When it comes to agriculture education in the Dairy State, Jerry Wendt is the cream of the crop.
Already a legend in the Stoughton area for his tireless work with the FFA and local agriculture, his legacy was cemented June 10-13 during the 90th Wisconsin State FFA Convention with his induction into the Wisconsin FFA Hall of Fame.
Wendt, a long-time educator in the Stoughton Area School District, was honored along with Bonduel educator Ken Natzke and Cuba City educator Jerry Sherwin. Their names were added to a plaque to be displayed at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s headquarters in Madison.
Wendt taught ag education for nine years in Keil before coming to Stoughton, where he taught for 23, retiring in 2015.
“During his 32 years of teaching, Wendt challenged students to do their best, to participate in activities and apply what they learned toward their future success,” a Wisconsin FFA news release stated. “Because of this attitude, he had numerous students recognized for their accomplishments and in addition he, too, was recognized at the local, state and national levels.”
Stoughton FFA Alumni secretary Darlene Arneson called Wendt a “tireless worker, a man of faith, a dedicated friend, a champion of offering opportunities to students and FFA members and a loving and caring person.”
“Jerry spent his teaching career balancing his job, family commitments and doing his best to meet the needs and requests of an FFA chapter, FFA Alumni and community that wanted to have a strong agriculture education program and FFA,” she wrote in an email to the Hub. “That wasn’t an easy job.”
At SHS, Wendt taught landscaping, large animal management, equine science, small animal care, among a myriad of other subjects. Typically humble, he told the Hub last week he credited his numerous students, colleagues and partners for the award.
“Being in the Hall of Fame is the top of the tier,” he said. “The world is a better place because of ag education and FFA and that hands-on experience, and I think the good Lord put me in a spot where I was to be part of that.
“But if it wouldn’t be for all those people who put in extra hours to raise some money and help support the local ag program, I wouldn’t have been successful.”
Wendt grew up on a farm in Waukesha County which is still operating today that raised vegetables and traditional crops of corn, soybeans and hay. Later, Wendt and his siblings started a business also still going strong there today, selling pumpkins, gourds and squashes.
He attended Kettle Moraine High School and graduating in 1978, but not before he was influenced by his agriculture teachers there, and decided to make agriculture his career. Wendt graduated from University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1982 with a degree in agriculture education, and completed a six-month internship at the National FFA Center.
He started his teaching career in Kiel, where he taught for nine years, serving as the school’s FFA adviser and upgrading the school’s ag education curriculum and facilities. Wendt was named “Wisconsin Outstanding Young Ag. Ed Teacher” in 1985, and 1986 before he and wife, Sharon decided to start a family and moved to Stoughton to be closer to relatives.
At Stoughton High School, Wendt continued his focus on ag education for the next 23 years, and his accomplishments were numerous.
He served as advisor for the school’s FFA chapter as well as its alumni advisor. He helped the school add its greenhouse, aquaculture and animal facilities, plant more than 60,000 trees and distribute 200,000 seedlings, and taught rural, farm and tractor safety.
He was superintendent for 26 years of the Stoughton and Dane County Fairs, and established an extensive Kiddie Barn at the Stoughton Fair (recently renamed the Wendt Agriculture Education Building) with many education exhibits, animals stations and fun things to explore for kids.
During his time at SHS, he was named a Kohl Fellowship Program outstanding teacher, won the President’s Award from the Wisconsin Association of Career and Technology Education Association, and in 2015 received a National FFA Honorary Degree and Wisconsin Distinguished Service Award.
In his nomination submission for the Wisconsin FFA Hall of Fame, Wendt wrote a few words of advice: “Get involved, attempt things that put you out of your comfort zone, and when asked to do something, do it to the best of your ability.”