Farm Horizons, Aug. 2016
Retired Watertown-Mayer educator enters FFA Hall of Fame
By Marie Zimmerman
When Vernon Richter began teaching agricultural education at Watertown-Mayer High School (WMHS), he inherited an FFA chapter little more than a decade old and quite small.
By his retirement 37 years later, he had built a legacy of successful students, state officers, district officers, winning teams, and respect in the community.
In honor of his contributions, Richter was inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame during the 87th Minnesota FFA Convention earlier this year. He joins 176 individuals inducted since the hall of fame was established in 2004.
“The Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame is an elite group of individuals who have given a life of service to the FFA and ag education in Minnesota, and we are really proud that Vern was recognized for his service,” said Jim Burns, who is a Watertown-Mayer FFA Alumni past president, and helped write Richter’s nomination for the honor.
FFA was not offered at the St. Paul high school Richter attended, but agriculture was always part of his life. He grew up on a vegetable farm in rural Rose Township now the bustling suburb of Roseville. Richter’s vegetables were marketed throughout St. Paul, including at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
After high school, Richter served three and a half years in the Army, helping liberate the Philippines during World War II. When he arrived back on American soil, he attended the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill. Degree in hand, he set off for Watertown, which boasted good farmland and a lot of opportunities in 1951.
“I figured I’d stay (in Watertown) for five years, then go to a larger school,” Richter said, but he never left, raising two sons there with his wife.
“I enjoyed the people and the community,” he said, recognizing the “cooperation I got from the parents and the wonderful students I got to work with.”
Larry Enter, who was WMHS principal during part of Richter’s career, remembers him as an energetic, enthusiastic educator. Students flourished under his guidance, Enter said, and grew up to become business owners, farmers, lawyers, teachers, and government leaders.
“Teachers like Vern get things organized. They get students involved, they get a program developed, and they get kids to participate. They get kids to be successful,” Enter said.
Under Richter’s leadership, Watertown-Mayer FFA produced two state officers, as well as champions in extemporaneous speaking, public speaking, livestock judging, and swine.
In the early 1970s, Richter helped the Watertown-Mayer FFA Chapter start a solid waste recycling center in Watertown. It won the state Building Our American Communities project award and went on to win the Governor’s Citation and the Top Youth Environmental Group nationally.
Internationally, Richter supervised a People to People Tour in 1974, visiting Russia, Denmark, Germany, England, and Sweden.
Richter received an Honorary American Degree in 1975, and volunteered his time as an FFA district advisor and as president of the Minnesota Association of Agricultural Educators (now Minnesota Vocational Agriculture Instructors Association).
Community involvement was a hallmark of Richter’s tenure. Agriculture education for adults was launched under his direction, with evening programs to help both established farmers and young farmers improve their operations. There were field trips to experimental plots, as well as evening classes in the winter.
“I got to know the farmers better that way,” Richter said.
He actively recruited bank presidents, loan officers, business owners, and other community leaders to chaperone trips to the national FFA conventions. School board members, superintendents, principals, and other school faculty members were asked to be contest judges and convention chaperones to help them see the bigger picture of the tremendous value vocational agriculture and FFA brought to the school district and community.
“You want to make sure the community and the parents support what you’re trying to do,” Richter said.
In 1987, Richter felt that 37 years on the job was enough and “it was time to do something else.”
During retirement, he pursued leadership and volunteer roles in the community, including serving on township and school boards, and started growing and selling vegetables and sweet corn from his farm. His roadside stand is a favorite of many Watertown residents.
Richter continues to champion agricultural education and support FFA, faithfully attending the annual banquet he had always enjoyed hosting as an advisor. Despite three decades since his last day on the job, he is still recognized today by people around the state as an exemplary agriculture teacher, leader, and mentor, Enter said.
“I can’t tell you all the good, respectable career people who came through the agriculture program at Watertown,” Enter said.