against the wall. Then, he heard the words “Farm Bureau” and saw a state supervisor from Farm Bureau and knew something was going on. 

“I was very humbled that people thought enough to nominate me for the award and honor,” said Holton, “I’m not one that seeks out recognition for myself — I want my students to be recognized. I figured that’s why I’m there, to help them have some successes.”

Longtime educator

A graduate of the Ohio State University with a dual major in agriculture education and agronomy, Holton has been teaching agriculture education for 37 years, 36 of which have been at East Knox High School. 

In this time, he has been named an Honorary American FFA Degree Teacher in 2011, Honorary State FFA Degree Teacher in 1998, Honorary Chapter Degree East Knox FFA in 1992 and Honorary Chapter Degree Licking County JVS FFA in 1994. 

“I like seeing kids get it. I don’t care what it is, it’s neat to see them light up,” said Holton. “I want to give them opportunities to do things.” 

Long days

On a typical day, Holton arrives at the school between 6 a.m. to 6:20 a.m. He starts a class for those students who attend the career school from 6:45 a.m. until 7:25 a.m., then he does parking lot duty before starting the rest of his school day. 

After school is out, there is typically Career Development Event (CDE) practices or various events, and his workday typically ends between 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. — even later depending on the time of the year. 

Throughout the school year, he teaches students, freshman to senior, in a range of subjects, including Agriculture Food and Natural Resources, Plant and Animal Science and Agriculture Business. For Agriculture 3 and 4 classes, he alternates subjects based on students’ needs, such as environmental science and forestry, usually a subject in natural resources. 

Throughout his career, Holton has helped 199 CDE teams reach the top 10 in the state. Forty-two of those teams moved on to national competition and 24 of those teams competed in soils. 

Most of the work for the contests are done outside of school, through practices and events after school and on the weekends. 

Last year, East Knox FFA’ers competed in 34 different CDEs, but Holton doesn’t force students to participate in FFA programs.

“We are on the move a lot, and we have been fortunate to have some successes.” 

These successes have led various teams to travel all over Ohio and from Oklahoma to the Big E in Massachusetts. The chapter also sends students to state FFA and national FFA conventions, and Holton has helped 93 students receive their State FFA Degrees and 39 students have gone on to receive their American FFA Degrees. 

Holton has been involved in many other activities on top of teaching, and was head coach for the East Knox football team for 27 years. He also was East Knox freshman basketball coach for two years, Knox County Fair sheep superintendent for 14 years, and is a member of Rocky Fort Church of Christ and the Ohio Farm Bureau. 

He credits his wife of 29 years, Kay Holton, with having “the biggest impact in my life.” 

“She understands the importance of the program,” said Holton. 

Holton also credits Ron Thompson, past Utica High School Agriculture Education teacher, as the reason he went into teaching, and said his parents, Dick and Erma Holton, “gave us good work ethic and expected us to work.” 

“I wish everyone understood the importance of agriculture,” said Holton, “we need good young people going into these areas.”

About the Golden Owl

Read our profile on another top 10 finalist, Dave Stiles.

The new Golden Owl award recognizes outstanding educators in the agriculture field and is sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and the Ohio FFA Organization. This is its inaugural year in Ohio and Iowa and the hope for the program is continued growth nationwide, including an additional three states in 2020.

According to Shawnda Vega, Nationwide Insurance’s sponsor relations account executive in Ohio and West Virginia, the company received nearly 430 nominations from across Ohio.

From the hundreds of nominees submitted, the final field includes 10 finalists, who each received a $500 prize.

The 2019 Golden Owl recipient will receive $3,000 to enhance his or her school’s program. The teacher who is recognized will also gain the title of the ‘Ohio Ag Educator of the Year.’ The top award will be announced in April and the overall winner will be recognized in May during the 91st Ohio FFA Convention.

The 10 Ohio finalists for the award include:

  • Stephanie Conway, Bowling Green High School
  • Randy Eisenhauer, Shelby High School
  • Shelby Faulkner, Ridgemont High School
  • Tom Holton, East Knox Junior-Senior High School
  • Holly Jennings, Felicity-Franklin High School
  • John Poulson, Pettisville High School
  • Michael Spahr, Greene County Career Center
  • Dave Stiles, Indian Valley High School
  • Katrina Swinehart, Central State University
  • Erin Wollett, Cardington-Lincoln High School


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