Tracy’s ag heritage perpetuated by students of today
by Sam Matthews
May 18, 2014 | 1920 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In years gone by, one of my assignments as a young reporter for the Press was covering agricultural news. In that capacity, each May, I attended the annual awards banquet of the Tracy High Future Farmers of America chapter.

Since then, the organization’s name has been shortened to FFA in an attempt to broaden its appeal beyond “farmers,” but the annual awards banquet looks remarkably the same — with one major difference.

Last week, I attended this year’s FFA awards banquet in Tracy Community Center, where I could see the similarities with the past and the difference.

I was there to present the first Mike Erceg Memorial Scholarship. Mike, who died last June at the age of 81, had been an FFA member while attending Tracy High School. He was one of “Uncle Wally’s boys,” Mike said on occasion, referring to Wallace Englund, FFA adviser and ag teacher in the 1940s and ’50s. Mike’s family knew any scholarship bearing his name should be directed to the FFA chapter.

Mike’s wife, Jackie, couldn’t attend last Thursday’s FFA banquet, so she asked me to make the presentation.

The FFA officers opened the evening by going through their traditional opening-of-meeting ritual. And that’s when I noticed the major difference from the days of old. All of the chapter officers, save one, were girls.

In contrast to the past, when FFA was an all-boys organization, I knew girls were now an important part of FFA. But having all those girls as chapter officers really brought that fact home to me.

During the evening, the girls certainly demonstrated why they had been chosen to be chapter leaders.

Anyway, the lone boy in the officer corps was Matthew Simonich, who was chapter vice president during the past year. And as it turned out, he was the winner of the Mike Erceg $1,000 scholarship.

When it came my turn to go to the podium, I ticked off Matt’s accomplishments and attributes. He does have an impressive record reflecting hard work and dedication — in the Tracy High Ag Science department, FFA chapter activities, raising registered goats and working on area farms. He plans to attend Delta College and then transfer to either Fresno State or Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, to study ag economics.

And then, when it came to time to hand him the scholarship certificate, I realized I had left it on the table. While my wife, Joan, was fetching it for me, I had a chance to say a few words about Matt’s lineage that made my participation in presenting the scholarship even more meaningful.

“Two of Matt’s grandparents, Leroy Simonich Sr. and Rhoda Simonich, were in my class (1950) at Tracy High School,” I said. “While Leroy was out working in the ag shop, Rhoda (Rodgers) and I were putting out the Scholar & Athlete student newspaper.”

Both Leroy and Rhoda have passed away, but I was glad to see the Simonich legacy living on through a grandson with such an accomplished record and bright future.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, is traveling in Europe until early June, When he returns, he can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at

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