From left to right: Brad Hook, Shawn Hook, Drake Hook, Dan May, Wayne principal Stacy Snyder and superintendent Dave Daughton.
On April 11, the lights were dimmed at Hilton Coliseum. It was the 89th annual Iowa FFA Leadership Conference. That day, Drake Hook achieved a recognition no other Wayne Community High School student has ever claimed before—being named Star Over Iowa winner in the area of ag production. It was just another example of Hilton magic.
There were six finalists for the award. In Wayne vocational agriculture teacher Dan May’s six years at the school, Hook was the first to reach that marquee status, which was an honor in itself—finalists were chosen from a pool of 646 members that had earned the Iowa FFA Degree, which is the organization’s highest honor.
“We were up on stage in Hilton Coliseum,” May said. “And the whole place was dark except for the lights when they were playing Drake’s video.”
Attending the ceremony with Hook were Wayne superintendent Dave Daughton, Wayne secondary principal Stacy Snyder, May, Hook’s father Brad, and his mother Shawn Hook, a second grade teacher at Wayne Elementary School.
“When we told Mr. Daughton about it,” May said, “he was joking with Drake—‘If we’re going to drive clear to Ames, we’d better win.’
“I knew Drake had a good shot. When we were back in the photography room, one of the judges came back, and some of the comments he shared about Drake—how he could see the passion for his project through his interview, and that it came from the heart. He even made the comment that Drake wowed the judges.
“We drove clear to Ames, and Drake didn’t let them down.”
“I wouldn’t say I was shocked, but I was somewhat surprised,” Hook said about winning the championship. “Because all of the other finalists had done some impressive things as well. Mentally, I was trying to stack up what I’d done against what they’d done. I really didn’t know what the outcome would be.
“It was more gratification—that you’ve worked at something for so long that you’re rewarded, and everybody can see the fruits of your labor. It’s more of a relief to see your work has been highlighted in such a positive way.”
It is also something that will serve as encouragement as Hook continues with agriculture.
“It adds fuel to the fire,” Hook said.
“That goes along with their supervised ag experience, or SAE,” May said of the basis of the judges’ decision. “We found out before State Convention he was one of six of the Star finalists, which was a pretty big deal. To get the top six was a lot about what skills he’s learned, how he’s used those skills, growth of the project, and knowledge he can use later in life—managing your money, being able to reinvest and keep growing.
“When he started, on Drake’s record he had a few market hogs, and he’s grown his herd clear up to about 30 sows he farrows. That’s a big feat for a high school student.”
“I’ve learned more about the proper management,” Hook said. “Such as when you need to sell a female versus keeping one back for your own herd. Learning how to market them properly so they end up in good homesreaching the most value they can have. Switching things around so negative numbers become positive numbers. Basically, ways to unlock the most potential out of your herd.”
“He interviewed that afternoon [April 11],” May said of reckoning day in Ames. “And then on stage, they go and introduce all the candidates. Star finalists tell about their project. And then [they] name the Star over Iowa.”
“It was basically more of a conversation than an interview,” Hook said. “They asked me how I got started, and where I saw my project going in the future. They asked me about some of the financial aspects, like how much return I’d been seeing on my project.”
Hook’s SAE project is swine production. He started in 2014 with two sows.
“It’s grown to over 30 sows currently that farrow year round to raise competitive show pigs for shows and customers nationwide,” Hook said. “My herd’s comprised of multiple different breeds. On top of show pigs, I try to raise breeding stock—the genetics of the industry.”
Hook excels as a showman as well. Last summer, he won Grand Champion Berkshire Boar at the 2016 World Pork Expo.
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Though Hook has livestock judging scholarships lined up at Black Hawk College, Northern Oklahoma College, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, and Illinois Central College, family and agriculture will keep him in Wayne County.
“I plan on coming back home and farming,” Hook said. “And keep going with the show pig operation.”
Drake’s father films livestock for online sales, a profession that finds him away from home often. But grandfather Marvin Hook owns around 300 cattle, and runs a 600-head feedlot just south of the junction of Highway 2 and 65.
Currently, Drake leases 65 head of cattle from his grandfather. He has sold calves for two seasons.
“Basically after high school I’m being primed to take over the whole herd, his whole operation,” Hook said. “Because he’s 80-years-old and still doing it all by himself.”
“He spends two to three hours in the barn during farrowing season,” May said of Hook’s dedication to his chosen profession. “Most people would think Drake’s not the most active person in our chapter, or even in other activities in the school, but I know what he’s doing. I’ve been around.
“To see from the first year I went out to tag FFA pigs to this year, when I probably have to go out and tag about 20 of them—just to see how [Hook’s] herd has expanded, it takes a lot of dedication and passion for the industry. This is something that wouldn’t happen overnight. There’s been a lot of hard work and struggle to see this success. It’s definitely a family-oriented thing for him. Some of the success is the support he has.”
When Hook is on the road showing hogs, his family picks up the slack.
“It’s more of a drive to be successful than anything,” Hook said. “You always want to be the best at everything you do. So I guess all the extra hours and decisions made are working toward being number one—being the one everyone looks at and says he’s at the top of the game. Basically trying to be up there so everyone is chasing what I’ve accomplished. It’s a competitive drive.”
There is also a softer side to Hook and animal husbandry. Family is important to a farmer’s success, and sometimes the animals become family. They can be treated ethically even if they later become food.
“You’ve got to have some sort of emotional attachment,” Hook said. “If you don’t care about them on a deeper level than a dollar value, you’re probably not giving it your all. You don’t necessarily have to get attached to them, but you have to understand them and be close to them to get the most out of them. If you care, it shows.
“[But] you can’t let your emotions get caught up in it. You make friends, but you’ve got to be able to let them go.
“Especially on the sows versus the market hogs. The sows, chances are I raised it as a baby, so I saw its full life circle. I showed it, we probably got along successfully, then I throw them back into the herd. It’s kind of sad when you have to see them go.
“You’ve been with them their whole life. Even if there is one that’s done so much for me, it’s maybe time for them to be at the end of their cycle, such as an older sow. Some people might cull them. There are some great ones you might want to keep around you can’t part with, just because you’re emotionally attached to them. As long as they’re not in pain. If they’re laboring and it’s hard for them, the best thing to do is just let them go.”
May anticipates Hook’s success snowballing into something bigger for other Wayne students in the FFA program:
“I just hope seeing his success, future members will have the same passion and drive.”