Lifelong dedication to agricultural education leaves lasting impact

The determination and grit it takes to complete a marathon have also led to great success as a teacher for one Eldon, Missouri, FFA adviser.

“When you talk about somebody who is not only a runner, because he runs all of these marathons, that ties right into how he ran a program, how he runs a community, his life, he just runs success,” said Gary Reichel, when asked about Willard Haley, his predecessor as adviser of the Eldon FFA program. “He is faith driven, he is genuine in what he does, and he is the kind of person any teacher should aspire to be when looking at a role model in a professional manner.”

A Pilot Grove, Missouri, 1979 graduate, Willard Haley attended the University of Missouri on a Curator’s Scholarship. He chose to pursue a degree in agricultural education and mechanization, inspired by his own agriculture teachers to make a difference.

“Showing livestock, living on a farm … I had the desire to work with young people in 4-H and FFA,” Haley said. “So the logical choice in that was to combine my two passions of agriculture and working with young people into my career. I never worked a day in my life.”

As he took off from the starting line at the beginning of his career as an agriculture educator in 1983, Haley stepped into a 29 student, declining program in Eldon, Missouri. Within just five short years, he was up and running to the point of introducing a second agriculture teacher, Matt Biddle, to the program.

A once struggling program was climbing the mountain of success that is now viewed as a remarkable legacy for FFA chapters statewide. These two power house teachers knew their program needed more, and over a period of years raised $75,000 strictly from community support.

Rounding the corner to the straight stretch of continual growth in the midst of his career, Haley produced incredible numbers of well-rounded, accomplished students. However, after 25 years of being in the classroom, Haley transitioned to the administrative position of Eldon Career Center Director, where he had the opportunity to serve the Eldon School District on a larger scale. Current Eldon agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, Gary Reichel, was asked to fill Haley’s position in July 2008.

That fall, Reichel joined the race of continuing the legacy started many years ago. Two national qualifying teams to train and the pressures of being a new teacher worried Reichel; however, he soon found Haley to be a valuable asset rather than an intimidating predecessor.

“He was an inspirational force to help me through those first years of teaching in the program he built [and] one of the greatest influences of my agriculture teaching career to date,” Reichel said.

As time passed, new teachers entered the Eldon program while Haley continued as director of the career center. He also continued to have a vested interest in the success of the agriculture program according to Reichel.

Though the leg of his race as an administrator came to a close and Haley retired from education, agriculture education was still his passion.

“I retired as an ag teacher instead of an administrator because that’s where my heart lies,” Haley said.

He now is serving as a highly involved member of the Eldon community and beyond. Haley stays busy substitute teaching within the Eldon high school or agriculture department or filling in as a bus driver, serving on the Lake of the Ozarks area Fellowship of Christian Athletes board of directors, or Eldon United Methodist church administrative council President.

He also dedicates much of his time to the Eldon Chamber of Commerce, organizing community events and serving on the Miller Country Fair board as president for the past 12 years. However, his favorite jobs since retiring are being grandpa to his grandkids and being able to pursue his passion for running.

After leaving behind the busy schedule of an agriculture teacher, he found time to take up running and he has now done as many as 30 competitive events in a calendar year.

His impact in the Eldon FFA has far from disappeared. Many students have the chance to work with Haley for contest preparation and other activities.

Mikaya Wallis, an Eldon graduate, spoke of the years of guidance and influence Haley had on her.

“He’s very committed and passionate in all that he does,” Wallis said. “It doesn’t just go with a job title, it’s a way of life for him.”

Looking back on his career as an educator, Haley said he simply desired to foster a passion within students.

“There are other careers out there that may be more monetarily rewarding as far as higher salaries, but you can’t put a value on making a difference in a young person’s life and perhaps playing a small little role in their success,” Haley said.