Photo by Trinity Whitted
Photo by Trinity Whitted

Locally, there is much appreciation for the land, forests, animals, and water and consequently the agriculture program at Hauser. A good portion of our students participate, around 175 7th-12th grade students, in a program that has received local, state, and national recognition under the excellent leadership of Aleesa Dickerson and Kelly Dressler and previously, for many years, Arnold Ellison. Three former Hauser students have proudly held FFA state positions: Brittany Young, Joshua Calhoun, and Natalie Taylor.

So, it would make perfect sense to this writer (a former educator for FRHC School Corp.) for the school to invest in renovating its agriculture facilities, a project the school board enthusiastically supported, 10,000 square feet at a total cost of $1,630,000 dollars which includes the furniture and technology. The Hauser Agricultural Center features a greenhouse, an animal science lab with a room for small animals, a large shop space including a welding lab, two large classrooms, a conference room, a shared office, bathrooms, and a welcome center which will have a variety of material displayed related to the success of the program.

"The agriculture space has been completely reimagined and designed to meet the needs of our growing and highly successful agricultural programming," said Shawn Price, FRHC Superintendent. "Our goal was to create a space that reflects the pride and support our community has had for agricultural education over the years. There will eventually be an open house as well as a virtual tour on the FRHC website, and we are very much looking forward to sharing this facility with our community.” 

I know all will be extremely impressed as I was while recently walking through it with Jim Tedder, Maintenance Director, Mrs. Dickerson, and Miss Dressler. You really must see it to grasp the decision making related to this state-of-the-art facility that will enhance the lives of many young people.

I need to go back in time to share a little about the “Start Smiling” Project in fifth grade in 1997, reading an article in an REMC publication with the smiling face of Valerie James and a smiley face on a barn, the FFA Center in Trafalgar, Indiana, and the book, “The Journey Is More Than The Destination,” by Cathy and Frank James.

The 1997 “Start Smiling” Project was made possible when the Hope Elementary principal, Warner Michener, stated three words, “Go For It,” when I asked permission to take 58 fifth graders to the Glass House Recording Studio in Columbus to do a professional recording with the help of Susan Glasson and Paul Bultman, my sister, Sally Webster, music teacher, Tim Robertson, and fifth grade teacher, Debbie McIntyre. Many tapes were sold with the proceeds purchasing guitars for the music room. Brock Harris was president of our company, Flyin' V Incorporated. Tony Flack's art work of a smiling face was selected for the front cover, quite appropriate for a tape with the song “Start Smiling.” In an article by Brain Blair, long-time writer for “The Republic,” Molly Land stated, “Besides, this teaches you that, in life, sometimes you've got to go out there and go for it.” (Songs on this album are now all over the world!)

When reading a REMC publication and article by Richard Biever in 1999 featuring the smiling face of Valerie James and a very large smiley face on a barn, I felt a strong pull to travel to Wolcott, Indiana to present the “Start Smiling” tape to the James's family and see the barn. Val, who was an amazing individual, daughter, student, friend of many, and FFA member, was tragically killed in an accident her senior year. Her dad, Frank, had felt a strong call to paint the smiling face on the barn while his wife, Cathy, was pregnant with Val.

I don't recall all the details about our visit; I just remember thinking it was time to travel to Wolcott with my two young daughters, Bethany and Haley, while visiting my wife's parents in Lafayette. We would just drop off the tapes at their front door if they were not home. Not knowing exactly where I was going, I figured Wolcott was small enough that we would surely be directed to the right place by someone, if needed, thinking all would know about the barn, now with multiple lights on the smiley face to honor Val. Somehow, we drove right there, saw the smiley face, and were graciously greeted at the front door by Cathy and then visited with her, Frank as well as Michael, their son.

Due to Val's deep love for the FFA Center and Frank feeling a need to build a chapel there for others to enjoy as well as in loving memory of Val and other young FFA members who have died, there is now an inspiring log Fellowship Center. It is the result of many individuals and organizations pulling together to help the James's family change a dream to reality. Around 20 Hauser FFA members attend a fall camp there each year.

Brittany Young Need, former Hauser President of Indiana FFA, said, “The FFA Fellowship Center will always rate as one of my all-time favorite places, and I often went there for times of peace and quiet. Now as an educator myself, I have a special place in my heart for young people like Valerie, full of life, passion, and smiles!”

In 2006, Cathy and Frank published a book, “The Journey Is More Than The Destination.” It is a book which Cathy and Frank take readers through their emotional high points and low points as well as Michael's. Within the “Acknowledgments,” it ends with the following words, “We hope this book helps in some way those who are forced to endure the same tragedy our family has faced.”

The book has definitely helped me, and I have even had the privilege to communicate again with Cathy. Even though I have been very fortunate in regard to my children and grandchildren, I have lost several former students through tragic events. If you are wading through such an event, I would encourage you to order the book through Amazon or other sources.

I can't end this article until thinking more about “The journey is more than the destination.” Let all of us think about the journey; let us embrace each moment of the journey; let us remember those whose journeys have ended, some way too short; and, let us smile and be thankful.