Ag educators shine in 2023 Mid-Columbia Hall of Fame
As a high schooler, Carol Travis was drawn to the flowers her classmates carried around Spokane’s Ferris High School, the results of a floral class offered through the ag program.
She was drawn to the school’s charismatic ag advisor and to the thought of working plants.
So, when faced with choosing an elective, the choice was obvious: She signed up for horticulture class, which would lead to a career in the plant world and eventually to New Horizons High School in Pasco, where she launched a thriving Future Farmers of America chapter in 2010.
Travis, together with fellow ag teacher Charlie Dansie of Connell High School, will be inducted into the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame on Jan. 19 as the 2023 Agriculture Advisor honorees.
They will share the spotlight with Harold Cox, a longtime farmer and rancher honored with the Pioneer Award, and with Maury Balcom, a third-generation farmer honored with the Stewardship Award.
Travis was a city girl back in Spokane and came from a humble family. But the flowers and the ag program won her over and would help set her path. Her first job, at 15, was to care for the plants in the Ferris High greenhouse over the summer.
She knew she wanted to be part of FFA from the start.
“I’ve got to get one of those jackets,” she recalled thinking.
FFA would become the stage where she would compete, adding coveted patches from her travels to local, state and even national competitions to her blue and gold jacket.
“FFA saved my life,” she said, sharing how her career lifted her out of poverty, a lesson her students appreciate.
“I value my FFA jacket more than my wedding dress. You buy a wedding dress. You have to earn your blue and gold,” she said.
She dreamed of teaching even in high school, but family circumstances kept her from attending college. She worked for a nursery, then joined Yoke’s Fresh Markets in Spokane, working and thriving in the floral department.
She moved to Pasco to open the chain’s first Tri-City store, working her way up to management. She never lost touch with her educational roots, helping with FFA events.
When an opportunity rose to join the Pasco School District, she jumped. She earned her teaching credentials during her first year. At the time, New Horizons met in portables and colleagues scoffed at the idea students attending the alternative school would be interested in FFA.
But they were, crowding into her tiny portable office. Today, 22 of the school’s 332 students are members. Through FFA, she said, the students see a future in agriculture that goes beyond field work.
More importantly, though, she’s proud that New Horizons has shed its reputation as a “dumping ground” for problem youth.
Today, its mission is to help students retrieve credits, graduate and find employment.
“We just love them and teach them and support them,” she said.
Dansie took a different route to the classroom, but like Travis was inspired by a teacher when he was growing up on a sheep ranch in Utah. He taught in Rexburg, Idaho, for 11 years, then in Warden before moving to Connell High School to join its robust ag program, where he is part of a three-person team.
He teaches beginning welding, woodshop and commercial driving. Connell launched a program to help older students earn their commercial driver’s licenses last year, inspired by an area farmer who was having trouble finding truck drivers.
It took three or four years to secure state approval, but it launched with 30 students, a waiting list and plenty of interest from other schools.
Dansie said not a week goes by that he doesn’t get a call from school leaders who want to replicate the CDL program in their schools.
He is also known for Connell’s annual Drive Your Tractor to School event. Students gather at a nearby shop, then parade to school in tractors and other farm vehicles.
“It’s just a fun activity,” he said.
The other awardees are:
Harold Cox, a farmer, rancher and dedicated community supporter grew up on his family’s farm in Outlook, raising potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, sugar beets, hay and livestock. The family farm provided the foundation for his own interests.
“You always, always make your goal, plan three steps ahead, figure out all the downsides, and then give it all you got! Never go halfway. Don’t ever give-up ‘til the job is done,” Cox said.
He served on numerous boards and commissions including Paterson School Board, Franklin County Planning Commission, President of both the Washington State Cattleman’s and Washington Cattle Feeder Associations, WA Association of Wheat Growers, WA Ag Forestry Leadership Foundation, Tri-Cities Cancer Center Executive Committee and the Benton-Franklin Fair and Rodeo 4H & FFA Market Stock Sale.
Maury Balcom, a third-generation farmer, was honored for his passionate involvement over five decades to preserve water resources in the Columbia Basin.
He was a founding board member for the Washington Wine Commission and served as a board member for many organizations including the Washington Wine Growers Association, Washington State Water Resources Association and the Tri-City Development Council.
He still serves on the South Columbia Irrigation District Board of Directors as president since 2002. In 2010, he was awarded the Water Resources Leadership Award from the Washington State Water Resources Association and is a pivotal influencer promoting agriculture and irrigation issues at the local, state and national levels on behalf of the agriculture industry.
Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame dinner and installation gala will be held Jan. 19 at the Pasco Red Lion.
The Agriculture Hall of Fame Gala is presented by the Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Pasco.
For reservations and information, call the Pasco Chamber at 509-547-9755 or drop by the office at 1110 Osprey Pointe Blvd. Suite 101, in Pasco.
Visit the chamber online at pascochamber.org.