By Angela Askey Central Arizona College
SIGNAL PEAK — Steven Sipes of Casa Grande has been named the 2017 Dean Merrell Lifetime Achievement Award recipient by the South Central District of the Arizona Association of FFA.
Sipes was raised in the small farming community of San Simon in southeastern Arizona. His agricultural background blossomed as he worked on the family’s small farm and ranch, where he learned about raising crops and livestock.
“My parents were the greatest influence on my success; respecting others, working hard, playing fair and never giving up when things get tough are values they lived by,” Sipes said. “They taught me all of life’s valuable lessons and I am indebted to them for that.”
In 1984, Sipes graduated from San Simon High School and went on to the University of Arizona, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education four years later. In 1998, he completed a master’s degree in agricultural education.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Sipes began his professional career as an agricultural educator at Casa Grande Union High School in 1988. Seven years later he took a position teaching agriculture at Coolidge High School but later returned to CGUHS. After spending 25 years in the classroom, Sipes accepted the position of career and technical education director for the Casa Grande Union High School District.
When asked why he chose to teach, Sipes said, “Seeing the spark in a child’s eye when they watch a calf being born, witness a plant seed germinate, harvest their first vegetable with their own hands or run their first bead with an arc welder is an amazing feeling. Agriculture is the lifeblood of America and I wanted my students to learn to love, respect and appreciate the industry that is responsible for their very existence.”
“Much like Dean Merrell, Sipes has practiced what he preaches,” said Karen Geldmacher, professor of agriculture at CAC. “We are honored to present this award to a man who has dedicated his entire career to working with Pinal County youth. Steven is truly deserving of this prestigious recognition.”
Sipes first met Dean Merrell as a freshman in high school while attending an FFA cotton judging contest hosted at CAC. When he was hired to teach ag at CGUHS, their professional relationship began.
“I am honored to be named the recipient of the 2017 Dean Merrill Lifetime Achievement Award. Dean was a great man that influenced many students during his agricultural career. He mentored me as a young teacher, like he did with many others, and helped me through those first couple of years that are always the hardest,” Sipes said. “Not only did I have a professional relationship with Dean, we developed a personal relationship as well. Three of Dean and Connie’s children were agriculture students of mine early in my teaching career.”
Sipes and his wife, Julie, have been married for 27 years. They have two children, who both recently graduated from the University of Arizona with bachelor’s degrees in agriculture. They enjoy spending time as a family and enjoying the outdoors.
Merrell is considered to be the founding father of agricultural education at CAC. He farmed for over two decades. Additionally, he was a pest control adviser, owner and operator of Hacienda Ag Labs and served as president of the Pinal County Farm Bureau, the Pinal County Fair Board and the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association. He also was an adviser of the CAC rodeo club, an academic adviser and livestock committee chairman.
Each year, CAC’s Dean Merrell FFA Field Day brings together students from the south central Arizona region to compete in events such as agricultural issues, agricultural mechanics, agronomy, dairy management, entomology, horse evaluation, job interview, livestock evaluation, meats evaluation, nursery operations, range management, and soil and wildlife management.