Success through FFA
For nearly four decades, the novel and its movie version of Paul Chapman’s “The Green Hand,” proved that any child, no matter how disadvantaged or troubled could succeed in life if he learned and followed the creed of the Future Farmers of America. This story, which was told over and over again, has its roots right here in Laurens County, Georgia.
“Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve:” That is the motto of the young men and women of the Future Farmers of America. Originally founded as the Future Farmers of Virginia some ninety years ago, the Future Farmers of America were officially organized in 1928.
Still today when many youngsters have left the farm or never live on a farm at all, the F.F.A. is one of the nation’s largest youth organizations with a membership of more than a half a million.
It was in the year 1932 in the midst of the country’s deepest economic depression, when University of Georgia professor of agriculture Paul W. Chapman wrote a novel which he called, “The Green Hand.” The book was intended to show that the Future Farmers of America could and would improve the lives of the youngsters who participated in the new program.
The plot line features a fictional and hopelessly delinquent student, Fred Dale. The inspiration for the bad boy turned good came on a night before Christmas in 1927. Set in the fictional community of Cedar Falls, the story actually took place in Cedar Grove, Georgia, situated in the southern tip of western Laurens County.
Cedar Grove School was one of the first in the county to develop a vocational agricultural program following the adoption of the Hughes-Smith Vocational Act of 1917, which was adopted by the Congress after the sponsorship of Hoke Smith, a United States Senator from Georgia, and Congressman Dudley M. Hughes of Danville in neighboring Twiggs County.
The story goes that in attendance at the banquet were two professors from the University of Georgia. The occasion was a father and son banquet held at the school. In the midst of a traditional, yet unexciting speech, a gang of rowdy youngsters interrupted the Christmas merriment and fellowship. The culprits were apprehended and punished for their malfeasance.
The professors returned to the campus and told the story. One thing led to another and Paul Chapman decided to write a book based on the event. In 1932, Chapman, who was named Director of Vocational Education of the College of Agriculture of the University of Georgia in 1934, completed his work, which began to be read by many a future farmer. Chapman accepted an offer to turn his novel into a movie.
Senior officials of Sears-Roebuck & Co. saw the potential revenue in producing the movie, which was primarily shot in and around Athens, Georgia. Most of the cast was composed of students and regular citizens of Clarke County and around the state. The lead male character Dale goes on to success in government and business in the 29-minute film, which was completed in 1939.
The movie reaffirms the book’s plot that F.F.A. can change the life of a bad kid. Dale is at first expelled from school, but is given the chance to by a vocational school teacher to return to school and make amends for his delinquent behavior in a classic story of bad becomes good. The story features romance, fights, a trial, and saving the family farm from foreclosure in the traditional Hollywood style.
It was only natural that the film premiere in the home of the University of Georgia in Athens With 4000 F.F.A. students in Georgia, as many as 5000 people were expected to visit the Classic City to see the new film, which many of them could relate to. All of Athens promoted the film, which premiered on January 12, 1940. Georgia Governor E.D. Rivers and the founder of the National F.F.A. were in attendance at the premier activities, which were broadcast over WGAU radio. The next day, a Saturday when traditionally farmers came into town, was declared “Future Farmers of America Day in Athens
During that winter and the following spring, the film was shown in theaters, high school auditoriums and gymnasiums around the state and around the country. A big theater screening of the “The Green Hand” became a feature event of the 1940 National Convention of the Future Farmers held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. .
Future Farmers Programs in Laurens County began in 1936 at the high schools of Dudley, Dexter and Rentz. Rentz organized its chapter in October 16, 1936. Professor Luther H. Cook (left) and businessman Ralph Chambless led the effort to build an educational building in 1939.
Dudley High boys organized a chapter in October 1937 under the leadership of president Addison Hogan. Oliver Heath was named Vice President. Secretary Clinton Perry, Treasurer Lawton Johnson and Recorder R.W. Parker served under the leadership of Doyle Bedingfield. Clyde Greenway, Vocational Teacher at Cadwell High, led the formation of the Cadwell chapter. Cedar Grove established its own chapter later under the leadership of H.D. Jordan.
The Laurens County Future Farmers of America joined forces at a fish fry held at Session’s Lake on the evening of March 26, 1938. Addison Hogan, of the Dudley Chapter, was selected as President of the consolidated chapter, with the leadership rotating on an annual basis. Danville High School from Twiggs County was allowed to join the Laurens County Future Farmers Clubs in March 26, 1938 as that county had no program at the time.
For the last seventy five years plus, the boys and girls of the Laurens County chapters of the Future Farmers of America have proved Paul Chapman’s theorem, that good, decent farm kids and even some of the bad ones who were set on the path of the straight and arrow can make a difference in their community, their state and their nation.