By Lyndsie Schlink, Illinois State
It started out as a typical crisp fall Friday night in the country, watching the sun set over a freshly harvested corn field. Instead of heading back to their farms for the night, four Illinois State Department of Agriculture students were waiting in line together in Pesotum to meet their scholarship donor, country megastar Luke Bryan.
The son of a peanut farmer from Georgia, Bryan is celebrating 10 years of performing Farm Tours at farm-based venues throughout the South and Midwest. He donates a portion of the proceeds for scholarships for students from farm families attending a college or university near the tour stops. As of this year, Bryan has donated more than 50 Farm Tour Scholarships.
This year Illinois State University’s Department of Agriculture was a beneficiary, awarding the Luke Bryan Farm Tour Scholarship to graduate student Joshua McWilliams of Fairbury, senior Zachary Rippel of Roanoke, junior Benjamin Temple of Serena, and senior Susie Thompson of Maple Park.
“Four fantastic students received these scholarships, which are one of the largest scholarships offered by the ag department,” Department of Agriculture Chair Rob Rhykerd said. “The students are all leaders in the Department of Agriculture, student organizations, and have a high grade point average. Receiving this donation was truly a welcomed surprise. It helps highlight the importance of agriculture in people’s lives and our community.”
“Bryan’s background in agriculture and the qualities the farming lifestyle instill in someone are something you cannot measure,” said Waylon Weatherholt, farm tour manager. “Farmers are the backbone of America and this is just one small thing Bryan can do to show tribute to these unsung heroes. His hope is that it lightens a bit of the burden of college tuition for these families.”
One of these recipients, Zachary Rippel, is sergeant at arms of Alpha Zeta.
A third-generation farmer, Zachary developed a passion for agriculture working 15 to 20 hours a week helping his grandpa farm. He loves the diversity farming offers and the personal relationships he’s developed with people in the industry. “I also love that agriculture is leading technology trends consistently to bring better yields and provide for the needs of the world,” he said.
While attending Illinois Central College, one of his professors, an Illinois State alum, recommended that he attend Illinois State to pursue a degree in agribusiness and agronomy management.
“They’ve got a really good program here where it is really personal with small class sizes and individualized attention from professors,” Rippel said. “I came here by recommendation, but I have stayed here because I love it.”
“I thought it was really cool to receive the Luke Bryan Farm Tour Scholarship. It means that I don’t have to take out additional loans this year. I’m thankful that Bryan sees the need for farmers, and the importance of agriculture and supporting students like me who are paying their own way through college,” he said. “When I met Bryan he thanked me for coming to meet him and asked me what I was studying at Illinois State. It was really nice to get the opportunity to meet and thank him for his generosity.”
In addition to his studies and Alpha Zeta, Rippel is treasurer of the Agriculture Ambassadors, member of the FarmHouse Fraternity. Rippel plans to pursue a career in elevator operations management.