We weren't prepared for what we found in Curtis, Neb. The trek back to our 40th reunion turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent memory. The friends we made while attending the University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture (UNSTA) were there and we were able to pick up where we had left off. I guess choosing the right folks to hang around with when you're young does pay off later in life. Most of these are lifelong friends and we see them once or twice a year at weddings and receptions and yes, sometimes even funerals. They become fully engaged immediately upon striking up a conversation. When they ask how the kids are, they really want to know how the kids are.
On a personal note, I ran into folks from Kansas and Nebraska who introduced themselves and they were genuinely interested in my family and farm and they were concerned about the flooding in the area. "Keep us informed on how it's going because we want to know all about your situation" was a comment from one reader from south of the Nebraska border. It's humbling and a bit scary to know I've forged relationships with good folk that I've never met. I'll try not to disappoint. One classmate told me quietly, "I always read your column." I waited for some kind of verbal pat on the back but there was none forthcoming. About 10 minutes later he quietly got my attention again and said, "Cliff, sometimes you're a bit wordy." I told him it's kind of what my editor was looking for.
The reunion was back on campus for the first time in many years. It included those who graduated from there when it was a high school or NSA, the Nebraska School of Agriculture. That was back when the Cornhuskers football team would practice there in the preseason to avoid distractions. When attending there in 1969 to 1971, we would have concurred with the reasoning. Students always feel picked on but we thought if they had closed up the theatre and the laundromat, most of the entertainment would have been gone from town.
Those of us who were UNSTA grads were at the reunion along with students from the currently named college, NCTA or Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. The Alumni Association is thus named NSA/UNSTA/NCTA Alumni Association.
Our friend, David Bruntz from our class of '71 will be the new president for a two-year term. He will likely be followed by Dan Stehlik, who traveled from his home in Belleville, Kan., to attend. Dan is an FFA and Ag-Educator and is a staunch supporter of the institution. He said, "When my parents and I visited the school in 1972, we were impressed at the practicality of the agriculture instruction and facilities. What I saw this past weekend still has this quality, but also brings the exciting dynamics of the technology available for agriculture. I try to introduce this agriculture evolution to my students at the high school level and NCTA is a great way for students to engage that evolution toward a career level with many options available."
David and Dan are just two from the heavily involved Alumni Association who interact with the faculty and staff. Out of this alumni group has come some sizable donations from grateful - and successful - graduates, witness the construction now progressing.
More than $15 million worth of improvements to the campus are under way. They are adding an educational building with its emphasis on soil science and agronomy and it also contains a large auditorium. NCTA is partnering with commodity groups and large businesses on this venture. There is a large expansion of the Veterinary Technology teaching hospital as well as one new residence hall under construction.
Through remodeling of existing buildings and a gift by an alum of a local nursing home which was remodeled into dormitory space, they expect to get the schools capacity up to 600 students in the future.
They also have a new auditorium/gym which is shared with the city of Curtis. The same donor gifted the over $1 million project with the understanding that the school could share its use.
The dean of the college, Weldon Sleight, is focused on raising the bar for agricultural education in Nebraska and surrounding states by fulfilling their mission which is to produce the next generation of farmers and ranchers and rural business owners, thereby preserving the rural communities of the state.
I was impressed; they are well on their way to becoming the premier agricultural school in the region.
The reunion became somber for me when our class of '71 organizer, Ann Bruntz from Friend, Neb., handed out personal information sheets to fill out. Half way down it said 'accomplishments.' I told her I didn't think I had any. "Then just leave it blank" she said. I was hoping for a little encouragement but she knows me too well. Not to worry, others in our class had some "big" accomplishments and that was good enough. I should have written, "I have become a bit wordy."