It’s hard to find many people who have dedicated their life to an industry for more than 80 years and still have enough energy to dance.
Ray Hagan, 98, has dedicated his life to FFA and helping those around him succeed. Hagan is one of the earliest members in the FFA organization’s history. The organization was founded in 1928, and Hagan became a member in 1931. This year, at the 2013 National FFA Convention, members celebrated the 80th anniversary of the official FFA jacket.
Hagan was at the 1933 convention as a junior in high school when the jacket was adopted. But getting there was no easy task for the young Hagan. The Great Depression was going on at the time, but he and a friend were determined to attend this convention. They hitched a ride in a cattle truck from Princeton, Mo., on a cold and rainy November day.
“We had to hang on the side of the truck and lay across cattle all the way to Kansas City,” said Hagan.
After high school, Hagan attended the University of Missouri and graduated with a degree in agricultural education in 1939. He taught in high school agriculture programs for a few years, and then became a district supervisor for vocational agriculture in the Missouri State Department of Education in January of 1948. In 1954, he became executive secretary of the Missouri FFA Association in addition to the district supervisor position. Hagan was executive secretary for 31 years.
With this position, Hagan had countless responsibilities, including overseeing State FFA Officers and planning the State FFA Convention and the Missouri State Fair. Larry Case, former National and Missouri FFA Advisor, recalled Hagan working all night and even weekends to plan every detail of State FFA Convention.
“I’ve never seen a guy work any harder than Raymond Hagan,” Case said.
Karla Wheeler Waters was Missouri State FFA secretary from 1981-82 while Hagan was executive secretary. She has fond memories of long car rides and good guidance from Hagan.
“We learned to lead on our own with his guidance, but not his doing,” Waters said. “He was the perfect example of a person you’d want around your young adults.”
She said she saw Hagan as a friend, mentor, and leader. He would listen to the officers, but never intervened to make the decisions for them.
Case’s first memory of Hagan is when Case was in sixth grade showing cattle at the state fair and Hagan was on the state FFA staff. When Case eventually arrived in the agricultural education field, Hagan was still there and took on Case as a mentee. Case followed Hagan’s advice and guidance and was hired as a district supervisor, state director, and eventually National FFA Advisor.
“I suppose he had the job he loved and wanted, and didn’t want to move,” said Case about Hagan’s choice to not pursue higher positions such as the ones he helped others acquire.
“That was never my desire. My idea was to get everybody else to the right place,” was Hagan’s response.
Hagan was also a family man. He has three daughters: Sharon, Jane and Janice. Sharon Gonder is the oldest and was six years old when her father became Missouri FFA Executive Secretary.
“I was lucky I got to do a lot of things with him,” Gonder said.
She got to know a lot of the state officer teams, and one team was even instrumental in her earning her driver’s license. They made arrangements for the Hagan family car to be available for a rare occasion while preparing for State FFA Convention, and surprised Hagan with this news. Gonder laughed at the memory.
“I’ve never seen him so caught off guard,” she said. “It was a priceless moment.”
Case described him as a great detail person, as well as a very strong people person. Gonder said Hagan is a perfectionist who takes great cares to detail and planning.
“I think it is just innate with him to help things grow and develop,” Gonder said. “He had visions of perfection not only for programs and students, but for himself.”
So what is Hagan doing now?
Well, he’s dancing.
“When I hear music, I can’t sit still,” said Mr. Hagan while wiggling in his chair.
One time on a vacation in Colorado with his wife, the couple even placed in a dancing competition. Now, Hagan goes dancing at least once a week. When he was an agriculture teacher and supervisor of state officers, he was afraid kids would see him if he went to a place where there was dancing because most dance halls also served “whiskey and all kinds of stuff.” Hagan fully enjoys his right to dance now in his retirement.
So if you want to find one of the most influential persons to ever be involved with Missouri FFA, going out to the local senior dinner dances may be your best bet. He may even teach you a move or two.