Like nearly everyone involved in agriculture, I too was thrilled after seeing the Chrysler RAM Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey's now famous oration, "So God made a farmer." Even folks who don't farm liked it, ranking it third most popular of the night based on the USA Today Ad Meter.
Maybe it's because we were all so tired of cheesy, over-the-top efforts to sell beer and corn chips and automobiles by then. When we heard Paul Harvey's silky voice begin saying those words, our living room went dead silent. Afterwards we looked at each other in amazement: Did we just hear and see that? A few minutes later my wife got on Facebook and said there was nothing but praise for the commercial.
The next day I got an email from a good friend, Shirley Sokolosky, asking what I thought of "The Ad," as she called it. Terrific, I said. You? "Stunning," she replied.
Then she revealed that her husband, Dee Sokolosky, was on stage at the 1978 National FFA Convention the night Paul Harvey gave the now famous speech.
Having worked at the National FFA Center with Shirley back some 30 years ago, I probably should have remembered this. Dee and Shirley have been fast friends with my wife Molly and I for lo these many years.
Dee, who hails from Owasso, Oklahoma, was finishing up a successful year as national vice president of the western region in 1978. He was finishing his FFA career on a high note, as FFA was celebrating their 50th year anniversary.
"My recollection of that convention was that we had the best group of speakers in the history of the convention: President Jimmy Carter, the Secretary of Agriculture (Bob Bergland), Paul Harvey and Kyle Rote, Jr., who was the preeminent U.S. Soccer player of that era," Dee told me.
"Paul Harvey’s address was very moving and included the portion used in the ad as part of it," he says.
"He (Harvey) is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, so at the conclusion of his address I presented him a lifetime membership in the Owasso FFA Alumni Association, which at the time had the most life members in the U.S."
If you are old enough to remember how Paul Harvey signed off on his daily radio reports, you'll get what Dee told me next.
"As I handed him the plaque, I said, “Your presentation certainly made this a …. good day.”
"There was a nice chuckle through the audience."
Did Paul Harvey write that essay? We don't think so. Bill Stagg, FFA strategic communications director and another friend of more than 30 years, dug up this 1986 syndicated column Paul Harvey wrote. Apparently he received the essay anonymously, then edited and embellished it a bit before publishing it.
Another rumor has it that the "God made a farmer" essay appeared in The Farmer-Stockman magazine back in 1942.
I want to thank Bill for his help digging up "the rest of the story," along withUIPUI librarian Brenda Burk, who helped find the photos at the UIPUI library. Check out this link to the Archives of the National FFA Organization and see what you can dig up at the FFA Archives.