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Forty years later, Edwards gets his FFA jacket

Edwards, with Danny McConnell (left), sports his FFA jacket alongside current FFA members from West Henderson High School. Edwards, with Danny McConnell (left), sports his FFA jacket alongside current FFA members from West Henderson High School.

Almost 40 years later, North Carolina Sen. Chuck Edwards received his Future Farmers of America jacket.
FFA is backed by the Farm Bureau, and Dana farmer Danny McConnell serves as president of the Henderson County Farm Bureau branch.

McConnell and other Henderson County Farm Bureau board members gathered at McConnell Farm as the West Henderson High School FFA club, in a surprise ceremony, presented Edwards the coveted jacket he never received. The jacket is the ultimate symbol of the organization and comes with strict regulations for its owners. Edwards’ jacket is the same design as the iconic coat the club has had since it began in 1928, McConnell says.
“Not only was I an FFA member, but I was also the North Carolina State Forestry Champion in 1977,” Edwards said.
“FFA is the career and development extracurricular club for agriculture,” agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at West Henderson High School Joe Taylor said.

“The things I remember most about FFA are taking several field trips to Mills River turning bulls into steer,” he recalled. “The agriculture teacher at that time, Mr. Laughter, just really enjoyed seeing us boys put that rope around a bull’s neck and then him becoming uncomfortable and dragging us through the mud. I took a particular interest in forestry because at that time my life’s ambition was to become a forest ranger. My grandma was good at identifying trees, and I knew more than most other people. By studying and working with the horticulture and agriculture teacher, I really got good at identifying trees.”
He wasn’t able to afford the jacket in high school, and since the jacket can only be worn by current high school members, he never thought he would be able to receive one after he graduated.
“My family was poor,” Edwards says. “There were some things we couldn’t have.” The jacket’s 90-year-old tradition comes with stipulations, one of them being the difficulty to obtain the jacket for members that have graduated high school.

Even though he now has the jacket, Edwards can't wear it.

“After you are graduated, you’re not supposed to wear the jacket again,” McConnell explains.
McConnell remembers a casual conversation years back between him and Edwards, when Edwards mentioned never receiving an FFA jacket, despite being in the club. He wanted to surprise Edwards.
“We actually had to go to the state FFA director and he had to approve it, and if he (Edwards) had not been an FFA member in high school, he would not have gotten a jacket,” McConnell. “The jacket will be put in a shadow box for him, just because he can’t wear it.”
“The jackets are only available through national FFA,” Taylor adds. “I sent the order in, they held the order until they had approval from Raleigh. It took a day or so to get approval from Raleigh to national.”
“It’s an incredible honor from this group,” Edwards says.