By Roz Kohls
Melissa Benoit, Kevin Davis, and Paul Nowak are three Dassel-Cokato High School graduates who have received FFA’s highest award, the American FFA Degree.
They will be presented with the award at the national convention in October in Indianapolis, Ind.
Benoit is the first female from Dassel-Cokato to win the award. The only other DC graduate to win the American FFA Degree besides Davis and Nowak, is Davis’s older brother, Brad, two years ago, Benoit said.
Benoit, 19, is the daughter of Tim and Sandy Benoit of Dassel. Her father is employed by Fielder’s Choice of Dassel, and her mother is a preschool teacher in Litchfield.
Nowak is the son of John and Kathy Nowak of Dassel. Davis is the son of Loring and Carol Davis of Cokato.
The American FFA Degree recognizes demonstrated leadership ability and outstanding achievements in agricultural business, production, processing or service programs. To be eligible, members must have earned and productively invested $7,500 through a supervised agricultural experience in which they start, own, or hold a professional position.
Benoit joined FFA when she was a high school freshman, in 2003. The most important benefits of being in FFA are learning leadership skills and job skills, especially finding out what employers expect, Benoit said.
Both of those contributed to her winning the American FFA Degree, she said. To qualify for the award, the FFA member must be in a supervised agricultural experience. There are two categories, entrepreneurship and placement.
Davis started up his own cattle business, so he won in the entrepreneurship category. Benoit and Nowak won in the placement category, in which they worked for companies already in existence.
Nowak worked for Faribault Foods in Cokato, and Benoit worked for the family company, Benoit Auction Service of Dassel.
Benoit said the most interesting part of the work was traveling all over the state, assisting farmers in selling their livestock and machinery.
Her most memorable auction, though, didn’t involve agriculture. Benoit was in Arden Hills, selling confiscated merchandise from the Mall of America. The auction lasted 24 hours an exhausting day, she said.
The leadership skills she learned from FFA paid off when the company upgraded its technology about four or five years ago. The auction service brought in a new generation of employees to operate its computers. Benoit was put in charge of teaching them how to use the new system, she said.
Benoit will be beginning her junior year at St. Scholastica in Duluth Tuesday, Sept. 2. One of the requirements for the degree is that the member must have graduated from high school at least 12 months before the national convention and be younger than 23.
Benoit applied for the American FFA Degree in February. In the spring, her application was forwarded to national competition, which made Benoit confident she would win. To be eligible for the national degree, members must win the state FFA degree.
Benoit, Davis and Nowak were three among 3,341 nationwide to be recognized in 2008, and 75 from Minnesota. There are a total of 500,823 FFA members. Winners will receive a gold American FFA Degree key and certificate in a blue leatherette frame.