6/22/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
Ag Leader Recalls Career
Charlene M. <\n>Shupp Espenshade
MEHOOPANY, Pa. — Poet Robert Frost once wrote that he took the road less traveled by and that made all the difference. The life of Victor Cappucci of Mehoopany also could be described by Frost’s famous poem.
The basement of his home is filled with framed photos and certificates along with collections of booklets and other items documenting his travels and the evolution of his farm.
Cappucci says he has the best job today: “retired.” Until five years ago, he actively managed a registered Hereford herd. Today, he rents his cropland to a nearby dairy farmer.
“It was all exciting,” Cappucci said of his start in farming and other careers.
He was elected to the 1956-57 National FFA officer team, one of only 10 Pennsylvania FFA members who have been elected to national office.
When Cappucci was active in the FFA program, it was a time of widespread school consolidations across the United States.
While he was in school, Mehoopany High School merged with Tunkhannock High School, and Cappucci joked that the merger doubled the size of the FFA chapter. Afterward, he was elected the chapter’s president.
He was also the president of the area chapter, called SusWyCo, for Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.
The Tunkhannock FFA Chapter continues today, Cappucci is its only past state and national FFA officer. He earned Keystone and American Farmer degrees, and is also a state and regional Star Farmer Award winner for his FFA dairy project.
Cappucci purchased a dairy farm near his parents, so they could expand their operation.
“I purchased this farm on shares,” he said, explaining that he made a monthly payment for the property for 10 years.
While the family was expanding its operation, Cappucci ran for state FFA office and was selected vice president. After his year as a state officer, he married Millie.
The couple took their honeymoon at the National FFA convention, where Cappucci ran for national office and became regional vice president of the 1956-57 team.
Those were the days when FFA was an all-boys club.
“There were no girls there,” Millie Cappucci said.
For the first year of their marriage, the Cappuccis were on the road representing FFA. In response, the team presented one of the first honorary American Farmer degrees to Millie, who says she still enjoys attending national conventions with her husband and being around talented young people.
There is no official count of how many national officers were married during their year of service. However, according to the National FFA office, it is rare.
The year Cappucci spent as a National FFA officer opened many doors and provided several memorable experiences. In addition to visiting FFA members, the officer team met with industry leaders, governors, U.S. senators and congressmen.
When meeting someone, Cappucci would introduce himself as a farmer from Mehoopany, near the Susquehanna River, and a member of the Tunkhannock FFA chapter, to highlight the Native American names that are commonplace in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Cappucci learned a lesson during a visit with upper management at General Motors.
After finishing his introduction, one marketing manager told Cappucci he knew exactly where he was from “because I used to sell cars to Sherwood Chevrolet,” referring to the local car dealership.
Cappucci said it was then that he learned that you never know whom you will meet and how small the world can be.
Among his other adventures that year, Cappucci, who is a member of Forkston Grange, was able to attend the National Grange meeting with his wife, where they received their National Grange, or seventh, degrees.
He also visited the Firestone family ranch, the DuPont chemical plant, tractor factories and other agricultural businesses. His officer team was one of the first to serve as host for the Future Farmers of Japan, or FFJ. Today, the FFA National Officer Team travels to Japan.
Cappucci had planned to visit that country, but the nuclear power plant meltdown canceled the past officer trip to Japan.
Although he met some powerful people as a national officer, Cappucci said he never forgot his roots. And when he hung up his FFA jacket, he returned home to the farm.
Cappucci’s brother also joined the farm operation. Unfortunately, the family partnership did not work out as planned, so Victor and Millie decided to exit the family business.
Cappucci said he and his wife needed to retool their farm and he remembered visiting the Montana ranch of national officer Rogerric Knutson and liking Knutson’s Herefords.
“They were beautiful, and I wanted to raise those,” he said.
The only caveat the family had with the idea was the Herefords had to be polled. The children did not like cattle with horns.
“We worked at it for 40 years,” he said of his time raising breeding stock for the registered herd.
“The hardest part of the whole thing, I would go to night school, feed cows, clean the barn out and be eating supper at 11 o’clock at night,” he said.
His wife and children also helped with the herd when Cappucci was out of town.
At the same time, Cappucci was asked if he would be willing to sell advertising for the FFA magazine called The Future Farmer. He agreed and traveled the Eastern U.S. and through several Canadian provinces.
Cappucci credits his wife and children for holding down the fort while he was on the road during the week.
Cappucci said he has always had an off-farm job in addition to marketing his Herefords.
Other career moves were as plant manager for a fragrance company and a couple of other manufacturing plants, general manager for Cooperative Feed Dealers in New York state, and Tunkhannock branch manager for Farm Credit.
He is also a past president of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.
If there is one piece of advice he has, it is to treat others with respect. Twice in Cappucci’s career, former employees became his boss.
He also recalled being on the job for just six weeks at Cooperative Feed Dealers, when the business found itself in a financial crisis.
Instead of panicking, Cappucci rolled up his sleeves, hired a young attorney and accountant, and worked with them to recapitalize the cooperative and refinance its obligations.
The cooperative is still going strong today.
Although Cappucci’s career took him away from his FFA roots, he said he continues to appreciate the values the program provided and to marvel at how much it has changed.
When Cappucci was an active member, the debate began about including women in the organization’s membership, a discussion that wasn’t settled until 1969, when FFA finally welcomed female members.
Additionally, the organization has changed its focus from vocational agriculture to agricultural education, and in 1988 changed its name from Future Farmers of America to the National FFA Organization to reflect the growing diversity in the agricultural industry.
Talking about the projects that FFA students complete today, Cappucci said there are so many more choices compared with when he served. Looking out the windows at his farm, he said it’s a lot like how farms have changed as well.
Cappucci said he enjoys working with youth, something that is tied to his roots in FFA.
“Charlie Wiggins, Ray Wilson and Forest Allmiller were my mentors,” he said of his FFA advisers, recalling that they often encouraged him to try new things.
He said he also remembered going with his FFA officer team or parliamentary procedure team to Tunkhannock Rotary or Kiwanis meetings, where the team would get to practice running a meeting or describing what their chapter members were doing.
And like those who invested in him, he said, he has returned the favor by investing in others, such as helping to start a 4-H beef program in Wyoming County, coaching little league baseball, and mentoring youth through the Wyoming County Christian Evangelism Fellowship.
The desire to serve is common among national officers, according to Rheba Howard of the National FFA Foundation.
“I have talked with many of our past national officers, there being over 507 total, and they all say the same thing, that FFA was a major influence in their life and that without it, they would not be where they are today,” she said. “Even though they are no longer national officers, they are still influencing today’s members.”
Cappucci said that when he gets around FFA members, either past national officers or current members, “talking to them, I feel like I am 18 again, not approaching 80.”
Perhaps that’s why he can often be spotted in the background at national and state FFA meetings, encouraging those youngsters to reach for their own dreams.<\c> Photos by Charlene Shupp Espenshade
Victor Cappucci looks over some mementos from his time as a national FFA officer.
Victor Cappucci shows his FFA awards and compares his keystone degree charm to Maris Wilson and Austin Albright’s charms.
Victor Cappucci visits with FFA members Maris Wilson and Austin Albright. Behind him are his three FFA jackets: chapter, state and national officer.