Samantha and Kirby Selness received their American FFA Degrees in 2009.
Samantha and Kirby Selness received their American FFA Degrees in 2009.
For the Selness family of Mabel, participating in FFA is a family tradition.

Not only did siblings Kirby, Samantha and Travis Selness spend many years participating in FFA, Travis recently became the third of the three to receive his American FFA Degree.

"It shows a tremendous amount of commitment," said Dennis Rud, FFA advisor at Mabel-Canton Schools.

About the degree

The American FFA Degree is awarded to FFA members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA and made significant accomplishments in their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs).

Approximately 3,500 American FFA Degrees are handed out each year at the National FFA Convention. That number represents less than half of one percent of all FFA members, making it one of the organization's highest honors.

In addition to his or her degree, each recipient receives a gold American FFA Degree key.

Early influences

Both of the Selness children's parents, Terry and Mary (Soukup), were involved in FFA, and their uncle, Scott Selness, received his FFA degree in 1975.

But it may have been their uncle, Dennis, who had the biggest influence on their involvement in FFA.

"He was an FFA advisor for 28 years at Linn Mar High School in Cedar Rapids," said Kirby, adding his uncle passed away in 2004.

Rud, who attended Hesper country school and Iowa State University with Dennis, said it was rewarding for him to be involved with his friend's niece and nephews for so many years in FFA.

"I think it's pretty unique that all three of them attained their degree. Their uncle was a very strong supporter and that family is very dedicated to FFA," said Rud.

The recipients

Kirby and Samantha are 2008 graduates of Mabel-Canton High School. Travis graduated in 2010.

Kirby and Samantha received their American FFA Degrees in 2009, while Travis received his in 2012.

"It involves a lot of record keeping," said Kirby.

The trio started out showing in 4-H when they were young, transitioning to FFA when they reached high school.

The family, which farms east of Hesper, took turns showing goats, sheep and beef.

"I guess I started 4-H in 1999 and have shown ever since," said Kirby.

Kirby said he and his siblings showed mainly in Fillmore County and they spent many years showing at the state fair.

"We also got to attend the National FFA Convention (in Minneapolis) and a number of judging contests," said Kirby, who is currently in his 15th year of showing livestock.

In the early years, Kirby remembers showing sheep. Then, on a family trip to Colorado in 2001, the family was introduced to boer goats.

"We saw these goats that were different than anything we'd seen here. We decided to find out where we could get some here in Minnesota. Back then goats weren't as popular," said Kirby.

The Selnesses came back and purchased one goat for each of the children.

"Back then we were the only ones in our county showing meat goats. The show was mixed meat and dairy together, even at the state fair," said Kirby.

Over the years, Kirby kept raising and showing meat goats, helping the discipline grow on both the county and statewide level.

Passing it on

Kirby, who has been out of FFA for two years, said when he got to the age when he was too old to show in FFA, he decided to find a way he could continue his involvement.

"It was kind of hard to give it up, so I kind of stayed on as a volunteer," said Kirby.

In addition to working full-time at Featherstone Fruits and Vegetable Farm in Rushford, Kirby still raises goats on the family farm and sells them to local 4-Hers for showing.

"My dad and brother and I just got done kidding here a few weeks ago," he said. "I guess I'm still helping out by supplying 4-H goats. We sell a few here in Fillmore County, but many of them go to Olmsted, Houston and Winneshiek counties."

Kirby said they try to make it affordable for the students buying and showing these goats. "Sometimes we've even loaned them out," he added. "They'll keep them on our place and I'll help get them ready. We've even raised a few grand champions."

Kirby added he is grateful to everyone who has helped him over the years.

"We had some great times, with most of our family vacations being spent at county and state fairs. When I get time off work, my vacation time is still spent showing or helping someone else," he said.

"I'd really like to thank my mom and dad and all the people I got to meet through 4-H and FFA. I've met a lot of lifelong friends," he said. "Now I guess it's my turn to give back to them."

In addition to Kirby continuing his career in agriculture, both Travis and Samantha have stayed in the industry as well. Travis is a student at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, majoring in agricultural business with a beef production emphasis. Samantha is an ag teacher in Benson, Minn.

A passion

Samantha, who now advises her own FFA students, said she remembers the FFA experience which really got her "fired up" about FFA.

"I was able to attend a Greenhand camp at Eagle Bluff in Lanesboro. That's what really triggered it for me," she said, adding after camp she even became a regional officer for the organization.

Samantha said she credits her involvement in FFA for the direction her life has taken.

"FFA definitely helped me tremendously in determining my career path and my passion for agriculture," she said.

She also thanked her ag teachers, Brad Harguth and Dennis Rud, and her Uncle Dennis, whose work before her helped pave the way for FFA everywhere.

"I was very young when Dennis passed, and I was unaware of the impact he had had on FFA. Then, when I got to Iowa State and my instructors would hear my last name, they all asked me if I knew Dennis. It was then I realized what a significant contribution he had had on the development of FFA programs," she said.

"And I can't thank my parents enough for their huge support of us throughout the years.