Agricultural Education

When the State University at River Falls was chartered in 1912 all students who majored in agriculture matriculated and graduated with one degree, Agricultural Education. This position was faithful to the institutional mission as a Normal School. Agricultural Education is the predecessor to what is now an entire college that serves as an umbrella for five departments with 15 or more academic programs. The current College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) is the product of the Agricultural Education program’s long and productive tradition.

Over the years, the Agricultural Education faculty has been fortunate to attract many dedicated and outstanding professors.

Professor John M. May, or “Prof May,” as he was known in the River Falls, Wisconsin area, was born in Nebraska. His family moved to Manhattan, Kansas, when he was two years old. Along with his brother and sister, he was raised on the family farm, went to Kansas State University for his B.S. degree, and then went on to Cornell University for his M.S. degree. He did additional graduate work at the Ohio State University.

Professor John May, 1956
Professor John May, 1956

John joined the faculty of River Falls State Normal School in 1913, one year after the agriculture program was established. During his 40 years as director of the Division of Agriculture, he was responsible for training 950 students in the field of vocational agriculture. He became widely known and respected in agriculture circles throughout the Midwest. Although he retired in 1958 as director of the division, he continued to teach agriculture courses at the Wisconsin State College at River Falls, as it was then known.

Dr. Marvin D. Thompson was born in 1920, one of six children of a farm family in Taylor County, Iowa. He was a vocational agriculture high school student in Bedford, Iowa and served his FFA chapter as reporter, secretary and president, participating in public speaking and agricultural mechanics contests at the district and state levels.

Marvin served in World War II as a German and Japanese radio intercept operator and attended special schooling in mechanical engineering. After the war he completed his B.S. degree in 1947. He went on to receive his M.S. degree in1950, and a Ph.D. in 1955, all at Iowa State University.

From 1948 to 1950 he taught vocational agriculture at Dunlap, Iowa. In 1953, he joined the Wisconsin State University at River Falls as a faculty member in Agricultural Engineering and Agricultural Education and served there until his retirement in 1982. As Professor and Chairman of the Department of Agricultural Education, he directed the Bachelors and Masters programs in that field.

Marv Thompson
Marv Thompson

Marvin helped develop and administer the National FFA Agricultural Mechanics Contest, served from 1973-1975 as executive committee member of the National FFA Board of Trustees and as consultant to the National FFA Board of Directors. He received state and national service awards and the Honorary Wisconsin and American Farmer awards. He participated in U.S. Agency for International Development agricultural programs in Nigeria and in the Pacific region.

Dr. Richard Delorit (2005 FFA Hall of Fame Inductee) was born in Forestville, Wisconsin and graduated from Algoma High School where he was active in the FFA, earning the Chapter Farmer, State Farmer and American Farmer degrees. In addition, he was Chapter President and State President of the Wisconsin Association of FFA. After completing his B.S. degree in Agricultural Education at Wisconsin State University in River Falls, Delorit began teaching vocational agriculture in Abbotsford and then served for ten years in Plymouth, Wisconsin. Dr. Delorit accepted a position with River Falls High School in 1953, which also included an appointment as a teacher trainer at River Falls State Teachers College. He completed his M.S. degree and Ph.D. degrees at UW—Madison, and was appointed Dean of the School of Agriculture in 1957. He was appointed to the position of Academic Vice-President at WSU-River Falls in 1964. He served in this position until his retirement in 1986 with the exception of one year when he served as interim president at UW-River Falls. No matter what position Dr. Delorit held, he always found time to teach a class in agriculture.

Richard Delorit
Richard Delorit

During his career as a vocational agriculture teacher, university professor, and university administrator, Dr. Delorit authored several books. The first, Crop Production, a high school agronomy textbook, was published in 1953 and underwent several revisions over the years. He also wrote and published the Illustrated Taxonomy Manual of Weed Seeds in 1970 and Seeds of Continental United States Legumes, in 1986.

Dr. Delorit acquired leadership and life-long career development skills through his FFA experiences. He would have been honored to accept his posthumous induction into the FFA Hall of Fame.

Dr. Gerald. R. Matteson was born in Waukesha County, Wisconsin with a twin brother in a family of five children. He grew up on a small dairy farm and graduated from Hartland High School in 1954. He attended Platteville State University from 1965-1968, where he received his B.S. in Agricultural Education. He later attended UW-Madison, where he received his Masters degree in Agricultural Education and later his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. He taught agriculture at Pulaski High School from 1961 to 1964 and came to WSU-River Falls 1966, serving as a Professor in the Ag Ed Department.  He also served as Assistant Dean of the College of Agriculture from 1976-1995. He retired in 1999 and returned in the fall of 2000 to serve three more years before retiring again in 2003.

During his tenure at UW-River Falls, Dr. Matteson served as the Director of the Internship Program in the College of Agriculture. He also provided academic counseling for students and developed a student recruitment and retention program. He served as co-advisor of two student organizations, the Agricultural Education Society and Alpha Tau Alpha, which he helped initiate and develop. Both organizations are now recognized nationally.

