The annual FFA National Convention is usually both an enjoyable and educational experience for the nearly 70,000 young agriculturalists who attend. But for one Montana State University student, the 2019 convention was life changing.
Mamie Hertel is a sophomore financial engineering major, a multidisciplinary program in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics in the MSU College of Agriculture and College of Letters and Science, and the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. On Nov. 2, Hertel was selected as the Central Region FFA vice president, one of six national officer positions. She is the eighth Montanan to hold such an office and the first Montana woman.
“It was an amazing feeling. I can’t even begin to describe it,” said Hertel of hearing her name called on the last day of the convention, which took place in Indianapolis. “It still feels like a blur, like someone is going to wake me up from a dream.”
The convention ran from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, but Hertel arrived a week prior to undergo the intensive interview and evaluation process for officer candidates. In that week, she did group and individual interviews with the nine members of the nominating committee — FFA students from around the country selected by the previous year’s national officers — completed writing exercises, delivered speeches and led workshops, all while being observed by the committee.
Hertel was one of 44 candidates for the six national positions, which include a national president and secretary along with vice presidents for the southern, central, eastern and western regions. Only one student from each state may be a candidate, but the number of total candidates varies from year to year.
MSU has had several female nominees in past years, but none has ever been selected. Hertel — a native of Moore, a central Montana town west of Lewistown with a population of 200 — steeled herself for disappointment as the moment to announce the officers arrived.
“I remember looking down at my lap, closing my eyes and telling myself, ‘In five minutes, my name is not going to be called, and that’s okay. My life will be totally fine,’” she said. “But then my name did get called. I’ve watched that election so many times and being on the other side of it up on the stage was a very surreal feeling.”
And Hertel doesn’t get much time to recover from that feeling before her duties begin. She will spend 320 of the next 365 days away from home, traveling 100,000 miles both nationally and
internationally. She’ll travel to Japan with the rest of the officers in January, followed by state conventions, keynote speeches, workshops, sponsor visits and other FFA events. She expects to be able to go home every six weeks or so, never for more than three or four days. She will take a year off from her studies to fulfill her officer duties but plans to complete her degree when her term is over.
Tracy Dougher, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Agriculture and adviser for MSU Collegiate FFA, where Hertel serves as an officer, said she knows Hertel is up for any challenges the new position presents.
“Ms. Hertel is an incredible secretary and member in our active CFFA Alumni organization,” Dougher said. “Her skills will be missed here. We know, though, that her time in national office will bring her valuable experience and spread the FFA story to a wider audience.”
For Hertel, who grew up on a farm and ranch that raised horses, wheat and barley, the busyness of the job is secondary to its true purpose: service.
“For me and for everyone who gets to be a national officer, it’s a servant position,” she said. “Yes, you’re going to gain these amazing skills, but you don’t expect to receive anything. I want to give to these members and be the best national officer for them, provide them with the best experience.”
Hertel’s life motto, “There’s more to it all,” plays into her desire to serve her FFA constituents.
“I want to share with people that there are more opportunities with FFA, more opportunities in their lives, more life to live,” said Hertel.
MSU has had seven other national officers over the past century: Robert Stewart in 1933, Roy Dee Meyer in 1942, Bob Barthelmess in 1943, Bill Michael in 1948, Pete Knudsen in 1954, Michael Stevenson in 1991 and Chase Rose in 2010. The distinction of being the first woman from her home state to hold office is not lost on Hertel.
“It’s very humbling for me,” she said. “I’m proud to be that person for Montana. I never imagined myself being the first, but it’s amazing.”
Hertel will don her special officer’s blue jacket this weekend at the John Deere Ag Expo, which will take place on the MSU campus Nov. 14-16. It is one of the biggest events of the year for the Montana FFA, and Hertel will get to appear officially as a national officer for the first time with the people who have watched her journey, beginning in the seventh grade when she first joined her local FFA program. For her, the program is more than a community: It’s a family.
“When I put on my blue jacket, I know I’m just one of 700,000 people [in FFA across the country], and I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself,” she said. “Now I’ll be representing those 700,000 people, and it still hasn’t really hit me. I don’t know if it ever will.”