- April 19, 2016
Richard C. “Rick” Stotler could be considered the pioneer of West Orange County’s large-animal sciences program, having started it in the late 1980s when he discovered students lacked a broad knowledge of the livestock industry.
He has mentored hundreds of students in agriculture through the years and continues to be an advocate for agriculture education even after retiring in 2009 following nearly 39 years of teaching with Orange County Public Schools.
For his decades of dedication to the study of agriculture and FFA, Stotler was inducted into the Florida FFA Hall of Fame on Monday night.
Others inducted at the Florida FFA Leadership Training Center, near Haines City, were John C. Cloran of Apopka Middle School, Shirley J. Carte, David N. Coile and the late Orton E. Yearty.
“We are proud to honor these wonderful leaders for their commitment and dedication to the Florida FFA over the years,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Their efforts have helped the FFA in our state to better educate students, parents and entire communities about the importance of Florida’s agriculture industry.”
The Florida FFA Hall of Fame, started in 2007, pays tribute to individuals who have rendered outstanding service to agriscience education and FFA in Florida.
LIVING (AND TEACHING) LARGE
With a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a master’s degree in agriculture education, Stotler set out to teach high school students about agriscience.
He began at Ocoee Junior High/Senior High in 1969 and briefly taught at Oak Ridge High before returning to Ocoee in 1977. In 1980, he started his 29-year career at West Orange High.
“Agriculture has always been a huge part of our lives, and it continues now that he has retired,” Amy Stotler said. “I'm happy that others know how much of an influence he has had and impacted the lives of so many.”
He changed the face of the area’s FFA program in the late 1980s when he started teaching the animal science program.
“We had been having students that showed steers and swine for the Central Florida Fair,” he said. “I felt that they needed to have a broader knowledge about the livestock industry, as citrus groves in the area were going away because of the freezes.
“We started out buying some Angus heifers and having students care for and show them,” he said. “We showed at five major fairs in the state. Students got to go and compete — they learned showmanship, grooming contests and breeding quality animals to compete. They got to learn how to care for (and) feed, selection, health care and breeding by artificial insemination, as well as by natural bull selection.”
The land lab was eventually expanded to house up to 10 steers and up to a dozen Angus heifers and bulls, so students who did not have a steer or heifer project still had the opportunity to work with animals in class.
“Not everyone has the space at home to keep a large animal,” Stotler said. “The amount of work involved in raising and caring for a large animal takes a lot of time, including seven days a week and holidays. The responsibility these students learned is a trait they carry through their lifetime.”
The honoree recalls fondly having his students compete in FFA career development events and having several state winners. He’s proud of the fact that the West Orange FFA chapter was recognized at the National FFA Convention as an outstanding chapter for more than 25 consecutive years.
He has been involved with the Central Florida Fair since the beginning of his teaching career, setting up an exhibit booth and showing animals.
Another highlight was when one of his former students, Cori Griffin Holton, became an agriculture teacher in Lake County.
“Mr. Stotler has played a huge role in my love for agriculture and teaching,” Holton said. “He continues to mentor me as an Ag teacher at East Ridge High School. I can honestly say his passion rubbed off on me and I accredit my career success to his continued support and mentorship for the past 20 years of my life.”
Stotler is grateful for his induction and admits that when he first learned of the honor, he didn’t think much of it.
“But as I ran into former agriculture teachers from around the state and students I had taught many years ago and even some of their children, I realized what an honor it is to be included with other great teachers that have preceded me and to now be a part of that group,” he said.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected]