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Lowville, Beaver River students take top state FFA posts

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LOWVILLE — The new state FFA president and vice president likely will do plenty of carpooling through the upcoming year.

That’s because the two high school juniors hail from neighboring Lewis County school districts, with President Ashley L. Willits from Lowville Academy and Central School and Vice President Jake T. Ledoux from Beaver River Central School, Beaver Falls.

“Jake and I have worked together through FFA,” said Miss Willits, who lives near Copenhagen. “Being so close just makes it all easier.”

“Ashley is like a sister to me,” said Mr. Ledoux, a Belfort-area resident. “I’ve known her for years.”

The two were elected to the leadership positions May 3 at the state FFA convention in Albion, Orleans County.

Despite their schools’ natural rivalry, the teens said they are looking forward to working in tandem to promote agriculture, visit with many of the state’s roughly 4,000 FFA members and serve as role models for younger students.

“Jake and I are excited, because we get to give back to the members,” Miss Willits said, adding that both schools have been very supportive of their efforts.

The Lowville Academy student, who has served as District 6 president for the past year, becomes the third straight north country resident to hold the presidency, following Belleville Henderson Central School students John W. Allen and Amanda A.V. Rhodes.

Her brother, Ryan Willits, also just ended a term as treasurer of the state association.

“We come from a great area that supports agriculture education,” said Melvin D. Phelps, father of the new state president and Lowville Academy’s agriculture teacher and FFA adviser.

Because of that, District 6 — which includes the tri-county area — has more delegates than any of the other nine state FFA districts, he said.

However, while the top two FFA positions were held by students at Belleville Henderson and Carthage central school districts a couple of years ago, Mr. Phelps said, he doesn’t recall them ever being from neighboring schools.

Miss Willits is Lowville’s first-ever state FFA president, while Mr. Ledoux is Beaver River’s first state officer since the school’s agriculture program was reinstated in 2004 after a 12-year absence.

However, both boast a strong agricultural pedigree.

Miss Willits’s mother, Jennifer Phelps, also is an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Carthage High School.

And Mr. Ledoux’s parents, Steven W. and Michele E. Ledoux, work at Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in Jefferson and Lewis counties, respectively.

“My family lives and breathes agriculture,” the young Mr. Ledoux said.

His mother, executive director at the Lowville Extension office, commended her son’s school, fellow students and teacher Tara Staring for their assistance and support.

“This will be a great opportunity to promote agriculture and promote Lewis County,” Mrs. Ledoux said.

“It’s a great honor,” Mr. Phelps agreed.

Anyone interested in holding one of the six state FFA officer positions had to submit an extensive application with writing samples, then go to Syracuse for three days of interviews, including an improvised four-minute speech after 20 minutes of preparation time, Mr. Phelps said.

A nominating committee primarily of high school students or recent graduates judged the competitors, then developed a slate of candidates.

Miss Willits was the lone nominee for president, while Mr. Ledoux was nominated for secretary. However, contestants are allowed to seek one office higher than the one they were nominated for, and the Beaver River student chose to run for vice president instead.

In their new positions, Miss Willits and Mr. Ledoux will travel to events throughout the state, as well as to a couple of national FFA events.

They are beginning this weekend with a four-day conference at the Oswegatchie Educational Center in the town of Croghan, about 12 miles from the Ledoux residence.

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