Former R. Flake Shaw Scholarship Winners Reflect on How Award Helped Them
Back in 1958, North Carolina Farm Bureau established a scholarship fund in honor of R. Flake Shaw, a Guilford County farmer who served as executive vice president and helped to steer the organization through a critical point in its history.
Now, the R. Flake Shaw Scholarship has aided more than 250 aspiring agriculture professionals to acquire college education for careers in teaching, crop and veterinary sciences and more.
North Carolina Farm Bureau Magazine reconnected with five former recipients who all credited the scholarship funds as a critical element in launching their agriculture endeavors in North Carolina.
“It’s just a little green sign that says ‘Delight’ on both sides,” Beam says of the area about 16 miles north of Shelby.
Beam’s work as one of the agriculture teachers at Burns High School in nearby Lawndale takes him to Delight, Shelby and beyond. Teaching in the same classroom where he was once a student, Beam most enjoys accompanying some of the 181 FFA Association members out for plenty of community projects, such as helping with castration of calves, building fences and gathering soil samples.
“I definitely enjoy doing hands-on projects with students,” Beam says. “Anything that’s outside, we get involved in and do.”
Beam still is active in direct-to-market agriculture, too, operating Beam Family Farms (www.bffbeef.com) on land that’s been in his family since 1870, raising grass-grown gelbvieh beef cattle.
Beam credits part of his success in the classroom and on the farm to his N.C. State University education, which includes a bachelor’s degree in 1997 and a master’s degree in 2001. In fact, he was the agriculture education department’s distinguished graduate.
“The R. Flake Shaw Scholarship meant I could focus completely on school and not have to take a part-time job,” Beam says.
Beam describes himself as being extremely blessed with his career on and off the farm as well as his family, which includes his wife, Kathy, and three children, Keely, Ella and Lucas.
He also believes it’s those children—his own and students at Burns High School—who are going to be vital to keeping agriculture in Cleveland County and beyond thriving.
“That’s our future,” Beam says. “We’re going to have to produce twice as much food on less land than we have available in 20 years. I honestly believe agriculture has the greatest potential for growth and job opportunity than any industry because the developing populations are going to need agricultural products.”
When she decided on something, April Bowman didn’t hesitate to zero in on that particular objective. Twice in connection with North Carolina agriculture, her dreams came together just as she planned.
First, the Johnston County native set out to attend N.C. State University, and it was the only university where she applied.
“My mama said, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t get in?’ I said, ‘Mama, I’m going to N.C. State. I’m going to get in,’” Bowman recollects.
Bowman did become a student at NCSU, using her R. Flake Shaw Scholarship to graduate in 1997 with a degree in agriculture education and a minor in animal science.
Next came Bowman’s other agriculture dream—she wanted a career with 4-H. Having showed livestock since age 9, she says 4-H is simply “in her blood.”
After spending one year as an agriculture teacher in Stokes County, Bowman applied for a position with the county 4-H department after an agent departed for neighboring Surry County.
“I actually quit the school system and applied to be the 4-H agent,” Bowman says. “Again my parents asked, ‘This is the only job you’re applying for? You need to be applying for more.’ I told them, ‘You don’t understand. I want to be the 4-H agent.’”
Again, the events unfolded just like Bowman hoped. After spending six years in Stokes County, she transferred to Forsyth County, where she has served as a 4-H extension agent since 2005.
Bowman credits the R. Flake Shaw Scholarship as the catalyst for her academic and professional dreams becoming a reality.
“There was not a lot of extra money around,” Bowman says. “Basically because of the scholarship, I was able to graduate with no college debt. Granted along with the scholarship, I worked in the soybean extension office on the NCSU campus, but without the R. Flake Shaw Scholarship, there’s no way I could have graduated debt free.”
Wayne County Farm Bureau member Willie Howell received the R. Flake Shaw Scholarship back in 1991 and graduated a semester early from N.C. State University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education. Four years later, while juggling crop-raising responsibilities and classwork, he obtained his master’s degree, too.
Seeing how the state’s agriculture industry operates came into focus for Howell as a teenager when applying for the scholarship and participating in the NCFB’s Institute for Future Ag Leaders (IFAL).
“Between the R. Flake Shaw and IFAL, it really opened my eyes to what Farm Bureau is all about,” Howell says. “Up until that point, I thought Farm Bureau was only an insurance company. I really saw behind the scenes, even went to the General Assembly with a group and got to see more about Farm Bureau and how it functioned.”
Howell concentrated his N.C. State studies within the extension agent program, a path he says “taught me to do some testing on my own and be an independent thinker.”
With two NCSU degrees in hand, Howell is on his second term as the secretary/treasurer for Wayne County Farm Bureau. He also coordinates with his father, Gerald, to raise tobacco, soybeans and cotton on 1,200 acres.
“We’ve got a good working relationship. He looks after the tobacco, and I look after the cotton and soybeans. It all works together,” Howell says.
When not cultivating crops, Howell is cultivating relationships, often serving as the main public speaker for Farm Bureau in Wayne County.
“We’ve developed a really good working relationship with our county commissioners here in Wayne County and county manager Lee Smith. We keep in close contact with them,” Howell says.
Laura Pugh Parker and Beth Pugh Farrell
“Farm Bureau truly helped us achieve our dreams,” Parker says. “The scholarship, there’s no way we could have gone through college without it. In so many ways, it helped both of us achieve those dreams.”
Farrell is the older of the sisters by two years. Farrell went to N.C. State with thoughts about becoming a physician in a rural area.
“I got to school and realized that wasn’t the course I wanted to take,” Farrell says. “I found animal science, and that was a natural alignment of my interests with the degree path.”
Farrell graduated with that degree in animal science in 2002 and spent several years as a North Carolina 4-H development officer. Currently, she’s an administrator for the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
Farrell credited the scholarship with allowing her to gain the skills she needed to benefit the state’s agriculture sector.
“Agriculture is so diverse that there is a way to align your interests and your passion with a career path,” Farrell says.
“Farm Bureau promotes agriculture in so many ways, and one is through the R. Flake Shaw Scholarship to make sure future agriculture leaders have the opportunity to pursue their education in order to give back to the industry,” she adds.
Meanwhile to the west, Parker also is giving back to the North Carolina agriculture industry as an agriculture teacher at Bandys High School in Catawba County. Parker realized from her IFAL experience that she wanted a career in education, having obtained a bachelor’s degree from NCSU in 2004 and a master’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University two years later.
“Being in the classroom is one of the most amazing things,” Parker says. “I have the opportunity to work with students in agriculture programs for three years. They start out as these shy kids and then they graduate as mature young adults ready to face the world and the challenges ahead of them.”