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2013-2014 ND FFA State President, Charles Steinberger
By Caroline Downs
Charles Steinberger saw himself as an unlikely choice to hold any state office in the North Dakota FFA organization, but he pursued the goal anyway with a “Refuse to be ordinary--vote for Charles” slogan and a relentless drive to meet as many FFA members as he could throughout the year.
His strategy paid off, and when the ballots were counted on the final morning of the 2013 North Dakota FFA annual convention, Steinberger was elected to serve as state president for the 2013-2014 term.
“When they called my name, it was unbelievable,” he said about the announcement. “My first thought was, ‘It’s a dream come true.’ My second thought was, ‘I’ve got to run now’ and take the victory lap with retiring president Daniel Bjertness, around all the delegates!”
Steinberger has been an active member in Kenmare’s FFA program since his eighth grade year. “[Former advisor] Mr. Young got me involved in some Ag Sales contests,” Steinberger said. Then he laughed as he started the litany of the FFA contests to which he has dedicated time and energy over the years. “There’s horse judging, the creed contest, dairy foods, extemporaneous speaking and ag communications,” he said. “It’s a whole herd of contests!”
He represented the local chapter as a member of the Courtesy Corps during state conventions, and served the Kenmare FFA as sentinel during his junior year and vice-president in his senior year. He also worked with chapter members on several local programs, including the Farm Safety Just 4 Kids events, Ag in the Classroom days at Kenmare Elementary School, and the Donkey Basketball fundraising night held at Kenmare High School earlier this year.
Four years in the making
Steinberger decided he wanted to serve as a state officer back in 2009. “When I first went to a state convention and saw the officers having so much fun and getting members excited about FFA, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “At the 101 Conference in Bismarck, I wrote it down as one of my four goals to succeed as an FFA officer, and for four years, it’s been in the back of my mind.”
However, as he approached his senior year of high school, Steinberger had doubts about his potential to serve on the state level. “If it wasn’t for [Kenmare advisor] Mr. Becker, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “He pushed me to run and said, ‘Charles, you miss a hundred percent of the opportunities you don’t take.’”
Becker, who arrived in Kenmare last summer as the school’s new FFA advisor and vocational agriculture teacher to follow Cameron Young, was impressed when he first met Steinberger. “We were working at the state fair and Charles was telling me a little bit about himself and his interest in running for a state office,” said Becker, who served as the North Dakota state FFA president in 2007-2008. “He told me he had two goals for his senior year. One was to go to the national convention to compete with a team and the other was to become a state officer.”
Steinberger started his state office quest during the fall district leadership conference. “At every FFA event since then, he’s talked to everybody,” Becker said. “He’s been working the crowd, getting to know people, and that made a difference.”
Steinberger said he concentrated on obtaining his state FFA degree in February and March, then submitted the state officer application form for consideration by the screening committee. By the time he arrived at the state convention the first week of June, he was scheduled for three meetings a day with the screening committee, for the first three full days of the convention. During those sessions, he answered a myriad of interview questions, participated in team building exercises, and even prepared mock media broadcasts to promote FFA.
He also delivered a three-minute speech to the committee, surprising them by choosing deer hunting as his topic. “I tried not to make myself look bad and to have fun,” he said. “It was a really intense experience, and I would try to lighten the mood for [the other candidates] when we were waiting for the committee.”
Steinberger’s nomination was announced to all the delegates on Thursday morning that week, along with his opponent, Mikayla Young of Napoleon. Normally, state officer candidates spend that day campaigning, but Steinberger was slated to compete with the KHS Ag Communications team, so he turned over his bid for state office to his fellow Kenmare FFA members.
“They put up posters for me and handed out buttons all day,” he said. “They really promoted me.”
In the meantime, Steinberger achieved one of his two goals for the year, when the team clinched the Ag Communications contest and earned the right to represent North Dakota at the national convention to be held in Louisville, Kentucky, in October.
He didn’t have time to savor the achievement, however, with the election scheduled for 8 am the next morning. “You wake up and don’t eat much, because you’re so nervous,” he said. “I was kind of disappointed in that, because NDSU food is so good!”
Within about 20 minutes of the close of voting, however, Steinberger’s life changed when his name was announced as the new state president. He faced his well-wishers for an acceptance speech and was whisked away for a round of photos, even as the convention’s final session continued.
Next, his calendar filled up with leadership training sessions at the state, regional and national levels, FFA contests and various conferences. “It’s going to be hectic at times,” he said as he listed events on tap for each month until the next state convention. “But the fun things in life are challenges.”
Goal to promote
Steinberger will serve his term from the campus of North Dakota State University, where he intends to major in agri-business or ag economics. Six of the seven new officers on the state leadership team will be freshmen there together. “We can lean on each other when we need to,” Steinberger said, adding he believes his professors will support his commitment to the state FFA organization next year.
As the new state president, Steinberger already has goals in mind for his term in office. “We want to get more people involved in the young chapters, like Max, Edgeley and Ray,” he said, “and in the new chapter in Northern Cass. Personally, I want to get people excited about FFA and see more members attend events. There were 1400 members at the state convention last year and 1700 there this year. For next year, our goal is to get 2000 members to show up!”
He also intends to encourage members in his home FFA chapter, and he hopes his election as state president continues an example set by other Kenmare graduates who went on to hold state offices. “I hope my getting elected proves to younger members that anything’s possible,” he said.
He added that Kenmare members Justice Brown and Dalton Petersen have already indicated an interest in pursuing broader goals in FFA, and that local president Tayler Mau and vice-president Katie Nelson will represent the school at the state president’s conference later in the year. The Kenmare FFA will also have a team competing in the land and range judging contest for the first time.
He was most excited about the reaction of his friend Austin Redding, however, who will be a junior at KHS this fall.
“When I got elected, Austin said, “That’s what I want to be,’” said Steinberger. “That means a lot to me, and I look forward to seeing him becoming a state officer in a couple of years!”