Former students who value their experiences in the agriculture program at Lyon County High School have joined an initiative to raise $100,000 to show their appreciation for local agriculture teachers and FFA advisors past and present. Proceeds from the endowment will directly benefit the Lyon agriculture education program, said a spokesperson.

The funds will be endowed as part of the Kentucky FFA Foundation’s Forever Blue program. If the group reaches its fundraising goal $4,000-$5,000 would be available to the Lyon County agricultural education program each year. The funds could be used to support student success through scholarships to FFA leadership camps and conferences, FFA jackets, to help students start supervised agricultural experience projects, or for other programs that benefit ag education and the community, the spokesperson said.

Lyon native Dwight Armstrong and his two brothers, Jeff and Randy, have supported FFA as a way to honor their former teacher, Ray Fowler. When Dwight Armstrong learned of the Kentucky FFA Foundation’s Forever Blue Endowment Fund, he saw an opportunity for donations to make an even more direct impact on the community where the brothers got their start. He contacted other former members of Lyon County FFA, asking if they wanted to contribute to the fund. The response has been positive.

Lyon County FFA alumni is made up of many who have become leaders both at home and around the United States. Among other positions within the agriculture industry, Armstrong served as chief operating officer and chief executive officer of the National FFA Organization for seven years. His brother, Jeff Armstrong, is the president of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Randy Armstrong lives family farm in Lyon County after retiring from a career as administrative vice president for Jim Smith Contracting.

Other Lyon County FFA Alumni include David Beck, president and chief executive officer of Kentucky Venues, Paul Akridge, president of Akridge Farm Supply, and Jay Akridge, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs and diversity at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

One thing these men share is the common thread of having an agriculture teacher who motivated them, the spokesperson said. Clyde Grace, Ray Fowler and Stanley DeBoe are names mentioned again and again.

Beck mentioned overhearing his ag teacher, Ray Fowler, counseling another youth about the path to take after graduation. Fowler’s concern for that student’s future impressed Beck. “I realized that he really cared about us,” he said. “It was very meaningful to me. It also taught me that you never know who you are impacting.”

“Being in FFA took young guys like us and planted it in our brains that we could accomplish just about anything we wanted to if we had the desire to do it,” said Randy Armstrong.

Jay Akridge said: “Mr. Fowler was an incredibly dedicated and passionate ag teacher. He insisted on excellence in all you did, and taught us how preparation is tied to excellence. That’s so helpful, and it’s something you don’t fully appreciate until after you leave” high school).

“Lessons learned from FFA have helped me every day of my career,” said Jeff Armstrong. “Mr. Fowler demanded our best in every aspect of our FFA and agricultural education experience.”

Besides the Armstrongs, Becks, and Akridges, a host of other families and individuals have joined the initiative as founding donors, the spokesperson said. “They haven’t forgotten the influence made by their agriculture teachers, and want to ensure that future Lyon County agriculture students and FFA members have the opportunities they did.”

“It takes a lot of time, energy and resources to run an ag program,” said Jay Akridge said. “We need exceptional young men and women who can inspire a young person and help them understand opportunities and possibilities. Their ag teacher can be the source of inspiration that gives students the confidence to take that next step in their education.”

Dwight Armstrong added: “More than the money, it’s the grassroots support of the program and the recognition of what it does for young people that’s important,”

“Akridge Farm Supply and the Akridge family are excited to join this community support for the Lyon County FFA program and are excited to see the benefit it will provide our FFA members,” said Paul Akridge.

“It’s clear that Lyon County FFA has influenced generations of strong leaders,” said Sheldon McKinney, executive director of the Kentucky FFA Foundation. “They believe in the power of agricultural education to the point that they’ll put their money behind it to ensure that future generations of kids growing up in Lyon County have the same opportunities they did. When people believe in something so much and are willing to support it, I think it inspires everyone to be the best they can be because they have people in their corner.”

By pooling their donations, champions of Lyon County FFA can make a impact without any one person having to give an enormous gift. All gifts, large or small, help tie the program more tightly to the community.

“Hopefully this gives the program some resources to work with it didn’t have before,” said Jay Akridge. “It puts a spotlight on the ag program — the alumni are sending a message that the program is important to them.”

“I’m a big believer that we have a real need for leadership in our society,” said Beck “FFA provides you the opportunity to make decisions, apply leadership, and learn to work with others. We hope this can become an example for other chapters. Give your support locally, but do it with the expertise and guidance of the state foundation.”

Anyone interested in contributing to the Lyon County Agriculture Teacher Appreciation Endowment, may contact Sheldon McKinney at (606) 782-4620 or sheldon.mckinney@kyffa.org. Donations may also be made at: kyffa.org/donate and indicate that the gift is for the Lyon County Endowment in the “Special Notes” section. Or mail donations to Kentucky FFA Foundation, P.O. Box 8, Flemingsburg, KY 41041.