Jim Cummings
MY MENTOR: Jim Cummings, a longtime ag teacher who died recently, was my ag teacher. He loved returning to the Indiana FFA Leadership Center he helped create.

Who helped shape your life?

The passing of my former vo-ag teacher caused me to stop and consider how his life impacted mine.

Joe Ramey is the new director of the Indiana FFA Leadership Center. At his first meeting with his advisory committee, Ramey, horticulture instructor and FFA advisor at Central Nine near Greenwood, Ind., for three decades, stressed the importance of gathering history about the FFA center. Why? Because the people who started the dream are now 70, 80 and even 90-plus years old. Soon, it will be too late to ask what only they might remember.

One of the former ag teachers Ramey wanted to contact was Lonnie Harts, who taught at Northfield and Oak Hill high schools. As it turns out, Harts, Amboy, died the very next day.

Who has made an impact on your life? What questions would you like to ask them? How would you like to thank them? Harts passing makes it clear the time to do that is today.

Another person Ramey would love to have spoken to is Jim Cummings, Brownstown. He spent his career teaching at Cowan, Whiteland and Central Nine. Once again, it’s too late. Cummings died in August.

Cummings was my vocational-agriculture teacher at Whiteland High School. Besides my parents, he’s at the top of the list of people who influenced my life. Full of energy and drive, he was the perfect ag teacher for a shy farm boy in the 1960s.

Personal impact
Here are just a few Cummings he influenced me:

Stand and deliver. He made me talk! First, it was just in class. Later, it was talking in front of the group. No one in my mother’s family liked to talk in public. Four years with Mr. Cummings helped me realize that with hard work, you can overcome genetic tendencies.

• Try and fail. One of my most vivid FFA memories is running for chapter secretary my sophomore year and losing to a “popular” kid. It was one of those “cry yourself to sleep” nights — and if you never had one, well, are you being honest? 

What Mr. Cummings did was nothing except tell me to try again next year — exactly what he should have done. If someone doesn’t teach you it’s OK to fail as long as you use it for motivation, they’re doing you a disservice. I was secretary my senior year, to Mr. Cummings’ chagrin; he couldn’t read my handwriting!

• Go the extra mile. Our crops judging team won the state championship in 1969, and I was first individual, earning a trip to Washington, D.C., that exposed me to the real world. Was I that much smarter than everyone else? Not at all. It was the first year of a drastic shift in the contest. We identified plant specimens for the first time, and Mr. Cummings spent his summer collecting plant samples, so we could prepare.

Then there was practicing for a state FFA demonstration. I was testing hay quality, driving a probe into a quarter bale of alfalfa hay to get a sample. “Come in and practice in here,” Mr. Cummings said, inviting me into his living room. It was the late ’60s, and it was plush white carpet. I’m glad I wasn’t around when his wife, Lois, came home and saw alfalfa leaves all over!

Folks, is there someone like Lonnie Harts or Mr. Cummings who impacted your life? Are they still here? Now is the time to thank them, pick their brain, ask questions and cement memories. Tomorrow might be too late.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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