Making me a better person- the life of James Hannebaum

James Hannebaumby Tracy McCue — When my vocational agriculture advisor Jim Hannebaum from my hometown in Flagler, Colo. died last week, I knew this was going to be a huge story in my neck of the woods where I grew up, and for all state FFA’ers, who had donned a blue and gold coat in the 1970s and 80s.

For at one time, Mr. Hannebaum literally owned the community of Flagler and the Colorado State FFA organization.

Not that Mr. Hannebaum would ever acknowledge such hyperbole. It made him uncomfortable.

This week someone posted on Facebook that Mr. Hannebaum was responsible for 33 American Degrees, 19 FFA Colorado State officers, five state presidents and 106 State Farmer Degrees.

They forgot to include stats: like public speaker winners, FFA creed speaking winners, student vo-ag project winners, or putting on some of the greatest FFA banquets in the state of Colorado or nation for that matter.

For me, I have often wondered how many Parli Pro state championships did he accumulate as a coach. I am proud to say I was on one of those teams.

A Parli Pro team, short for parliamentary procedure, is something you can’t really explain to people outside the FFA world. I have given up trying. People can comprehend football state championships, or a marching band contest. But unless you live in the confines of the FFA world, Parli Pro is something as foreign as lacrosse is to Kansas. Basically, you have six players, who conduct a very short meeting in the confines of maybe a five minute time frame (I can’t remember that detail) and get points based on the number of motions you introduce.

It’s a whirl. It’s the ultimate team sport and you have to move quickly. And when it came to Parli Pro teams, Mr. Hannebaum was the ultimate maestro — the Vince Lombardi. He ran vo-ag departments like a tight ship, but — in my opinion — he was never better than when he was coaching a Parli Pro team. And, it might have been during these times that he may have been at his happiest – a trait he struggled with throughout his life.

I hadn’t seen Mr. Hannebaum in 25 years, maybe longer. But he was always someone I thought about. I’m a disorganized mess. But I am always reminded during those particularly messy times of mass chaos, I could hear Mr. Hannebaum’s voice yelling at me “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” It’s a voice that irritates me greatly. But I strive to be better the next time.

Mr. Hannebaum had a gift for making us better. And it just wasn’t the state FFA officers. I don’t think he ever realized what impact he had on the middling students – those who just needed to be steered in the right direction. I don’t have any statistics on the matter, but I can’t think of any of his students who were ever caught breaking the law, or becoming a low-life pile of nothing that ever stepped into his program.

Mr. Hannebaum taught us to be harder workers, to take pride in what we did, to speak clearly, to do the right thing. Having no wife or children of his own, his full attention was on us – the privilege few who took his classes and become part of the FFA culture.

I never became a farmer. I never welded a beam after my senior year of high school. I never used my Parli Pro skills to correct people at public meetings, because quite frankly, it really isn’t that important and I don’t like coming off as a pretentious jerk. I don’t think of myself as a leader and like I said before I’m a disorganized mess. Mr. Hannebaum had little tolerance for disorganization.

But I couldn’t begin to measure the positive influence and impact this one teacher had on me.

Mr. Hannebaum, if you are somehow able to read this, I know I wasn’t your favorite student, and we had our differences. I’m sorry for making you so mad you knocked a hole in a window in your office.

But I want to thank you for all you have done for me.

You made me a better person.

You made everyone around you a better person.

Your legacy will forever be with us. I hope you have found that inner peace that I believe eluded you for much of your time on earth.

You’re deserving of eternal happiness. Because when you were here on earth, little did you know how much happiness you nurtured inside all of us.

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