Paul Hassman joined the New Hampton FFA in 1930 hoping to connect with other high school students who shared his passion for agriculture.
In addition to learning values and skills that he carried throughout his life, Hassman developed a lifelong connection to the organization. Both past and current FFA members in his Iowa hometown often visit Hassman, now 105 years old, to ask his advice or to trade stories of their experiences in FFA.
“Agriculture has quite an effect on society and the whole country,” Hassman says. “When you ask someone what they do [for a living] and they say farming, you know they work hard and do the right thing. I like to associate myself with people who are looking ahead and trying to improve their own lives and setting a good example.”
Iowa FFA Association president Chandler Jahner met Hassman last summer during a state officer field trip.
“Having the chance to talk to someone who’s one of the oldest members of our FFA family was a great honor,” Jahner recalls. “The things he talked about — work ethic, leadership, caring for others — are still the things we talk about in FFA.”
Before the visit ended, Hassman commented on the blue and gold FFA jackets each member of the state officer team wore. Members did not receive the iconic jackets when Hassman was an FFA member.
Jahner took his jacket off and invited Hassman to try it on for size. The moment sparked an idea.
“The jacket is a uniting factor for all FFA members, and we wear it with pride,” Jahner says. “We all got talking after the visit and said, ‘Let’s get a jacket for Paul.’”
In October, the New Hampton FFA Alumni Chapter, along with the FFA Foundation and the Iowa FFA Foundation, planned a recognition event to honor Hassman, the first Iowa FFA Degree recipient from New Hampton. They surprised him with his own FFA jacket. Hassman was almost speechless.
“I don’t know what to say other than this is a surprise and certainly unnecessary, but I’ve never been to a better party, and I wouldn’t have imagined ever receiving anything like this,” he says.
Wearing his new jacket, Hassman offered advice to the current generation of FFA members. “Whatever you are doing, apply yourself. Be better than average, do things right and do things better. Be an asset to your community.”
They are the words Hassman has lived by for more than a century.