It was the middle of harvest season when Addie Wilke received her American FFA Degree during the 2018 National FFA Convention & Expo, but the timing did not stop her father, James Wilke, from traveling from Columbus, Neb., to Indianapolis to see Addie, a member of the officer team at Lakeview FFA, cross the stage.
James Wilke was always there for his children and FFA, says Catherine Chmelka, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Lakeview High School.
“James was an FFA member, and all three of his children were in FFA,” Chmelka recalls. “He was always willing to pitch in where he was needed to help out FFA and our community.”
On March 14, during historic flooding in Nebraska, the local sheriff called on Wilke to help emergency responders rescue a driver stuck in the rising waters in Shell Creek. Wilke did not hesitate to respond.
The bridge collapsed as Wilke drove across, sending his tractor into the rushing floodwaters. Wilke, 50, died in the tragic accident. The local community is mourning the loss.
“James was such a positive person,” Chmelka says. “He would always say, ‘The sun will come out tomorrow.’”
Wilke, a lifelong farmer who grew corn, soybeans and hay (and was named the 2001 Outstanding Area Young Farmer) was active in Lakeview FFA Alumni Chapter, staffed the food stand during special events, donated time to the annual labor auction and taught schoolchildren about farming.
“Columbus is a tight-knit community, and people here, especially the farmers, had a lot of respect for James,” Chmelka says. “His death was a huge blow to our community.”
To honor Wilke’s commitment to Lakeview FFA, the Wilke family established the James Wilke Memorial Scholarship. The inaugural scholarship was awarded to Lakeview High School senior Brock Foltz on April 28, 2019. Addie Wilke spoke during the ceremony, offering a touching tribute to her dad and his passion for FFA.
“The family received an outpouring of financial support after James died and wanted to invest in a program that James really cared about,” Chmelka says. “It was awarded to a senior who, like James, was always ready to lend a helping hand.”
Wilke was also awarded posthumously the 2019 Honorary American FFA Degree, honoring his exceptional service to agriculture, agricultural education and FFA. Chmelka says the Lakeview FFA Alumni and Supporters will continue looking for ways to honor James Wilke’s memory.