09:05 AM

64 Exceptional Teachers named Golden Owl Award® Finalists

Finalists across nine states have a chance to be named Ag Educator of the Year

Agricultural educators serve an irreplaceable role as they spend countless hours preparing future generations for successful careers.

Nationwide partnered with state FFA organizations to create the Golden Owl Award in 2018 to highlight the growing importance of educators and recognize the services of many of the country’s leading agricultural teachers. The program also supplies funding to help boost the teachers’ agricultural programs and boost learning experiences for their students.

Nationwide recently worked with partners in California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota to collect more than 2,900 nominations from students, parents and community members to identify over 900 educators who go above-and-beyond in making a difference for their students.

The 2022-2023 Golden Owl Award finalists are:


  • Celeste Morino, Ripon High School
  • Beth Swehla, Boonville-Anderson Valley FFA Chapter
  • Jason Ferreira, Hanford High School
  • Lauren Peterson, King City High School
  • Brian Kim, Fullerton-Sunny Hills FFA Chapter
  • Emily Brown, Corning Union High School


  • Trent Taber, Cambridge High School
  • Riley Hintzsche, Streator High School
  • Jody Heavner, Pittsfield High School
  • Cassie Crouch, Maroa-Forsyth High School
  • Tamra Gerstenecker, Carlyle High School


  • Michael Appleton, Lewis Cass High School
  • Myia Bromm, South Knox High School
  • Leah Henderson, DeKalb High School
  • Duane Huge, Danville High School
  • Michael Jones, Adams Central High School
  • Adam Miller, Fountain Central High School
  • Michael Shirey, Heritage High School
  • McCord Snider, East Central Middle School


  • Debbie Barkela, Belmond-Klemme Community School
  • Scott Smalley, Iowa State University
  • Emily Kruse, North Scott Community School District
  • Jim Russ, New Hampton Community Schools
  • Matt Debrick, West Sioux Community School District
  • Kevin Blair, Orient-Macksburg Community Schools
  • Rosa Sondag, Central Decatur Community School District


  • Robyn Graham - Humphrey Public Schools
  • Amanda Hafer - Lutheran High Northeast
  • Brent Nollette - Valentine Community Schools
  • Chad Schimmels - Eustis-Farman Public Schools
  • Ashtyn Vivion – Alliance High School
  • Randy Vlaslin - Hayes Center Public Schools

New York

  • Phil Dickler, John Bowne High School
  • Deb Fletcher, Cobleskill Richmondville Central School
  • Chris Kelly, Greenwich Central School
  • Vanessa Merrill, Walton Central School
  • Erin Smith, Stockbridge Valley Central School
  • Tedra Bean, Belleville Henderson Central School
  • MiKayla Gates, Cincinnatus Central School
  • Carlie Bossard, Penn Yan Academy
  • Matthew Sweeney, Royalton-Hartland Central School
  • Katie Mitrowski, Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School


  • Krysteena Lawrence, Elmwood High School
  • Jeffrey Karcher, Bellevue High School
  • Heather Tegtmeier, Northwestern High School
  • Donald Barnhart, Leipsic High School
  • Erynn Hayes, Trotwood-Madison High School
  • Jeffrey Stimmel, Big Walnut High School
  • Judd Baker, Fairfield Union High School
  • Kayla Richter, Monroe Central High School
  • Kelly Rickabaugh, Greene County Career Center
  • Katherine Dickson, Gallia Academy High School


  • Allyson Balmer, Tulpehocken FFA
  • Kayle Pohle, Honesdale FFA
  • Michael Clark, Greenwood FFA
  • Jerry Hughes, Penns Manor FFA

South Dakota:

  • Jim Chilson, Florence School District
  • Kelly Keller, Arlington High School
  • Bridget Twedt, Beresford High School
  • Mark Misar, Bon Homme High School
  • Tanna White, Hot Springs School District
  • Noelle Swanson, Northwestern Area School District
  • Andrew Jensen, Sioux Falls CTE Academy

Each finalist was presented with an individualized plaque in front of fellow teachers and students and received a $500 donation to help fund future educational efforts for their programs. Now, they’ll be entered into a final selection stage for the chance to be crowned as their state’s Ag Educator of the Year, earning an additional $3,000 contribution to help boost their program and the coveted Golden Owl Award trophy.2

“The Golden Owl Award seeks to recognize agricultural teachers for the inspiring devotion they bring to their work as they educate America’s future leaders,” said Nationwide’s agribusiness president, Brad Liggett. “We are proud to honor their contributions, highlight the growing need for their services, and supply additional resources to help benefit their students.”

In conjunction with the Golden Owl Award, Nationwide is also donating $5,000 to each participating state’s FFA organization to further support the personal and professional growth of students, teachers and advisors alike. 

The Golden Owl Award is the result of partnerships between Nationwide, the California FFA, California Farm Bureau, Illinois FFA, Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers, Farm Credit Illinois, AgCredit, Indiana FFA, Farm Credit Mid-America, Iowa FFA Foundation, Nebraska Agricultural Educators Association, Nebraska FFA Foundation, New York FFA, New York Farm Bureau, Ohio FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania FFA, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Compeer Financial and South Dakota FFA Foundation.


1 Source: A.M. Best Market Share Report 2022
In Ohio, all Golden Owl Award funding is contributed directly to the school to benefit the agriculture programs.