By Rebecca Renshaw
Jim Legacy’s passion for agriculture started at an early age. Now, he and his wife, Sue, are sharing that passion with others.
The Legacys donated $1 million from their charitable trust to the SIU College of Agricultural Sciences. Per their wishes, 80 percent will help fund scholarships for SIU students who participated in Future Farmers of America, and 20 percent will go toward faculty.
Jim Legacy came to SIU in 1977 as professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. He retired at the end of 2001.
“The most enjoyable experience of my life was being a professor,” he said. “As an instructor, you have these 18-year-old kids who come ready to learn from your knowledge. They carry a great deal of respect for a professor, and you end up playing an important and often extended role in their lives.”
During his tenure, he had multiple students come to his home for dinner and attended many of their graduation ceremonies and even weddings.
Legacy participated in international agricultural projects that took him all over the world.
“SIU gave me so many memorable experiences that I will never forget,” he said. “I traveled to Africa, China, Jamaica and Western Samoa to do meaningful work. It definitely enriched my life.”
Hard work & education
Born on a dairy farm in upstate New York, Legacy’s first agricultural experience came when he was 10 years old and his grandfather gave him 50 chicks to raise. As he neared high school, he received land from his father, and he milked 15 cows every day for nearly four years.
“I took math and science and vocational agriculture at Franklin Academy High School, and those classes furthered my interest in getting higher education degrees in agriculture,” Legacy said. “I had an agriculture teacher who encouraged me to go to college and get a degree in agriculture. I listened to him.”
Using the money he saved milking cows, Legacy attended Cornell University, earning his doctorate from Cornell in 1976. He was quickly hired by Purdue as an assistant professor of agriculture. After one year there, he began searching for a university that would give him the freedom to be his own person.
“SIU was a perfect match for me and my family. SIU allowed me to teach students how I wanted and run my program the way I saw fit,” he said.
An investment in the future
The Legacys strongly believe in the value of the FFA, which made it the clear choice for financial support.
“The FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of high school students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success,” he said. “There are over 700,000 student members in grades 7 through 12 who belong to FFA chapters, and what is surprising is that most of them are not farm kids.
“It provides students with a huge structure. It teaches them how to speak in public, gives them direction and shapes them into leaders.”
Legacy said there aren’t enough instructors to teach all these students. Last year, Illinois universities graduated 28 individuals who received an Agricultural Education Teacher Certification. However, there were 97 open teaching positions throughout secondary schools in the state. He’s hoping more scholarship opportunities will encourage more agriculture majors to obtain a teaching certificate.
“Most high schools have abandoned vocational programs. Agricultural programs like the FFA are the few that still exist,” Legacy said. “It’s a program that can make so many young kids shine. My hope is that this donation will help SIU and further the mission of the FFA.”