Last week we learned about Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. This Friday we will learn about three boys who were residents at the Boys Ranch. Our guest columnist today is Chanda Neal, an agriculture teacher at Como-Pickton High School in Texas. She is a graduate of Tarleton State University and was an intern with the Texas FFA Foundation. She wrote the following while doing her internship. So take it away Chanda.
It’s All Inside the FFA Jacket
By Chanda Neal
One FFA chapter in West Texas produced three men who wore the FFA jacket, came from the same FFA chapter, and have left an impeccable mark on the FFA not just in Texas but nationally.
Our story begins with three boys who grew up in a small quiet town near Amarillo, Texas, at a residential childcare facility by the name of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. All three came from broken homes and less than desirable circumstances. They were all poor and headed in a negative direction. Little did they know their involvement with the FFA would change not only their lives but the dynamics of the FFA Organization.
When Cal Farley started Boy’s Ranch, he wanted at-risk students to have a “second chance” – he wanted to give them a “shirttail to hang onto.” The ranch provided academic, vocational, spiritual, and extra-curricular activities to help disadvantaged boys become respectable, responsible, and resilient adults. Cal Farley’s was a working ranch and provided a facility to afford ranchers a chance to practice what they learned in the classroom and apply their technical and soft skills. The FFA helped give them a voice and developed leadership skills to articulate, inspire, and motivate others.
In 1961, a 13-year-old boy was homeless in Houston, Texas. He had two brothers, was born with polio and behind in school. Arriving at the ranch, he was barely able to read, and his real focus had been on survival. His counselor signed him up for academic classes and a program in agriculture education. He was given an FFA jacket, and on it, he found his name – Bill Sarpalius.
Throughout high school, Sarpalius immersed himself in the FFA program. He took what he learned in the classroom and began working with his supervised agriculture projects. He showed pigs and dairy heifers. He became involved in his FFA chapter by serving as an officer and advanced to the state contest in parliamentary procedure. The FFA jacket was transforming him. After each new experience, he could feel his self-confidence and passion for the FFA growing stronger. It wasn’t until the unfortunate death of Cal Farley that Bill Sarpalius began to understand the potential he had, and he asked God to guide him in the right direction. Two months later, his chapter nominated him to run for area office -- he went on to become the Area I President.
After graduation, he went to college and worked six different jobs. After an unfortunate automobile wreck, he was wondering how he would complete his college education – he needed a catalyst to get it done. The only hope he could see was to advance in the ranks of the FFA. If he could become State FFA President, a scholarship would help him complete his college education. At the 40th Annual Texas FFA Convention – with the odds against him – Bill Sarpalius was elected State President and would soon change the face of the FFA forever.
As a state officer, Sarpalius made the motion at the National FFA Convention to allow girls in the FFA. The jacket and FFA experience prepared him to serve others, to know everyone has potential, and that setting goals are a great inspiration for personal and career success.
Bill Sarpalius was a boy without much hope. He was in terms of our society “disadvantaged,” but the blue corduroy leveled the playing field for him, and he began to plant seeds so future FFA members would have even more opportunities. Sarpalius later served two terms as a Texas State Senator, and three terms as a U.S. Congressman. In the mid-1980s, a proposal was before the Texas legislature to eliminate funding for agriculture education. Only one vote stood between the elimination of agricultural science education and the opportunities the Texas FFA provides today. Sarpalius was the critical vote on the Conference Committee, while the debate raged over HB72. He is remembered for brokering the proposal to allow girls in FFA, but the one deciding vote to save agricultural science education in Texas public schools is one of his most noted accomplishments.
Photo of Bill Sarpalius from his web site
A benefactor of that vote was a young man from California - the second boy in our story. His journey began with a 1,300 mile trip from Watsonville, California. In August 1975, Tom Maynard joined his older brother at Boy’s Ranch to keep him off the streets. Upon entering high school, Maynard joined FFA because of his brother. The more involved he became, the more confident he became. His experiences in the FFA jacket began to transform him from someone with perceived little value to a voice for FFA leadership.
During his FFA experience, Maynard showed at the Houston Livestock Show, judged livestock, and, after attending his first state FFA convention in 1980, decided he wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. He was elected as district president and poured himself into the position. His newfound responsibility helped him understand the true essence of leadership.
After an unsuccessful run for area office, Maynard was conflicted about continuing his FFA career. The defeat left him unsure of his ability. Instead of giving up, he began honing his leadership skills and trying to understand the reason he wanted to run for state office. He came to a decision – one that would touch many aspects of his personal and professional life – he decided to run and to “leave things better than he found them.” In 1983, he was elected as a Texas FFA Officer.
