Marion Fletcher - A Living Legacy
A Living Legacy
For more than a half century, thousands of young Arkansans have been influenced by FFA’s Marion Fletcher.
Mention the name “Marion Fletcher” to anyone even remotely connected to FFA and you are in for an anecdote, a story, or a well-deserved tribute to this amazing man, who has been a fixture, leader and father figure to many at both the state and national organizations for well over a half century.
Hot Springs, AR | 1993
Marion graduated from Arkansas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Education. He also has a Master of Education from Henderson State University. He joined the Board as an Outside Director for the Association in 1993. Marion is a retired educator. He taught agricultural education for 53 years. He also serves as a Director of the Garland County Farm Bureau in Hot Springs. In October 2014 he was honored with the Golden Owl Award at the National FFA Convention. He was appointed to his current term on the Board in March 2020 which expires in March 2024. In addition, Marion serves on the Board’s Compensation Committee.
At Farm Credit Midsouth, we are fortunate to have been blessed by Marion’s guidance since he assumed a role with us as an Outside Director in 1993. He has served on countless committees, attended more than his share of meetings and events, and mentored and led our team in immeasurable ways. As an Outside Director, he brought an independent and objective perspective to the Association.
One direct beneficiary is Farm Credit Midsouth President and CEO James McJunkins, who has spent a literal lifetime learning from Fletcher. The two met when James was just 13 years old and have known each other for more than 50 years.
“I would consider Marion THE icon of Arkansas FFA,” McJunkins said. “He has been an enthusiastic motivator and educator as long as I’ve known him and has opened doors for thousands of students not only in agriculture, but in leadership roles in many different industries.”
McJunkins is quick to note that the benefits of membership in the FFA organization extend far beyond agriculture. In fact, teaching leadership is a focus for FFA and is a reason so many of its members are highly sought after for leadership and managerial roles in the workforce. And, in McJunkins’ opinion, few have done more for that regard than Marion Fletcher. As an educator, he provided an introduction to the industry even for those whose families had nothing to do with agriculture. And as a leader for decades in the state and national FFA, the mentorship and support he provided propelled thousands of young people to success.
Marion Fletcher has spent his career teaching and mentoring Arkansas young people, first as a vocational agriculture instructor, and then for 20 years, as State Supervisor/Program Manager of Agricultural Education in the Department of Workforce Education. Through his affiliation with the Arkansas and National Vocational Agriculture Teachers Associations and the state and national chapters of the FFA, he has directly or indirectly touched and help shape the lives of many farming, agribusiness and legislative leaders. He spent six years as an agricultural instructor, first at Desha Central Schools in Rower, then at Magnet Cove near Malvern. In 1969 Fletcher had the opportunity to join the state Department of Education as Area Supervisor of Agricultural Education, a post he held for 20 years. In 1989 he was named Acting State Supervisor and Program Manager of Ag Education and later that same year was promoted to lead that office. In 1997, the Vocational and Technical Education Division of the Department of Education was re-named the Department of Workforce Education. Fletcher is a lifetime member of the national FFA organization. He is also a life member of the National Vocational Agricultural Teachers Association. Fletcher’s career also includes more than 20 years helping young people show livestock as co-superintendent of the Arkansas State Fair Association and as a member of the Arkansas Farm and Ranch Club, where he served as president from 1992-1994. Fletcher has received numerous honors throughout his career including the Honorary American and Arkansas Farmer Degree from the FFA, Arkansas “Boss of the Year” award in 1991 and 35 Years of Service Award for Career and Technical Education in 2004. He’s also received the FFA VIP Award, recognition in the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame, Arkansas’s “Service to Citizen” award, and a litany of others on a long list of well-deserved commendations.
“Marion has been in every town in the state of Arkansas and can name individuals from almost every one of those towns, many of whom have gone on to be great leaders in agriculture or other professions,” McJunkins says. “I know Farm Credit Midsouth is a better organization today because of the leadership and encouragement of directors like Marion Fletcher.”
Current Farm Credit Midsouth Board Chairman Dane Coomer, who has served on the Farm Credit Midsouth board since 2013, calls Fletcher a great asset to the body.
“Part of what makes him so valuable is just the respect he holds in Arkansas,” Coomer said. “It’s generational with Marion. He’s been such a constant. It’s very important for a board to hold the respect of its constituents, so there’s that. But then we also benefit from his vast knowledge and experience. You don’t have to travel far to find someone whose life has been touched by Marion Fletcher.”
When one sits down to talk to Marion, he seems to be surprised by the reverence and really doesn’t know what the fuss is all about. You get a real sense that in all these years he has never really worked at his job; rather he has lived his passion. Because of this, calling him “retired” is a bit of a misnomer.
Marion’s journey began when he got involved in FFA as a ninth grader in a small Arkansas community. He graduated from Arkansas State College with a degree in Ag Education and not long after accepted a job teaching. He remained in the classroom for three years before leaving for a role with the Arkansas Department of Education which was the springboard that landed him at Camp Couchdale (sidebar left), where the rest is history.
