Seventy-five years is a long time for anything.

For an FFA chapter in Minnesota, it’s about as old as you can get.

The Plainview-Elgin-Millville FFA recently celebrated its 75th year, five years short of when FFA was first established in Minnesota. Elgin-Millville actually didn’t come into the picture until consolidation with Plainview a few years back.

The chapter banquet in April celebrated the past and present, with eyes on the future.

Cliff Vrieze, whose first teaching job was at Plainview, commented on how the FFA chapter’s appearance has changed since he came to the school in 1967. “The girls in FFA are a lot better looking now,” he told the crowd of FFA members, parents, alumni and supporters.

“Back when I was here, there weren’t any girls in FFA. ... Now they’re taking over and that’s a good thing.”

One gal who knows FFA is a good thing is Patty Duden.

Duden was Patty Zabel back in the ’70s when she became the first girl to take high school ag classes in Plainview. “It never occurred to me that girls didn’t take ag,” she said. Being raised on a farm as one of six girls, “we all worked on the farm.”

The Zabel farm had dairy and beef, so it was natural for her to join the general livestock judging team, even though “I didn’t know how to judge pigs and sheep.”

She admits being a girl in a “guy organization” was tough, but it got better, living by the adage: “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

Owing her life experiences to her time in FFA, Duden told the banquet crowd how she “influenced” her son to take the FFA path. “He came home one day and said he had to pick between art and ag” for classes at school. “He said he was going to take art, and I said ‘oh no he wasn’t.’”

Years later, at the son’s graduation, he thanked his mom for making him take ag and to join FFA.

That importance of ag classes and the FFA program is felt throughout these southeastern Minnesota communities.

Mark Jurgenson of Dairyland Equipment Services in Plainview said the local community sees the strength of the high school program, and in turn is a strong supporter.

“It is important to have the ag story get out there,” he said. “People who don’t have a clue about agriculture will be the ones making the laws.”

Telling the ag story was stressed in the retiring address of PEM Chapter President Kristen Wingert. “Just tell the truth about agriculture, make sure people understand the facts.”

Wingert also stressed how life is all about choices, and how making the right ones can change your life.

“In seventh and eighth grade I wanted to be popular,” she said. “I wasn’t signed up for freshman ag ... I wanted to be in Home Ec. with my friends.”

She needed a letter of recommendation, and turned to current ag teacher Steve Hinrichs. She remembers he would write the letter, but there were strings attached. “He would write the letter if I would make a one-year commitment to be in ag. ... that has changed my life.”

Wingert served as her chapter’s president the last two years.

From Patty Zabel-Duden to Kristen Wingert, the face of FFA has changed. Wingert was one of eight girls of the chapter’s 12 officers on the 2008-09 slate. Most of the graduating FFA seniors are female, and most of the chapter awards went to the young females.

As Vrieze said, “they’re taking over and that’s a good thing.”

Don’t be misled that young men have been completely displaced. The newly installed PEM 2009-10 officer team includes Kevin Schmidt as president, plus five other male officers. PEM FFA boasts about 100 members.