Tom Maynard served as the Executive Director of the Texas FFA Association and was the longest-serving director in this capacity before retiring in 2017. Under his direction, the Texas FFA reached record levels of membership, which have been recognized by the National FFA Organization. He hopes the procedures and policies he has placed in Texas – and shared with other states – will endure and be his legacy within the FFA. He hopes others who will wear the blue and gold will find their value through the organization and grow into the leaders FFA is known to create. (Curators Note: Tom is currently serving as an elected member of the Texas State Board of Education.)
Curators Note: Tom made this Facebook posting in 2019:
AUGUST 15...MY FIRST DAY AT BOYS RANCH...In 1975, my mother did what few have the courage to do--come to grips with the idea that she was not well equipped to raise two boys on her own and then did what was necessary to give us a future--handed us over to Cal Farley's Boys Ranch. On August 15th, 44 years ago I began my seven-year stay at Boys Ranch, arriving on a clear Friday at 11:05 a.m. and meeting my dorm parents Horace and Teddi Mann. It was a day that was pivotal in creating my future. It was there in the windswept Canadian River Valley in the Texas panhandle northwest of Amarillo that foundations were laid for my faith, values and aspirations. It was here that I encountered those who would influence me for a lifetime. I am reminded on this day of those who invested in me and that America is still the great land of opportunity and for that I am eternally grateful.
"...Its where you're going that counts." Cal Farley
Our final individual came from a single-parent home in Dallas, Texas. As a last effort to turn her son’s life around, this mother reached out to Boy’s Ranch. When he arrived, they signed him up for school, which included a class in agriculture. Although his first FFA jacket needed altering to fit his smaller frame, the opportunities within the organization were enormous and could not contain his vision for FFA possibilities.
Alejandro was involved in leadership teams throughout his high school career. He served as chapter president; competed on the parliamentary procedure team, meats judging and livestock judging teams. When his senior year rolled around, he expressed his desire to run for Area office (which included the entire Texas panhandle). Nobody believed he could do it. Instead of getting discouraged, he decided to prove his critics wrong. He worked hard, studied, and became not only the Area I President but went on to serve as the first Hispanic elected Texas FFA President (notoriety he carries to this day).
Once he retired his FFA jacket in 1986, Alejandro continued his education at Texas Tech University and later served as District Director for Congressman Bill Sarpalius.
Today, Aaron Alejandro serves as the Executive Director of the Texas FFA Foundation and is the longest-serving Executive Director in the Foundation’s history. To his credit, the first million-dollar gift in the history of the FFA (Ford Motor Company / Texas Ford Dealers) came to the Texas FFA Foundation, followed by the generous support of Dick Wallrath, who generously gave a 1.5 million dollar gift. Alejandro’s efforts have not only grown the Texas FFA, but his methods are used by State FFA Foundations across the country, making them more financially stable and able to meet student needs and provide opportunities. Alejandro’s ideas have been recognized as innovative, inspiring, and qualified as “best practices” by students, teachers, sponsors, and stakeholders throughout the country.
A common experience – the FFA changed three boys who came from humble beginnings. Each wore an FFA jacket providing them a level playing field, free from judgment, but full of opportunity. It is one small FFA chapter in the Texas panhandle – a place where those who need a second chance find one. The Boys Ranch FFA Chapter has produced three leaders whose efforts on behalf of the FFA will have a lasting impact.
Our lives begin with an inhale and will end with an exhale. Everything you leave behind becomes your legacy. The FFA can provide an incredible and life-changing experience. Sarpalius, Maynard, and Alejandro will humbly say to all current and future members, “Put on the jacket, work hard, be ethical, become great, and find the purpose the good Lord created you to accomplish.”
Curators Note: For more information about these three individuals consult the following:
- Bill Sarpalius details his experience at Boys Ranch, how he attempted to help his alcoholic mother, and the challenges he faced in politics in his memoir, The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch.
- Bill’s website is http://www.sarpalius.com/.
- Listen to a 12 minute podcast with Bill at this site.
- Learn more about Tom Maynard from this Texas Board of Education web site.
- Tom also has a personal/political web site. - http://maynardfortexas.com/.
- Read about Aaron Alejandro at this Texas FFA Foundation web site.
- Watch Aaron’s 1986 retiring address as Texas State FFA President.