Constructed in the late 1920’s Camp Couchdale has been the home to the Arkansas FFA for almost a century. Each year, the camp hosts various leadership conferences for FFA members across the state. Though Camp Couchdale is owned and operated by Arkansas FFA Foundation, it is open to all organizations. With sleeping facilities for 400 people and meeting spaces available for 1,500 people this complete gem is often used for retreats, weddings, family reunions, and more.
It was here in Hot Springs, where he still makes his home on Lake Catherine at Camp Couchdale, that his journey as a pillar in the state’s FFA community took shape. He served in a dual role at the Camp, managing the facilities and supervising ag education teachers and found purpose in developing leadership skills in the young people he served. It is often said that it’s unusual to ever see Marion not surrounded by blue (FFA) jackets.
“Agricultural education and FFA are so important because you’re working with youth who are the leaders of tomorrow,” he says. “You watch as that young boy or young girl, who perhaps didn’t feel like they fit in anywhere else, become leaders.”
He has travelled a long path of service in the FFA, serving on the National FFA Board of Directors and as treasurer of the organization for 14 years. And he has proudly mentored young Arkansans to leadership roles at both the state and national levels.
The honors and awards presented to Marion over his career are too numerous to list out in the space we have (see his accompanying bio for what is sure to be an incomplete summary on page 13), but he was notably bestowed with the first-ever National Advisor’s Golden Owl Award at the 2015 National FFA Convention & Expo, honoring his 50-plus years in ag education.
“It’s been a great career, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Fletcher, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month, said at the time. “I hope that I can still be of some benefit and use my time now to develop a stronger FFA in this great state and nation.” Of that we have no doubt, Mr. Fletcher. Of that we have no doubt.
Marion’s wife Eva, who long managed the Camp’s cafeteria, was a huge supporter of Marion’s work with FFA. Though she passed away in 2015, the impact she made on Camp Couchdale will always be felt. The couple raised two boys: Doug, who lives with his family on his own farm south of England, Arkansas; and Doyle, who lives with his family in Dallas.
“From the history of its inception, it would be a challenge to find one person who has done more for the organization (than Mr. Fletcher.) It simply would not be what it is today without him. I don’t know anyone more genuinely encouraging. He was a one-of-a-kind mentor to me when I was a very young—and first female—president of the Arkansas FFA. And he continues to do the same for young people yet today.”
Jennifer Cook, FFA Foundation Director
DID YOU KNOW?
Refuge and Respite at Camp Couchdale
While Camp Couchdale has long been the site of fond FFA memories, did you know at one time it was mobilized to provide refuge for hundreds of Louisiana residents displaced from their homes during one of the worst ever American weather events? And at the helm? You guessed it. Marion Fletcher.
As Marion tells the story, shortly before Labor Day in 2005, he received a call from the Governor’s office asking if he could shelter five busloads of displaced residents who had lost everything in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. If he could handle it, the transport would take place the next day.
Without food, supplies or even a plan, Marion said, “Of course.”
He started by using his own credit card to buy enough sheets and pillows to make up 200 beds, secured clothing, toiletries and food, and by Sunday 200 men and women arrived. The logistics of it all sound overwhelming, but they weren’t to Marion. He kicked into gear and set up a hospital, secured pharmacy services for those who needed medication, and even designed a system for tracking folks and helping them contact relatives back home. By Wednesday morning, he made sure Social Security services were available. Laundry and cantina services were in full swing. Recognizing the importance of education and a shred of normalcy, he arranged for children to enroll in school. He worked with contacts at bus stations and Southwest Airlines to transport people to relatives’ homes out of state when necessary.
The last of Camp Couchdale’s Katrina residents remained until December that year. And they were welcome to do so. Those four months will always hold a special place in Marion’s heart. If nothing else, this story is illustrative of the leadership, ingenuity, and stamina Marion has long modeled for his students, his family, his friends, and anyone else who has had the good fortune to cross his path.
The Marion D. Fletcher Leadership Center
The center, which will forever hold Marion’s name, has served the student members of Arkansas FFA at Camp Couchdale well since 1984. It has hosted the State Convention, leadership camps, ag teacher in-service, state officer workshops, bus driver trainings, and even a few funerals over her 37 years.
The center is currently undergoing much-needed renovations which are anticipated to be complete in February, 2022. The new floorplan will consist of an auditorium and six classrooms along with an expanded foyer/museum.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE FUTURE
How to Help
There are a number of ways you can still contribute to the effort. As a long-time supporter of the Arkansas FFA Foundation and youth ag programs across the state, we are pleased to share the Farm Credit Associations of Arkansas have secured naming rights for the foyer of the Marion D. Fletcher Leadership Center.
Additional naming rights, as well as a number of other sponsorship and contribution opportunities are available. Please visit www.arkansasffa.org/giving and click on the “Camp Couchdale Capital Campaign” to contribute.