As a former Senator, Congressman and USDA official from Texas, Bill Sarpalius knows a thing or two about parliamentary procedure. While his name marks the record books on bills and committee reports that significantly influenced agriculture, education and social services, Sarpalius’ first interaction with negotiating an agreement was during the 1969 National FFA Convention. It was during this convention that he made his first public vote: to extend FFA membership to women.
“I had no idea at the time how many women would be involved in FFA,” Sarpalius remarks. “All I knew was how much the organization had done for me and that opportunity should be available to anyone interested in agriculture.”
Despite it being 50 years ago, Sarpalius still credits his time in FFA for developing the leadership skills that would take him far in life. His accomplishments include serving six years in the United States Congress, being named the Grand Duke of Lithuania for his involvement in the fall of the Soviet Empire and more, but he remembers a time when he looked at FFA as an opportunity to fulfill the American dream.
Sarpalius spent his early years homeless. At age 13, he was separated from his mother and sent to live at the Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.
“I became active in FFA through ranch work,” Sarpalius says. “When I left the camp at 18, I got off the bus with $100, a suitcase and no place to go. I had no college scholarships or plans. But I figured if I could become state FFA president, I would get a scholarship.”
Today, Sarpalius reflects on an active political career and shares his story of triumph and inclusion as a motivational speaker and author, skills he began developing in a blue corduroy jacket.
“It is just so important to take full advantage of this organization,” Sarpalius advises. “There is so much out there that will mold your life, change you and make you a better person in the future. The biggest mistake you can make is to reach your senior year of high school, look back and say, ‘I wish I had done more.’ ”