December 1 , 2006
In a world full of MTV, teenage violence and a continual drop in youthful morals and respect, it seems risky to invest in youth and the future.
However, Richard Wallrath, owner of Champion Ranch in Centerville, gave $1,420,000 in scholarships to Texas 4-H and FFA students this summer. The scholarships were given through the Dick Wallrath Educational Organization, which will continue to give $10,000 to 142 students annually through an endowment funded by Wallrath.
While most may look upon these donations as a boost for Texas youngsters, others may wonder what Wallrath receives in return, and why he chose to invest in Texas 4-H and FFA.
"We're in a world market situation, and we've got to educate our young people," Wallrath said. "I didn't do it to get my name on the front page of the paper, but I want to help these kids. I think that for us to compete in the world market, we have to educate our kids. I feel that money will be well spent, and I think it's a good place to put my money."
Jim Reeves, executive director of the Texas 4-H Foundation in College Station, said the future of Texas agriculture depends upon the support of programs like 4-H and FFA.
"Educated forces of people are the ones that have creative thinking and aren't led like sheep," Reeves said. "They will think outside the envelope and create better and more efficient ways to produce what our nation and state needs today."
He said Texas' continued leadership in agriculture was crucial to the security of our nation, and compared it to the current energy crisis.
"We have to be strong because he who controls the breadbasket rules. The minute we become dependent on other countries, we are weak and can fall prey to many things that are detestable to the average person who loves freedom and democracy," Reeves said. "That's totally against the spirit of Dick Wallrath; he never wants to be enslaved to anybody. He invests heavily to make sure that we never lose that independent spirit that founded the state of Texas."
Aaron Alejandro, executive director of the Texas FFA Foundation in Austin, said these programs train agriculture students to embrace change.
“Typically, whether in agriculture or any place else, people fall into several categories: early adopters of technology, those who wait a little while, and late adopters,” Alejandro said. “Texas FFA has approximately 100,000 students in Texas classrooms who are the early adopters and get to see new agricultural ideas. We equip them with skills early on; when they go out into the workforce, their minds will be open to new ideas and on the lookout for trends.”
He said Texas FFA is also successful because it teaches respect, responsibility and resolution.
“We act as if FFA has a lock on positive lifestyles and leadership because in agriculture, if we don’t do our jobs, something dies,” Alejandro said. “If we don’t take care of our crops, or animals, or projects, we lose food, fiber and societies. Building a good society demands respect for the environment and the society around them, responsibility for self, and resolution. If we can teach them to resolve challenges in their lives, then we’ve taught life skills to take them through a lifetime.”
Wallrath said he believes in investing in Texas 4-H and FFA youth because they are taught lessons in character and morality.
“They talk to them about work ethics, honesty, integrity, decency and God. The public schools don’t teach these things anymore,” he said. “I see that being taught to 4-H and FFA kids. It gives the kids some core values that they can go out and compete in this game of life. Core values—that’s what 4-H and FFA kids receive. Those are things that you’ve got to have to succeed in life. That’s why I’m high on 4-H and FFA.”