FFA officers surprise Halbert Smith with honorary American FFA Degree

Gainesville FFA officers and their adviser, Jon Wilson, attending Sunday service at Gainesville Church of Christ so they could surprise preacher Halbert Smith with the honorary American FFA Degree, the highest degree awarded by the national FFA. From left: Madison Trivitt, Blakely Morrison, Peyton Donley, Natlie Kiger, Halbert, Wyatt Wilson, Jaima DeVries, Will Uchtman and Hunter Webb.

Gainesville Church of Christ preacher Halbert Smith wasn’t surprised to see eight students wearing FFA jackets in his congregation Sunday. His wife, Vicki, has been helping train the Gainesville High School FFA parliamentary procedure team that will soon be participating in the upcoming state competition.
“Vickie had said they were going to practice Sunday afternoon. So when I saw the FFA jackets in the congregation, I thought [GHS FFA adviser] Jon Wilson had decided to bring them to church, then they would have lunch here and be ready to go to the practice,” Halbert said, adding, “I was set up.”
After Communion was shared and before Halbert’s sermon began, one of the church members interrupted the service to say that the FFAers were there to present a special award.
Wilson and the students stepped to the front of the church, and Wilson began reading a statement that said they had come “to recognize a person in our community who has made a tremendous influence in the lives of FFA members in our local, state and national FFA association.”
Halbert assumed the award would be presented to Vicki to thank her for her hard work in helping train Gainesville’s parliamentary procedure teams. But then Wilson said, “This year, at the 90th National FFA Convention, Halbert Smith was nominated and selected to receive the Honorary American FFA Degree.”
The FFAers – officers in the Gainesville chapter – had come to present Halbert with the highest degree awarded in the national FFA organization.
In his presentation, Wilson noted that nominees are considered for the American FFA Degree  “based on criteria set forth by the National FFA Association Constitution and By-Laws.” Then he described Halbert’s many years of service to FFA:
After graduating college, Halbert started his teaching career in Aurora, but at the end of his first semester there, he moved to Gainesville to take the job as agriculture teacher. During his 17 years at GHS, he trained many state-winning parliamentary procedure teams.
Wilson said he wasn’t sure how many of Halbert’s teams had won at the state level, “but if you have ever been in the ag room at school, you have seen the results of his hard work and dedication by the numerous trophies and plaques that decorate our walls. “  
After leaving the teaching profession and entering full-time ministry, Halbert continued his involvement with FFA at the local, state and national level, judging parliamentary procedure contests at district competitions as well as at state and national conventions.
“From writing tests, to training judges, setting up contests and creating questions for contestants to answer, Halbert has definitely made an impact on students all across our country,” Wilson said. “Though he has been out of teaching for 25 years, each year in the spring he still dreams of training contest teams!”
Halbert’s honor had been announced at the last  National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, which Halbert hadn’t been able to attend. The local FFA chapter wanted the degree to be a surprise and thought that, ideally, they would present it to him at this year’s FFA banquet. But knowing that the state FFA convention is this month, they worried Halbert would find out about it before the local FFA banquet is held later this spring. So they opted to give it to him Sunday at church.
He still doesn’t know who nominated him for the award. Wilson said it wasn’t the GHS chapter, although they’re very happy it’s been given to him.
“I was totally, totally surprised,” Halbert said. “And actually it was better receiving it here, from these kids, than at national convention where no one knows me and I don’t know many people.”
And, as a bonus, it fit right in with his sermon, which talked about “how we work and earn awards in life, but as a Christian we can’t work enough to earn that. It’s a gift that’s given to us,” he said.
His congregation “seemed happy to see it happen,” Halbert said. And Vicki, who had been in on the surprise and came to the church early Sunday to fry chicken for the lunch to be held after the service, also liked how it all played out.
“She don’t brag on my sermons much, but she said she thought that one was pretty good,” Halbert said.
It’s the second celebration that has honored Halbert this month. His congregation recently celebrated his 25 years of ministry at Gainesville Church of Christ – a role that started in April 1993.
“They’ve put up with me all this time,” Halbert said. “I appreciate that.”

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