For 50 years, the Indiana FFA Leadership Center has been quietly building leaders for the worlds of business, education, politics and agriculture.
Spanning 170 acres of remote woodlands near Trafalgar in Johnson County, the Leadership Center was founded in 1968 primarily as a training site for members of FFA, historically known as Future Farmers of America.
The Indiana FFA Foundation purchased the property in an effort to build a center where students from across the state could gather to relax and have fun, but also pursue the essence of the FFA Motto: “Learning to do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve,” said Joe Martin, Indiana FFA program specialist.
Over time, the center has grown in infrastructure and offerings, and has become a popular training location, as well as a well-liked destination for activities by the public.
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“I think Hoosiers can be very proud of this facility. It is one of a kind,” a smiling Martin said.
Home away from home
The Leadership Center is where Hope resident Natalie Taylor and her fellow Indiana FFA state officers have resided for nearly a year while performing their duties. Taylor, for example, is the state reporter.
The seven state officers live in a house built for them overlooking the lake. The house was built by FFA Alumni and FFA members. The state officers live in the house free of charge, but receive no salary during their term of service.
Under the direction of the Leadership Center staff, the state officers travel throughout Indiana to provide leadership training to members of FFA chapters. They assist with presenting conferences at the center and other responsibilities, while fulfilling the FFA’s mission of making a positive difference in the lives of students by using agricultural education to develop their leadership, personal and career skills.
Few states have an FFA leadership training center, Martin said. Indiana’s has experienced significant growth.
“Originally, there was just one main building and primitive campsites spread around that building,” Martin said.
Now there is a beautiful main lodge and dining room, the Fellowship Hall, a conference center, executive meeting rooms, indoor dormitories, cabins and a shelter house, all designed to enhance and maintain the ambiance of a serene rural setting.
A 5 1/2-acre lake is at the center of the Leadership Center’s grounds. Hiking trails, bike trails, a large parade field, picnic areas, boating docks, camping areas and manicured lawns intertwine in and around the wooded areas that surround the lake.
The Leadership Center has grown through the generosity of many organizations and the dedication of current and former FFA members and the Indiana FFA Foundation, Martin said.
The main function of the center is to further the FFA mission for Indiana FFA members, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 students have visited the center since it began.
“It’s funny, all the groups come in the same way. They come in kind of nervous, a little wild and wondering what this is all about. But, when they leave they are all smiles and relaxed and giving each other hugs . It works the same way every time,” Taylor said.
Conferences are conducted the same way as always, Martin said. Participants come in Friday and leave on Sunday.
“We tell them this is your home when they arrive, and I think most of them feel that way when they leave,” Martin said.
More than FFA
Non-FFA members also have made the Leadership Center a temporary home. Businesses, church groups and other organizations are also use the center for meetings, corporate retreats, organizational conferences, family reunions and area community gatherings.
Outside organizations using the center pay for the center’s services, which helps defray the more than $20,000 dollars a month it costs to maintain the center, Martin said.
“It’s a beautiful setting for a wedding, and we have been having several weddings at the overlook down at the lake. Mostly, it’s people that know the center from when they came here as kids, but we are getting more requests from the outside community, too,” Martin said.
This summer a Wisconsin high school band will travel to the center to have its annual band camp. The national FFA leadership officer team will visit the Indiana FFA Leadership Center for its retreat this summer. Other planned visitors and events include urban groups that do not usually have the opportunity to enjoy a rural experience, leadership conferences, camping excursions and a large variety of special events.
A popular feature for visitors is the center’s 33 low-rope courses in tree-lined groves around the campus, Martin said.
“I’ve been told we have the largest rope course in the state, and we are getting a lot of calls from outside agencies for those,” Martin said.
The rope courses are designed to create a series of team building exercises and challenges amidst a maze of laced ropes.
Some people, however, still consider the Indiana FFA Leadership Center a little-known gem.
“Way back in 1979 and 1980, we had our Indian Creek High School proms there. There wasn’t much to it then, but we had a lot of fun out there,” said long-time Johnson County resident Virginia Prairie. “Now, it’s just a really beautiful place that not enough people even know about. It’s kind of our well-kept neighborhood secret.”
About the center
What: Indiana FFA Leadership Center
When: Built 1968
Where: 6595 S. County Road 125W, Trafalgar
Why: To provide office and training space for Indiana FFA staff and state officers. Serves as home for the state officers during their one year of service. Training site for FFA members and chapters statewide.
Also: Popular site for meetings and activities by businesses, churches and other groups and organizations.
Information: leadershipcenter.inffa.org/ or 317-878-4570