Spencer’s Zimmerman takes on new role in National FFA
If you had asked Cheryl Zimmerman when she first became a State FFA offi cer back in 1985 if she knew just where she’d end up 34 years in the future, she probably wouldn’t have given a correct answer. But then again, it would have been pretty much impossible for her to have predicted the kind of place she ended up and the job she now has as executive secretary of the National FFA Organization.
Zimmerman is the first person from Wisconsin to have ever been appointed to the position as executive secretary in the history of the National FFA. A resident of Spencer and the executive director for the Wisconsin State FFA for the past 27 years, she said the appointment to the position will provide benefits for many people, especially the local FFA.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s fun to say (to members of the National FFA Board) that I come from a smaller community. I hope it shows them (the local FFA members) to not be afraid to step out and find interest in the FFA and reach for higher goals, to encourage people and to network with people, even for students starting FFA.”
Even though Zimmerman said she would not have imagined this kind of a future for herself back when she was the State FFA reporter in 1985-86, she also said it would have been impossible to imagine even a couple years ago. That’s because, ever since the position was first created, it was only ever open to employees of the National Department of Education. A change to the FFA Federal Charter at the 92nd National FFA Convention changed all that.
“Actually this particular position of the National FFA Organization has gone through several changes in the federal charter that’s from way back,” she said. “They just recently revised the charter to expand the leadership structure of the organization. The executive secretary position changed. They used to be employees of the National Department of Education.”
Following the change to the charter, Zimmerman said she was selected and interviewed by a nominating committee from the National Board for the position. She was appointed as the executive secretary of the National FFA on Nov. 15.
“We were interviewed by a nominating committee, they were the ones who selected us. We were selected by the council, it was an interview process,” she said. “I would never have imagined it. Looking back, these people were employed in the Department of Education, I never saw it, never wanted to work for the federal government. But the changes, it’s kind of exciting, I could now be able to sit in that role. It’s an exciting opportunity to serve at the state and national level.”
Besides working for the Wisconsin FFA as executive director for 27 years — where she provided direction to the more than 250 FFA chapters operating in the state — Zimmerman has held several other positions since her tenure as a State FFA Officer that will help her in this position. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin — Madison with a degree in agricultural education and agricultural journalism and was an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor from 1990-93. “I went to the University of Wisconsin — Madison and earned a degree in ag education and ag journalism,” she said. “I was an agriculture education teacher in Waupaca for two years and Stratford for a year. My husband Mark has been an ag teacher at Spencer for 31 years, we ended up being here in Spencer. I have been working as executive director for 27 years, working for the Wisconsin FFA in communicating state events.” Zimmerman has also served as the National Association of Supervisors of Agricultural Education (NASAE) Central Region vice president from 2007-09, as president for the NASAE from 2009-10, and as a member and consultant for the National FFA Board of Directors since 2016. She was also recognized in 2012 as the NASAE Outstanding Executive Secretary.
While Zimmerman will be taking on additional responsibilities as the executive secretary for the National FFA, she said that she will still work in Wisconsin as the executive director of the region. As an appointed position, she said she will serve on the National Board as executive secretary for four years before the Board reconsiders her appointment.
“I’m still serving as executive director in Wisconsin in addition to also doing this,” she said. “There will be some additional responsibilities. It isn’t a full-time job.”
According to a press release from the National FFA Organization, Zimmerman’s duties as executive secretary will include issuing charters to state FFA associations, keeping official board meeting minutes and membership records, tracking the overall progress of the FFA organization and oversee reports to the National Board from state FFA associations.
Since she was appointed to the position, Zimmerman said she has participated in meetings with the other Board members, adapting to the recent changes very quickly. She will attend four such meetings in the coming year, helping to determine the direction the FFA Organization will be going in the future.
“It’s been really good, we just had our first National FFA board meeting. It was a really good meeting,” she said. “As far as challenges, not super challenges. It was a real opportunity to get together face-to-face with all the board of directors. We had to decide to review the budget, pros and cons, what went well (in the FFA), inquired on future activities and events as a national organization.”
On the local scale, Zimmerman said she hopes that FFA members will be able to look to her for inspiration on what sort of things they can achieve through the FFA.
“We have very strong FFA programs in our area … if we don’t have local programs, in middle school and high school, there’s no need for state and national leadership,” she said. “It was in FFA that I took my first plane ride and went to National Convention that was held in Kansas City at the time. I want them to reach out and go meet people … don’t be afraid to take opportunities. You never know what you may encounter, be willing to meet new people, conferences, events; you don’t know who you will meet or where an event will take you. It provides some growth, step outside your comfort zone.”