Dr. Matteson developed numerous courses during his 30 years at River Falls, and he supervised over 650 student interns. He was the advisor of the Parliamentary Procedure workshops, which annually involved 45-50 UW-River Falls students. He also consulted frequently with school board members, school administrators, teachers and businesspersons throughout the state regarding the conduct of meetings and parliamentary procedure. In 1999, be became a nationally registered parliamentarian.

Gerald "Doc" Matteson
Gerald “Doc” Matteson

Dr. Matteson received numerous awards over the years including the Honorary State and American FFA Degrees and the National Vocational Agricultural Teachers Association Outstanding Service Award. He was named the UW-River Falls Distinguished Teacher in 1979 and received the UW-River Falls College of Agriculture Outstanding Teacher Award in 1994. Dr. Matteson also had an impressive military career, serving for 30 years, rising to the rank of Brigadier General.

Dr. Richard Jensen joined the faculty in 1977, and replaced Marvin Thompson as Chair of the department.

Richard Jensen
Richard Jensen

Dr. Jensen is a graduate of UW-River Falls, and later received his PhD from UW-Madison. Early on in his career, he was active in international development, serving as an educational development specialist with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Ibadan, Nigeria. Following this he joined the Ag Ed faculty at the University of Vermont before coming to River Falls.

In addition to his university teaching and administrative responsibilities, Jensen was very active in the development of courses and curriculum for high school vocational agriculture programs for use in Wisconsin schools.

Following the retirements of Matteson and Jensen, Dr’s James Graham and Timothy Buttles joined the department.

James Graham
James Graham
Tim Buttles
Tim Buttles

The early Agricultural Education curriculum – until about 1969 – included the following courses:

  1. An agricultural education course for seniors prior to student teaching.
  2. An agricultural education class on the Techniques of Teaching, for seniors.
  3. Student teaching for seniors.
  4. A Philosophy of Vocational Education class for juniors.
  5. A shop organization class usually taken by juniors.

After 1969 Dr. Matteson developed the following courses for the program.

  1. Two courses in leadership—one for graduates and one for undergraduates.
  2. A supervision and administration cooperative education course.
  3. A curriculum development course.
  4. A professional agricultural occupation course.
  5. An introduction to agricultural and extension educators course.
  6. Two graduate curriculum courses.
  7. A new teacher course for graduate students.
  8. A course in agricultural education for elementary teachers was offered from 1989 to 1999 during the summer months at Milwaukee, Sun Prairie, Stevens Point, Freedom, and on the UWRF campus.

Shortly after the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization was founded in 1928, River Falls created a campus FFA organization. This was the only organization specifically for Agricultural Education majors until 1969 when the Agricultural Education Society was developed with Dr. Gerald Matteson as advisor. Over the years, the FFA organization typically had about 25-30 members, while the AgEd Society’s 1969 membership numbered 120. In 1969, at the National Student Teacher Conference in Kansas City, MO, the River Falls chapter was declared the campus organization with the largest national membership. Oklahoma, with a membership roster of 69 students, had won this award during several of the previous years.

Since that time, the  UWRF AgEd Society has had the largest national membership every year. This organization has become one of the strongest student organizations, not only in the College of Agriculture, but also on the entire campus.

The Alpha Tau Alpha (ATA) professional fraternity was initiated with Dr. Gerald Matteson as their advisor in 1972. Shortly after Dr. Jensen arrived in 1977, he became the advisor for ATA. During its existence, the ATA has won more contests/honors than any other ATA chapter in the nation.

The Agricultural Education Department at UWRF has been consistently recognized as a leader in the state and nationally in graduating some of the best high school AgEd teachers. During the 1970’s through early 2000, there were two other areas for which the department members provided leadership and effort.

  1. Parliamentary procedure. The contest abilities and questions were developed and updated over a 30-year period by Dr. Matteson. The department typically conducted 4-5 workshops annually, providing instruction on parliamentary procedure for high school students in FFA and other vocational clubs. The department and its students usually judged 14-18 of the 30 district contests and 7-8 of the 10 sectional contests in addition to providing several judges for the semi-finals and state level parliamentary procedure contests.
  2. Curriculum development for High School Programs. During the 25-year period from 1978 to 2003, Dr. Richard Jensen provided state leadership in curriculum development for high school agricultural education teachers. Under his direction, the present WI Curriculum Guide, including 79 units for Ag Ed teachers, was developed. Dr. Jensen was responsible for the periodic addition of new units and for updating older ones.

At the time of this writing, the Agricultural Education program continues to provide strong state and national leadership to FFA and to vocational agriculture and related subject areas throughout Wisconsin.

Marv Thompson with Tom Wells, Vo Ag teacher from New Richmond
Marv Thompson with Tom Wells, Vo Ag teacher from New Richmond
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