A trio of excellence in teaching

| Polk County Farm Bureau recognizes outstanding educators in agriculture |

Excellence comes in many forms. This year, it came in the form of three caring and committed teachers who work not only for the future of agriculture, but also for making sure that youth have a comprehensive understanding of its importance in America. Marie Fussell, Harry Lyons and Douglas Welliver are that trio of excellence, who were recognized at the recent Polk County Farm Bureau Annual Meeting.


Marie Fussell has been teaching agriculture for 21 years. She’s taught at Bartow Senior High School for 16 years and has been at Bartow Middle School for the last five years. Her efforts, combined with those of Douglas Welliver’s, have made the ag program at Bartow Senior a powerhouse of hands-on learning.

These two dedicated teachers have developed a diverse agriculture program at their school, which houses programs such as Agritechnology, Animal Science, and Environmental Horticulture. Welliver describes the Agritechnology course as an opportunity for youths to not only learn about modern agriculture, but also discover commonsense knowledge, such as how to get the maximum yield from a small space by the use of an on-site hydroponic system. “When you use new technologies to show students how to grow traditional plants, you help open young minds to a host of possibilities,” Welliver explains. In a compact 30-foot-by-60-foot area, and with only 500 vertical containers, the class grows more than 2,000 varied plants at once.

The Animal Sciences program includes an Equestrian course in collaboration with Summerlin Academy, and Fussell is the teacher. As a cadet taking the course, riders learn the history of the horse, equine behavior and senses, safety handling on the ground, first aid, riding styles, tack, and grooming before they progress to individual instruction in the saddle. This comprehensive instruction, combined with being eligible for various awards and recognition, is what makes for responsible and confident riders.

For the Environmental Horticulture program, two greenhouses are utilized to house the plants that the students will learn to grow. Through the programs, Fussell and Welliver make the extra effort to find projects in the community so students can apply what they’ve learned during the course in a real-world setting.

Fussell explains, “Being an ag teacher is a special calling. There is a reason we are called FFA ‘advisers.’ We spend time with students, not only in the classroom, but also outside walking the land. We take time in coaching them for competitions, taking them on field trips, and to camps and conventions. We get to know our students.” She continues, “We help them make decisions about their future, education, and careers. I love that about my job!”

Fussell attended the University of Florida, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Education in 1991. She went on to earn her Master of Science degree in 2007. Fussell adds, “FFA and its diversity gave me the interest in agriculture. I like the outdoor classroom it offers.”

Welliver’s love for growing things is one of the reasons he became involved in agriculture. “It is very satisfying to watch something grow and prosper as a result of your care,” says Welliver. “I also wanted a degree in agriculture because I saw that I could become employed almost immediately upon graduation.” Welliver has dedicated 30 years of teaching agriculture to Bartow Senior High School. He endeavors to make sure that when students leave his classroom, they leave with the knowledge and concern of keeping agriculture alive and growing.


Harry Lyons received both his Bachelor of Science degree and Masters degree in agriculture in 1969 along with his teaching certificate from the University of Florida. He then went on to become an irrigation specialist. That, coupled with having been raised on a state-of-the-art dairy farm in Bonifay, Florida, has given Lyons the unique and special qualifications he possesses as an agriculture teacher.

Lyons explains, “I graduated from the University of Florida with a teaching certificate and never used it. Teaching had always been on my mind, but my 60th birthday triggered my decision to teach.”

“Five years ago I entered the teaching profession as an agriculture teacher at Ridge Community High School,” Lyons says. “I often reach back to life on the dairy farm or my 40 years in private business to make a point to my students.”

He summarizes that the agriculture program at Ridge Community includes a small grove, a greenhouse, a Christmas tree farm, a large shop building with two classrooms, and 76 acres of campus for horticultural activities. In addition to classes in agricultural mechanics and ornamental horticulture, the agriculture students assist in landscape maintenance. The students mow, trim, plant plants, and spread mulch as well as learn to safely operate tractors and numerous other machines. The horticulture students have planted more than 100 trees on campus, and they include 12 large queen palm trees at the football stadium. “I’m not teaching them things to pass a test but to use for a lifetime,” Lyons continues, “just like my agriculture teacher, Mr. Donnie Treadwell, did for me and my fellow classmates.”

There are winners, and then there are winners that make a difference for a lifetime. This trio most assuredly has earned the reputation for being the latter.


story by DALE BLISS

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