Dena Wuebker with Devin Fuhrman, Chief Agriculture and Sponsor Relations Officer at Nationwide. Photo provided by Linde’s Livestock Photography.

Introducing Ohio’s Golden Owl

By Morgan Anderson, OCJ FFA Reporter

Dena Wuebker, the agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Versailles High School, was named this year’s Ohio Golden Owl Award winner at the 96th Ohio FFA Convention. The award is among the most prestigious accolades in Ohio for agricultural education.

Inside Wuebker’s classroom, on her desk, sits a sign that reads, “Service is the rent we pay for living.” When Wuebker speaks about her tenure as an educator, she always points back to her guiding philosophy: service.

“My goal is that students leave with skills to last a lifetime,” Wuebker said. “I want them to be good leaders who can communicate and are passionate about the agricultural industry, natural resources, and the environment. My hope is that my students become servant leaders.”

With a service-oriented approach to teaching, Wuebker has taught agricultural education for 30 years — all of which have been at Versailles High School. When asked, Wuebker says she was born into it.

“My mom was a teacher for 35.5 years,” she said. “She finished her career as a restaurant operations teacher. Within my family, including my aunts, uncles, grandfather, and cousins, over 20 of us went into education. It’s a very popular career choice in my family.”

Wuebker hails from Fresno in Coshocton County, where she grew up on a diversified dairy farm. She said her involvement in FFA was a natural fit thanks to her high school agricultural educator, Nate McNeal, where she was a member of the Ridgewood FFA Chapter.

Wanting to take her involvement in FFA a step further, Wuebker served as the Ohio FFA Association’s District 8 President from 1988-1989, and subsequently, was elected to serve as the State President from 1989-1990.

“During my presidential year, I met with many FFA chapters and educators,” Wuebker said. “I thought that would be something neat to do myself and that I could make an impact just like my agricultural educator did for me.”

Wuebker then graduated from The Ohio State University in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriscience Education. A few months later, she was hired as the agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Versailles High School. From there, the rest is history.

As a single-teacher program for 24 years, Wuebker grew her program from 75 to 120 students. Due to her class’s growth rate, 6 years ago Versailles added a second teacher to the program, Taylor Bergman. As of 2024, the program has nearly 190 students — an all-time high for the school.

Wuebker said her approach to teaching is to “just care.”

“My cooperating teacher, Sam Custer, once told me, ‘It doesn’t matter how much you know until your students know that you care.’ I’ve always tried to care about my students individually and care about them as people,” she said. “I go and watch them in different activities beyond FFA, whether it’s sports, the musical, or any other activities. I try to support my students and care about what they do.”

Wuebker’s values are true not only to her teaching style but also to who she is as a person, according to her family.

“From that first year of teaching 30 years ago, Dena has always shown her students how much she cares,” said Wuebker’s husband, Jeff. “From the extra hours spent before and after school to being a part of many students’ life events, she has always put her students first and goes above and beyond to help them succeed at all levels.”

“When I think of my mom as an ag teacher, two main words come to mind: passion and service,” said Wuebker’s son, Jacob. “I’ve seen this through the impact she strives to make on every student who walks through her classroom door, as well as the impact she strives to make on bettering the community.”

“I would like to think I had the best of both worlds because she was not only my agricultural education teacher but, more importantly, my mother,” said Wuebker’s daughter, Laura. “I saw how she impacted students throughout my life, embodying the quote, ‘Service is the rent we pay for living.’ She taught other students and me what it means to be a strong person, whether in their faith or life pursuits.”

Agricultural educators like Wuebker significantly influence students’ lives both inside and outside the classroom. Their dedication and hard work often extend to their communities, where they spend countless hours and personal resources to ensure their students’ success. Seeking to recognize the profound impact of these educators, several professional agriculture organizations and businesses decided a few years ago to honor them notably.

Starting with the 2018-19 school year, Nationwide, Ohio FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Mid-America, and AgCredit annually honor 10 agricultural educators throughout Ohio as Golden Owl Award Honorees. From these 10 honorees, one is chosen as Ohio’s Golden Owl Award winner, earning the title of Ohio Agricultural Educator of the Year.

This year, the Golden Owl Award accumulated more than 500 nominations for the state’s top agricultural educators from local students, parents, fellow teachers, and community members. Of the impressive array of educators, Wuebker was named this year’s “Golden Owl.”

The other nine honorees for this year’s award included Jessie Schulze (Delta), Tod Fox (Ashland), Tom Mazzaro (Pymatuning Valley), Julie Stawowy (Old Fort), Tom Jolliff (North Union), Caleb Hickman (Utica), Tyler Lones (Sheridan), Chyann Kendel (Talawanda-Butler Tech), and Rob Brokaw (New Lexington).

Each of those honorees earned their school’s agricultural education program $1,500 to be used toward classroom instruction. The Ohio Agricultural Educator of the Year earned $5,000 and the coveted Golden Owl Award trophy at the 96th Ohio FFA Convention in May.

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