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Shelstad inducted into Livestock Breeders Hall of Fame

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 04/25/2013 7:02 PM

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KENYON, Minn. — John Shelstad remembers the three things Superintendent Fred Harapat requested of him when he was hired in 1953.

First, he was directed to stick around for awhile. Second, he was to have an FFA banquet every year. Third, he was told to activate the FFA.

Mission accomplished.

Shelstad, 87, a Breckenridge native, moved to Kenyon to teach agriculture and advise FFA in 1953. He retired in 1990 after 39 years of teaching, with 37 years in Kenyon.

The FFA had a banquet every year, with attendance reaching 300 or 400 people some years.

And the FFA was active. During his tenure, there were 113 Minnesota State degree recipients, 19 State Fair FFA Species trophy winners, 10 American degree recipients, 10 state FFA officers, nine state proficiency award winners, nine State Fair FFA Premier Exhibitor awards, two state champion Parliamentary Procedure teams, one national proficiency award winner, a state Star Farmer and one state champion Prepared Public Speaking winner.

The state champion Prepared Public Speaking winner is EveLyn (Arthur) Richer, a small animal veterinarian at Cascade Animal Medical Center in Rochester.

Richer said she was a painfully shy child who moved to a Sogn Valley farm from the Twin Cities, after attending junior high in Burnsville. She told the school guidance counselor of her interest in veterinary medicine, so he placed her in ag class. She was one of two girls who took ag class with Shelstad in the late 1970s.

He definitely helped her conversion from city kid to country kid, Richer said.

Shelstad put her on the Parliamentary Procedure team, which she said has served her well on various committees. She also was on the poultry judging team.

In the summer between her junior and senior year, she was an AFS exchange student. When she returned, she was expected to talk about her trip.

Shelstad then decided she would participate in the Prepared Public Speaking contest, which she won at the state level and went on to compete at the National FFA Convention.

He recalled flying her from college in Massachusetts to the National FFA Convention in Kansas City.

The girls he had in FFA — he didn't have many — earned better grades than the boys, Shelstad said. That made the boys jealous, he recalled.

Shelstad shared stories about several of his students, describing them as part of an extended family. One helped them move into their lake home on OtterTail Lake. Another did their farm auction. Others stop by to visit.

Shelstad was honored for his efforts at getting young people involved in agriculture when he was inducted into the Minnesota Livestock Breeders Hall of Fame on March 21.

Jim Foss of Kenyon was one of the people who nominated Shelstad.

"He was a good teacher, a good ag teacher," said Foss, who is president of the Minnesota State Agricultural Society.

He went to Kenyon High in the 1950s and recalled taking agriculture classes in a church, which Shelstad dubbed First Agrarian Church.

He and his classmates would walk the block to and from the church in all weather, passing other students on their way. Shelstad stayed in his classroom.

It was mostly book learning that Shelstad taught then, Foss said, but they had fun. Shelstad was a mentor who expected them to work hard.

Shelstad's wife, Norma, is a saint, Foss said. She cared for their seven children while he was busy with FFA activities, be it stopping out to see a student whose sow was farrowing, supervising the FFA volunteers at the popcorn stand or overseeing FFA meetings.

"He was quite an ag teacher, he was unique," Foss said.

Shelstad said his success was based on his students.

"I had such good students," he said.

He knew the key to keeping students involved was money. That's why he went strong into hogs with his students, they could turn the hogs over quick and pigs have multiple births.

They started a Goodhue County FFA Purebred Boar and Gilt Sale in 1960 to sell their surplus hogs. Shelstad had learned how to conduct a sale from his father-in-law, Dan Twait of Chokio. Twait raised Spotted hogs and Guernsey cattle. The boar and gilt sale ended in 1992.

Shelstad stepped into turmoil when he came to Kenyon in 1953. The country schools had just been redistricted into town school and the agriculture program had been moved out of the school and into a church because there wasn't room in the school building.

He knew the teacher ahead of him had been fired, but he didn't know the extent of the turmoil until he started visiting with farm families the summer before school started.

The superintendent had taken ag classes and wanted a strong agriculture program for good public relations, Shelstad said. The principal, on the other hand, was a St. Olaf man who didn't like the agriculture program, he said.

Supt. Harapet did a good job of selling Kenyon and the school to the young Shelstad, who also entertained other job offers.

Shelstad came to Kenyon from Mayville, N.D. He taught in the district for just more than two years. He'd graduated in March and found the position right away.

There weren't any buses when he taught in Mayville and many students rented rooms and stayed in town. Two students roomed with them while they were there, Shelstad said.

He was glad to get back to Minnesota.

He and Norma, a former county Extension home agent, met at a softball game. She showed up with his sisters, who introduced the two.

"By golly, they did me a favor," Shelstad said.

The couple have been married 64 years. They have 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.