Jeffrey Stimmell 2023 Golden Owl Award

Nine years ago, Big Walnut High School’s agriculture program was struggling to survive. Fewer than 50 of the Delaware County school’s 1,300 students were enrolled. Then Jeffrey Stimmell, fresh out of college and bubbling over with enthusiasm, arrived.

His motto: Ag classes can not only be relevant but fun.

Jeffrey Stimmell
Jeffrey Stimmell is 2023 Ohio Ag Educator of the Year.

This year, Stimmell was honored with the 2023 Ohio Ag Educator of the Year, in part for growing the program to an expected 230 students this fall – an expansion so large that a second ag teacher has been hired.

Stimmell, who grew up on farms in Ashland County that raised crops and beef cattle, explained how he transformed the program at the Sunbury, Ohio, school.

“My main goal when I was hired was to get more kids interested, so I observed the students and the community, and I made a few changes.”

First up: dropping a long tradition of required FFA participation for students taking ag classes.

“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t like it when people tell me what to do,’ so I got rid of the requirement,” Stimmell said.

Paris Anderson and Jeffrey Stimmell
Paris Anderson and Jeffrey Stimmell with her goat, Batman.

The result? More students — not fewer — are involved with Big Walnut’s FFA.

Stimmell believes that’s because he’s tried to match what he teaches with what students want to learn. He began teaching food science and technology, for example, when students wanted to compete in food processing contests, which are popular in Ohio.

“I try to look outside of traditional agriculture and see what students are interested in,” he said. “Ag education is awesome because there are so many areas that can be covered.”

When one student wanted to compete in ag flower competitions, Stimmell made it happen.

“He’s very good at finding everyone’s strengths and the way he’s so welcoming as a teacher makes you want to try something you wouldn’t normally try,” said Haylie McComas, 17, a senior at Big Walnut this fall who has been taking Stimmell’s ag classes since her freshman year.

Stimmell credits “so many awesome teachers” he had growing up for his enthusiasm for teaching. That interest was sparked when farming was the theme of his second-grade classroom and it grew at Hillsdale High School in Jeromesville, Ohio, where he found his niche in ag classes and FFA.

“The really cool thing is that we get to help people figure out where they fit in and what they want to do and help them take advantage of that,” Stimmell said.

“Here, the kids who are passionate about rural life have a place where they can be seen and be accepted, and they get their moment in the spotlight to celebrate what they’re interested in.”

Sometimes that’s at county fairs and sometimes that’s at FFA competitions, where Stimmell’s students often win big both in state and national contests.

Winning the Golden Owl Award

His own honors came, first, as one of 10 agricultural educators in Ohio named Golden Owl Award Honorees for 2023. The recognition, which began in the 2018-2019 school year, is sponsored by Ohio Farm Bureau, Nationwide, Ohio FFA, Farm Credit Mid-America and AgCredit. The group received more than 500 nominations this year.

The Ohio Ag Educator of the Year is chosen from the 10 Golden Owl honorees. The other nine were Krysteena Lawrence, Elmwood; Jeffrey Karcher, Bellevue; Heather Tegtmeier, Northwestern; Donald Barnhart, Leipsic; Erynn Hayes, Trotwood-Madison, Judd Baker, Fairfield Union; Kayla Richter, Monroe Central; Kelly Rickabaugh, Greene County Career; and Katherine Dickson, Gallia Academy.

Nationwide also presented Golden Owl Awards in California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

Stimmell’s awards will give his program a boost; each Golden Owl winner receives $500, and the educator of the year award includes a $3,000 donation. Both will go into Big Walnut’s FFA account, where Stimmell hopes it’ll be used for student expenses at competitions and perhaps to purchase a cooler for floral arrangements.

The educator was surprised by the honors, which he said typically go to a teacher closer to the end of a career.

“I’ve done so many things that people told me wouldn’t work and I look at all the time I spent, and I realize it has paid off,” Stimmell said. “That’s rewarding.”

2024 Golden Owl Award

The Golden Owl Award recognizes agricultural educators across Ohio for their tremendous contributions to helping the next generation of agricultural leaders. Students, fellow teachers and other supporters can nominate their favorite agricultural teacher and summarize what makes him or her the best in the state.

Nomination deadline: Dec. 31, 2023

Learn more

Featured image: Ohio’s Ag Teacher of the Year, Jeffrey Stimmell from Big Walnut High School, right, talks with students, from left, Mallory Cline and her horse, Saddie, Quin Dorsey who had just finished showing his horse, and Paris Anderson, during the Hartford Fair.

Photos by Kelli Milligan Stammen

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