Longtime Water Valley Ag Teacher Spent Four
Decades Doing What He Loved
By Jack Gurner
In 1988 the Future Farmers of America changed their name to the National FFA Organization. They did so to “reflect the expanding career field of Agricultural Education”.
Rodney Childress, who taught agriculture in the Water Valley School System for 40 years, was way ahead of them. He has always believed that “you can’t find anything that agriculture doesn’t include.”
Childress first came to Water Valley in 1946 to teach GI’s returning from World War II. It was on the job training in agriculture, but it covered just about everything, he said. His students worked in businesses all over Water Valley from the shoe repair shop to the cabinetmaker.
In 1947 he took over the ag program at the high school. In those days you had to do other things as well as teach and Childress said he had to coach tennis under Superintendent Noel Bell. “You didn’t say ‘I can’t do that’. You had two little children at home to feed so you said, ‘Yes, sir, I’ll do it.’ It was a different ball game back then.”
He estimates that there were about 20 new ag students every year which adds up to about 800 over his 40 years. “Most of them came back for the second and third year and many of their siblings would come,” he said, “The last few years we had girls, too. Even their little sisters wanted to come take ag.”
The ag program exposed the students to new things. Childress says that when he started teaching just going to the Mid-South Fair was a first for many. “Half of the bus load had never been to Memphis. When we went by the airport they would have been happy just to have watched the planes take off all day long.”
The Water Valley FFA teams were frequent winners in state competitions and some went on to compete on the national level.
“The reason was because we had a lab right out side our door.” Forestry team members had about 150 trees they could practice identifying along the nature trail on school property. Also, soil samples could be taken by just walking out of the classroom.
Childress had a team trying out at Batesville for an FFA contest and he could only take four students. One of the young men who wasn’t able to go took off from school that day. “He rode his bicycle all the way to Batesville and all the way back just to be with the rest of us.”
In 1984, Childress was named the Outstanding Vocational Teacher of the Year for Mississippi. The Award was presented by then Secretary of Agriculture John Brock during the annual vocational conference at Mississippi State University. “I was pleased that I had a carload of former students come down to see me receive the award,” he says proudly.
A professor from Mississippi State University asked Childress why he had so many former students who went on to teach ag. “I said that I enjoy it and I think it rubbed off on some of those students. They decided they wanted to do something that they enjoy.”
A look back in the Herald archives:
50 years ago – Sept. 12, 1957. The Tri-Lake Fair opened to a crowd estimated at 6,000. Diane Thompson, 18-year-old brunette daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James F. Thompson was named “Queen of the Forest”
25 years ago – Sept. 23, 1982. The new Yalobusha County History had just arrived. The 640 page book contained 3000 names in the index and went on sale for $49.95. In March of 2006, a copy of the book sold for $314.88 on the eBay Internet auction site.