FFA banquet honors Zaruba and Ihde

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Molly Andersen (left) and Rachel Anderegg present their new classroom leader Carolyn Ihde with flowers. Ihde will take over for Steve Zaruba, who will retire after 37 years teaching agriculture in Guttenberg. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Mr. Steve Zaruba will retire this May after nearly 40 years teaching agriculture at Clayton Ridge. He attended his last FFA banquet as an instructor on Sunday, April 26. Students presented him with a special award and noted the impact he’s had on their lives. 

Roughly 60 guests attended the banquet, where Zaruba recalled some of the highlights of his career. One of those highlights was sitting in the audience. Former student Matt Nelson, son of superintendent Allan Nelson and his wife, Sheryl, had a hug for Zaruba every day before class. “I’ve never had anybody else come in and give me a hug every day,” Zaruba chuckled. When he and Matt walked across the stage together to accept Matt’s Iowa FFA Degree in 2009, Zaruba felt a great sense of pride. The Iowa FFA Degree is the highest degree that can be bestowed upon an FFA member by the Iowa FFA Association, and only 3% of FFA members receive the degree annually. 

“Attending the State FFA Convention was one of the best moments I can remember of Matt in school. Being in official dress among thousands of FFA members gave us a special sense of belonging. Matt walked across the stage and received his Iowa Farmer Degree with Mr. Zaruba by his side.  It was a great honor and lifelong memory for me as a proud father,” said the superintendent. “FFA provides opportunities and challenges for every young adult.  My wife and I are very proud of Matt and grateful to Mr. Zaruba.  I still smile every time I think about Matt walking across the stage with Mr. Zaruba to pick-up his Iowa Farmer Degree.”

Zaruba also spoke of student Dan Fischer, who died unexpectedly at age 18 in March of 1997. “Dan was an extraordinary individual. He was liked by everyone and he expected more out of himself than others did,” said Zaruba while awarding the Dan Fischer Scholarship to Rachel Anderegg and Molly Andersen for attendance at the annual FFA leadership conference in Washington D.C. 

Many honors were bestowed upon Clayton Ridge’s FFA members during the banquet. The group also presented appreciation awards to members of the community including Robin Althoff, Tonya Wille, Rob Andersen, Dave Kraus, and Mike Finnegan. 

The FFA students welcomed Mrs. Carolyn Ihde who will attempt to fill Zaruba’s shoes come fall. Ihde will graduate from ISU this month with a Master’s of Science of Agriculture Education and has been student teaching at Clayton Ridge since January. Ihde grew up in southern Iowa and graduated from Wayne Community High School in Corydon. She counts herself a sheep and beef producer. 

Zaruba told The Press, “Mrs. Ihde has done an excellent job of student teaching,” He has observed the student teacher introducing team learning to his classroom, grouping students together to help each other learn. Under her direction, students have learned new concepts through various hands on activities and lab projects.

“I tell you what kids, you guys are in good hands. Listen to her.” Zaruba told his students at the banquet, accompanying his statement with a pointed glare at each individual. “I ask the community to support her and help her like you have me in the past.”

Ihde hugged each FFA officer and Mr. Zaruba after she was presented with flowers at the banquet. “She’s really connected with the students, and we look forward to many more years with her,” said FFA members. 

The banquet concluded with a lively dessert auction, proceeds from which will help other students attend the Washington Leadership Conference. FFA alumni Brandon Friedlein served as auctioneer. The first item up for bid, a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie, brought in an astounding $65. In total, parents and community members at the banquet spent $620 on desserts during the auction. 

As for Steve Zaruba, you’ll find him in the garden. He’s been researching potato towers and has built a new contraption for growing strawberries, which he can hardly wait to plant. He also looks forward to growing tomatoes. He’ll be around, though, he says, “To help Carolyn if she needs it.”

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