I had the sad occasion, a few weeks ago, to attend the funeral visitation for one of the most influential mentors of my life. I realize that few of my readers, outside of the county in which he taught vocational agriculture for his entire career, will know who I’m writing about – but I would wager (or at least, hope) that almost everyone has a “Mr. Young” somewhere in their life.
I was, once again, blessed with good fortune when the university assigned me to do my student teaching under this gentleman in the spring of 1974. Although I had never met the man, I most certainly knew his reputation as one of the very best ag teachers in the Midwest.
He had trained dozens of championship judging teams and assisted scores more in exhibiting their champion dairy, beef, swine, and sheep at fairs all over the area. His FFA chapter had sent more students on to become American Farmers, State Farmers and State Officers than just about any other program in the state, and on top of all these accolades, he was considered an outstanding classroom teacher as well. That was quite the package to throw at a naïve 21-year old country boy from way back in the sticks.
During Christmas break, my university professors instructed all the student teachers to visit the high school, to which they were assigned, and spend a day acquainting ourselves with the teacher, curriculum and facilities in advance of our assignment there the next spring. I showed up early that morning and introduced myself to the man who, in all reality, would be the one who decided I could have teaching as my profession – or not. As I looked around the classroom, I admired a half-dozen pictures of past recipients of the American Farmer Degree (most schools were tickled to have one). Under those, hung scores of pictures of State Farmer recipients with a couple of Star State Farmers thrown in for good measure. On the next wall were more champion contest plaques, trophies, and banners than I had ever seen in a single ag department. I was now, totally intimidated.
When the last bell rang that day, the old gentleman invited me into is small office to get to know me. I nervously listed what I thought were my strengths and weaknesses.
He soaked those comments in for an awkwardly long time before asking, “Why do you want to be an ag teacher?” I gave him a short but genuine answer that brought (at least, in my mind) the slightest hint of a smile to the lower, left corner of his mouth. Silently, he looked me over from head to toe (remember, it was 1973) before stating, “You will be getting a haircut and shaving that moustache before you arrive to teach?”
I assured him that I would show up looking like a professional teacher. “Very good,” he answered. “I’ll see you here in six weeks.”
When I showed up to begin student teaching, he warned me that we would be working with students every day and night while I was there – except for Thursday nights – that was his bowling night. He didn’t mislead me, for we pretty much lived at the school that spring and, at the end, I was convinced that I had learned more in that semester than I had in all my previous 15 1/2 years of schooling.
A master teacher, Mr. Young had many effective teaching techniques, but my favorite was where he would play the fool by pretending he had forgotten some fact or procedure and ask the students if they could refresh his memory. They would roll their eyes and quickly come up with the correct information to show that they were smarter than the teacher. It’s a method that I used throughout my teaching career, even though it was less of a stretch in acting for me, because I usually had forgotten the information.
In attendance at the visitation and funeral were scores of his former students.
Since I live two counties away, I didn’t know a fraction of the hundreds of mourners, but even I recognized many successful farmers, auctioneers, attorneys, salesmen, business leaders, college professors, bankers, accountants, teachers and even the owner of the funeral home, that had all been his students at one time. Undoubtedly, he influenced their lives in a positive way as much as he had my own.
In that, his legacy will continue for many generations and what more could any of us ask.
Mr. Ireland M. Young 1921-2016.


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