Tulare, California, is known worldwide for its influence in the agricultural industry — but it’s perhaps the leaders in the community, the ones inspiring future generations, who are most vital to this Central California town. This rings particularly true for one leader, Kevin Koelewyn. For 28 years, with every FFA Chapter and ag class he led, he was leaving behind a legacy of his passion for the agricultural industry.
Kevin was born on March 26, 1966, in Hanford, California, and graduated from California State University, Fresno, with his degree in Agriculture Education and received his teaching credentials before being assigned to Tulare High School’s farm for his final student-teaching assignment. Throughout his career, he taught at various high schools before ending up back at Tulare High.
Koelewyn traveled to Indianapolis this past October to attend the National FFA Convention with his students. It was there, the ag educator suffered cardiac arrest. He passed away about a week later, on Nov. 4. His family and the entire community banded together in effort to pray for him throughout his fight. A benefit dinner is being held for him on Nov. 30 at the Tulare County Fairgrounds.
Although, current and past students alike are mourning him, along with his wife, two daughters, son and family, his time on Earth was not wasted.
“Kevin made a huge impact within the school and with his students. Over the years, he served as the coach of our Dairy Products Team, Cotton Judging Team, Livestock Judging Team, and the Creed Speaking Team,” said Cathy Koelewyn, Kevin’s wife. “As a coach, Kevin was able to coach a record number of FFA members to state championships: one State Champion Cotton Team, seven State Champion Extemporaneous Public Speakers and one National Winner, nine State Champion Creed Speakers, and three National Champions.
“During his time as an Agriculture Teacher at Kingsburg and Tulare High Schools, Kevin coached 40 students to Regional Leadership Offices and nine State FFA Officers. Kevin has been recognized by the State FFA Association as the State FFA advisor of the Year and by the National FFA Organization as an Honorary Degree Member. Kevin was also recognized as the Tulare County Office of Education Runner up for Teacher of the Year,” his wife said.
Koelewyn was known to connect with his students in ways that made them feel they could achieve anything they wanted. Leaders such as Koelewyn aren’t ever gone when they leave this world; his passion, drive and words have been woven into the blue and gold jackets of each student that had the opportunity to hear him speak — in and out of the classroom. Further proving that ag educators aren’t just educating students about agriculture; they are creating compassionate leaders, building confidence, sparking relationships, and improving lives. For this, many are thankful.
This is what several former students had to say about Koelewyn’s impact on them:
“I was a freshman in high school and nervous about trying to find my place in a new school when I met Mr. Koelewyn. On the first day of school, he was standing outside, greeting everyone who walked by, and welcomed me into his classroom with a warm, welcoming smile. Mr. Koelewyn saw something in me on that first day of school and cultivated it throughout my time in high school. He encouraged me to do numerous speaking contests and judging teams, and even to run for State FFA Office. He was there to protect me, encourage me, comfort me, and pick me up when I was down. Mr. Koelewyn became my rock and a father figure to me. Because of the opportunities that Mr. Koelewyn was able to provide for me, I decided to pursue a teaching credential in order to become a high school agriculture teacher. If it wasn’t for Mr. Koelewyn, I can honestly say that I have no idea what my life would be like today. Mr. Koelewyn’s teachings have impacted countless numbers of students, teachers, community members, and people from across the country. I am thankful and honored to have been able to call him a teacher, coach, mentor, and most importantly a friend.” — Sydney Keen, former student
“I never had my heart 100 percent into ag, but Mr. Koelewyn made my courses enjoyable. He taught me how agriculture is a part of my everyday life. I will never forget all the fun memories in ag bio and experiences I gained from being on the Dairy Tasting team.” — Makeila Kalama, former student
“I had Mr. Koelewyn the first year he taught ag biology. I had a hard time understanding that subject, but he always went out of his way to help us ag kids understand it in a way that related to us. I remember our big project was to pair up and build a cell and name all the parts. I was nervous about doing that project, but Mr. Koelewyn sat down with me and my partner to come up with something that would relate to us and our background. We used a giant tractor tire as the cell wall and items out of my shop for the different parts inside the cell. That was the first time I really understood something I had no clue about because he took the extra time to relate to us in a way we could understand. Mr. Koelewyn always went that extra mile because he cared about his students and their learning. He was a huge asset in the high school ag program and a one of a kind friend and teacher. He will be greatly missed in the ag community.” — Greg Fletcher, former student
“Mr. Koelewyn was always able to connect his students and treat them as if he knew them for their entire life. I personally, grew up knowing Mr. Koelewyn, in fact he treated me like one of his own kids, and for that I will always be thankful. But in knowing him my whole life, he had the greatest impact on me once I became one of his students. He always encouraged me to never give up, to excel beyond the expectations, and taught me many valuable life lessons that I use every day in my life and will always continue to use. His legacy will live on through his students and every single one of them have been thankful to have him as a teacher.” — Shay Williams, Tulare FFA Advisor
“I am thankful for him for his sense of humor and that he never let a student feel left out. He was tough at times but none of his students would be where they are now if it weren’t for that. I was at the high school farm last month for their Jersey appraisal and it was nice to just talk about the cows and how some scored.” — Emma Sills, former student
“Through his teaching and coaching, Mr. Koelewyn left a legacy that will go far beyond his time here on Earth. His legacy will continue to grow as the thousands of people he impacted will continue to impact others, just like he taught them to.” — Dipak Kumar, former student
“ ‘In life you can give of three Ts: your time, your treasure, and your talent. Most say they don’t have the time, so they give of their treasure instead. That’s easy. But if you can give of your talent, that will truly leave a lasting impact on someone’s life.’ — Kevin Koelewyn. As I slipped on my blue jacket a few weeks ago in your honor, I found a note inside my pocket from a creed practice, a reminder of the selfless servant you were to others, of the talent you shared with every individual who crossed your path. You were no stranger to tough love, but it was your way of encouraging us that our best could always be better. You were so much more than an ag teacher — you were a father figure, mentor, and advisor. Though we will always wish for more time, the only thing we can do to continue on your legacy is to give of the three Ts. You helped me find my passion for agriculture, something that has defined every part of my life, and now I can only hope to do that for others. Thank you for leaving a lasting impact.” — Bailey Munday, former student
To all the FFA advisors and ag educators who are gone, but not forgotten: We thank you for your legacy placed into the hearts of the future of agriculture. For it is because of you, each of us are working hard everyday to be as great as you.
Markie Hageman majored in agribusiness at Fort Hays State University. She is actively involved in her state Cattlemen’s Association, Young Farmers chapter, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Her AGDAILY.com articles can be found here.