Farm Talk

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November 12, 2013

Building a legacy

Parsons, Kansas — “Let’s talk in the arena,” he says, leading the way to a building that wouldn’t be standing without his foresight many years ago.

Clear blue eyes scan the Fort Scott Community College campus as he slightly tips the brim of a black Stetson off snow white hair. Beside him walks his pride and joy — the same way she’s been beside him since the day they met.

Gary  “Harv” Harvey grew up on a ranch outside Beggs, Okla., where he was active in FFA. After graduating from high school in 1959, he headed to Oklahoma State University.

Harv spent the next five years getting a degree in animal science and ag education, while riding bareback horses and bulls for the school’s rodeo team.

By 1964, he took a job as an ag teacher in Parker, Kan., and transfered to the newly built Prairie View High School in La Cygne, Kan.

“I had a lot of outstanding students and most of them were receiving scholarships to Oklahoma schools,” he said.

In his 12-year-tenure, he helped build a successful ag program, including teaching a student who became the National FFA President and eventually governor of Kansas — Sam Brownback.

It would be years later when Brownback would ask Harv to endorse him in a political commercial, which resulted in a “Vote for Harv” campaign.

While teaching at Prairie View, Harv continued his rodeo career on weekends, and met Jackie Johnson of Marionville, Mo., a barrel racing sweetheart he married in 1968.

After the two wed, Jackie started taking classes at Fort Scott Community College (FSCC). Knowing that many of her husband’s students were receiving out-of-state ag scholarships since FSCC didn’t have an ag program, she brought it to the attention of Gene Todd, then dean of finance for FSCC.

“Gene contacted me and asked to come visit,” Harv said. “He asked if I would be interested in coming to Fort Scott and starting an ag program.”

Harv told Gene he would only come if FSCC let him have a livestock judging team and rodeo team, to bring students in on scholarships. By 1975 he started the ag program at the college, making sure his classes were certified to transfer to other universities.

“My first year was pretty skimpy on students because I only had a short time to recruit,” he said. “But, I went to the high school rodeo finals and found some pretty talented young people.”

Harv also managed to put together a livestock team from his graduating class at Prairie View the last year he taught.

“They had all accepted scholarships to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and after I took the job, they rescinded and decided to follow me,” Harv explained. “That was my lifesaver.”

Harv, a man who enjoys a good challenge, was soon to find out that building an ag program from the ground up wasn’t going to be easy and he needed to find practice facilities and housing for his new students.

“I bought 40 acres and built a rodeo arena since my wife and I both competed in rodeo,” he said. “Then I bought two trailer houses and put them by my barn. Almost all the kids lived at my house west of town.”

Jackie, who was also on her husband’s first rodeo team added, “We were like one big family because all the kids lived at our place.”

Harv often had his rodeo team practicing at his arena and his livestock judgers practiced reasons in his yard.

“The neighbors would get curious and drive by,” Harv laughed. “They’d call me up and say, ‘Who’s that crazy dude walking around your yard talking to himself? I saw another talking to a telephone pole.”‘

His team’s hard work paid off and proved to be a successful first year. His rodeo team was second in the Central Plains Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and his livestock judging team was third in the nation.

Even after a rough start at their first livestock judging contest at the Chicago International Livestock Exposition, the team stuck it through.

The team was snowed in Chicago with no food and barely any money, and they were hungry.

“We’d been there for four days, roads were closed and it was Thanksgiving day. Everybody put their money together and we had $7 or $8.”

Harv took their last dollars to the man at the hotel’s front desk and explained the situation. The man gave the team a huge cheese ball and all the crackers they had for their Thanksgiving dinner.

“We sat around all day watching football and eating that cheese ball,” Harv laughed.

Within the next six years FSCC’s ag program gained enough recognition that Harv needed assistance. He turned to John Luthi, a  member of the first FSCC Rodeo Team, to take the reins of the rodeo program. As the program continued to grow, so did an interest in the purchase of a school farm.

“We found a place at the north end of town with a nice barn and 80 acres. As we were working out a deal to buy the land, I had a friend who had put up an indoor arena,” Harv said. “I got to thinking about the possibility of putting up an indoor arena instead of buying a school farm.”

At the time, FSCC did not have a gymnasium for their basketball team or locker rooms for their football team.

“There were no athletic facilities at all, so I asked the president why we didn’t build a multipurpose building. Half of it for physical education and half of it for rodeo, for the same amount it took to buy a school farm,” explained Harv.

The president invited Harv to speak at the next board of trustees meeting to pitch his idea.

“I said I would be very satisfied with this school farm, it’d be just the ticket that we need,” he stated. “But, I think I have something I’d like to present to you that would benefit the school as a whole — more than just the ag program.”

The board of trustees liked the idea, and plans were soon made to build Arnold Arena, an athletic duplex.

Harv and Luthi put their teams to work on building the indoor arena and by 1982 FSCC was hosting it’s first college rodeo in Arnold Arena.

“John Luthi and I were still welding on pens when the stock contractor arrived with the bulls,” Harv added.

In 1996, after 22 years of dedication to FSCC, Harv retired. In that time he expanded the program to include a meats judging team and had grown an ag program large enough to support three teachers.

His success as a livestock judging coach resulted in winning every national contest at least once. Years of experience taught him how to handle individual students and push them to do their very best.

“A good teacher and coach figures out what it takes to motivate.” he said. “Usually within a week or so I could figure out what motivated each individual.”

Harv’s principles and mentorship profoundly impacted students that came through his program. On Oct. 12, 2013, a group of his former students held “Harvey Fest” in Fort Scott to raise money for the Gary and Jackie Harvey Honorary Scholarship. More information about “Harvey Fest” can be found on the FSCC Aggies Under Harv Facebook page.

Harv’s legacy and dedication is also going to be honored by FSCC. The Rodeo team is in the process of building a new practice facility and the foyer will be filled with Harv’s memorabilia.

When asked about the most rewarding part of his career, Harv couldn’t pick any certain thing because he had so many.

“It was a very rewarding career for me. I look back and I don’t think I would have done anything any different,” he concluded. £

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