Awards and presentations were the order of the night Thursday at the 20th Annual Payson Future Farmers of America Chapter Banquet at Julia Randall Elementary School.
No one, however, was more surprised at being honored than agricultural education teacher and FFA leader Wendell Stevens, a 20-year veteran of the Payson Unified School District.
"Your first reaction is, you almost feel like you should retire," Stevens said Monday.
The current FFA members invited Stevens' former students to the banquet and some 30 of them were in the crowd of 150 people.
"It was really rewarding for me to see people who were formerly with FFA," Stevens said.
There were also parents of former FFA members and five or six former FFA chapter presidents among the guests.
Stevens said he started FFA in the district two decades ago, when most of the community had no idea what FFA or agricultural education was.
"When I started, I was hired without any classes," he said. "I was hired for forestry classes. As students came in to register for classes, I would try to talk them into taking agriculture as one of their electives. I was able to get 35 students the first year."
Students who take agricultural education at PHS are also members of FFA. For five or six years now, that number has averaged 100 to 120 students a year.
"I would imagine I've probably taught about 1,500 students over the 20 years," he said. "Students can stay with me four years. They're the tough ones who can create a lump in your throat when they leave."
Last week, Stevens had multiple lumps in his throat as many of his four-year students said goodbye to their longtime teacher and turned over their elected offices to their successors.
Stevens said he knows of many success stories among the students who are former FFA members, among them Scott McVickers, head groundskeeper for the San Francisco Giants, some teachers, two of whom are here in Payson, lawyers, and people in the medical field.
"This year, we have a couple of kids doing their student teaching," he said.
Stevens is concerned that enrollment in agricultural education may go down because of the AIMS test now mandated by the state which requires students to pass math, English and reading exams before they graduate.
"Because of AIMS, a lot of the electives may be taken up with courses that are geared toward passing AIMS," he said. "We could possibly lose 20 to 40 percent of our enrollment next year because of AIMS."
But Stevens is philosophical when it comes to education.
"The neat thing about education is it's always interesting and something's always happening. The neat thing is to have a night like this where people say 'thank you.' A lot of teachers would appreciate the pat on the back that I received Thursday night.
"Teachers work really hard to prepare young people for tomorrow's world. To be recognized for the work that they do means a lot to them. I know it means a lot to me.
"If parents haven't said 'thank you to the teachers yet, now would be a great time to do it, before the end of the year."