Steele to be inducted into FFA Wall of Honor Tuesday
The worth of a man can be measured by the way he is remembered.
Fourteen years after his death, Norval D. Steele is well remembered.
On Tuesday, Steele will be inducted into the FFA Wall of Honor and his nomination came from scores of men whose lives he influenced and whose future foundations he shored.
Steele taught agriculture at Ariton High School until his retirement in 1977. During his 22 years there, many boys -and a few girls - were the recipients of his knowledge, his wisdom, his wit and his caring.
Dr. Jack Jones, Brundidge veterinarian, is the former student who was asked to spearhead Steele's nomination for this prestigious award.
The FFA Wall of Honor was initiated by the Alabama State Officer Alumni Association as a means to recognize those individuals who have provided support and outstanding service to agriculture and the FFA within Alabama and to secure funds for the Alabama FFA Foundation.
In order to be selected for the FFA Wall of Honor, a minimum contribution of $1,000 must be made to the Alabama FFA Foundation in honor or memory of the person being recognized.
"We mailed out more than 100 letters to former students of Mr. Steele asking them to write their remembrances of him and to contribute at least $20 toward the nomination," Jones said. "In less than a month we had $1,600. Everyone wanted to be a part of this honor for Mr. Steele."
Jones said he was contacted by Laymon Phillips, a 1968 graduate of Barbour County High School and an FFA advisor in Millry. The two schools were involved in agricultural events and were spirited competitors.
"Laymon asked me if I would spearhead a fund-raising drive for the purpose of Mr. Steele's nomination to the FFA Wall of Honor," Jones said. "There was no way I could say no to such a worthy cause and to the
memory of a man who gave so much of himself to Ariton High School."
Steele taught vocational agriculture at Ariton High School from 1955 until 1977 when he was forced to retire because of failing health.
"Mr. Steele was an instructor, administrator, mentor and father-figure to his students," Jones said. "He taught skills that enabled his students to be successful in their chosen vocations. He encouraged his students to further their educations and assisted many in their efforts to attend college."
Letters containing contributions and fond remembrances came from all across the state and outside the boundaries of Alabama.
"For an old farm boy who had not been exposed to much, Mr. Steele made a deep and lasting impression my life," wrote Howard Tomlin, class of 1959, "He had an understanding of the younger generation and seemed to understand the need of young boys to engage in a little mischief now an then, but he also had his limits and we knew better than to exceed those limits.
"He taught more than agriculture and shop, he also taught the need to respect your fellowman and the value of a job well done. A lot of his teaching was by example, by the way he conducted himself and the respect he showed for others. Mr. Steele was more than an instructor.
He was a friend."
Steele planted the seeds for the career of Kenneth Sanders of Kenneth Sanders Farms, Brundidge.
"Hardly a day goes by that I don't use some skill I learned from Mr. Steele," Sanders wrote. "He taught me us so much and we really didn't realize it because we had so much fun."
William Agerton of Lilburn Ga. has worked in agriculture in Alabama and Georgia with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, the Alabama Farm Bureau Federation, the University of Georgia and the Potash and Phosphate Institute.
"I've worked with both youth and adults during my career," Agerson wrote. "A part of the influence I've had on others can be attributed to Mr. Steele and his teachings at Ariton High School. I'm just one individual student. When you multiply that by all the students he taught over the years, the extension of his efforts is tremendous. That's what great teachers do best - teach the facts, guide students and influence their actions and careers for the rest of their lives."
The letters and accolades came in bundles. So many that they filled a boot box. All the good things that were said about N.D. Steele would fill pages and that speaks volumes for the man.
Jones said, too often, public recognition comes late to people like Steele. But, Steele was an outstanding person and a great teacher. His students respected and admired him and Jones said, he believes Steele knew that. "And, for a teacher, that's the greatest reward."
"His nomination to the FFA Wall of Honor will carry on the legacy of Mr. Steele," Jones said. "We, his students, are proud to honor and remember him."
Norvel D. Steele was raised in Michigan. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Army and served in the Army Corps of Engineers until World War II ended.
He returned to his home in Michigan and farmed for a short period of time. He married Wilda Barr from Banks and moved back to Alabama. Shortly after the move he entered the school of agriculture at Auburn University to study vocational agriculture. He received his bachelor's degree in 1950 and went into the dairy business until he accepted the teaching position at Ariton High School.
Wilda Barr Steele will accept the FFA Wall of Honor Award for her late husband at the Alabama FFA Foundation's ceremony at the Civic Center in Montgomery Tuesday night.
"My husband wasn't one who wanted a lot of publicity or recognition, but I know that this honor would mean so much to him because it comes from his students," she said. "I'm sure he would be honored and humbled by it. I thank all of those who made this possible. It was a loving gesture."