MCCOOL JUNCTION – Clay Real had a dream which his McCool Junction FFA friends are now living.
Real died tragically a year ago last fall during his first few days in Lincoln as a University of Nebraska freshman.
His legacy will live on and on and on, however, by way of the Clay Real Livin’ the Dream Animal Lab across the street west of McCool Junction High School.
FFA advisor Dana Hall described the unlikely chain of events that led to the new ag education asset that McCool students will soon be using.
She said Clay rode home from a state FFA event with York advisor Jason Hirschfelt.
“He came back all excited about what he had seen,” she said.
Clay told his dad, Ken, of his dream to create one in McCool Junction… the dream that was planted in his head by the visit to York. Unbeknown to Ken, he also told Hall.
Neither knew he had told the other, but once they found out wheels began to turn.
“It’s amazing,” said Hall. “He was 17 years old at the time and already he knew what he wanted his legacy to be.”
The Farmers Co-Op in town offered up two-thirds of a building across the street from the high school for the FFA to house its project and work was completed to empty out the space after which floors were painted, air and heat were installed and other improvements made.
Clay’s dream was off and running and it hasn’t slowed down yet.
Hall explained that anytime Clay was asked “How are you?” his standard answer, always delivered with a mile-wide smile, was, “I’m livin’ the dream.”
Thus was born the name for the new animal lab.
Clay, said FFA president Alex Shockey, “Was a real good guy. He always had a smile on his face and an upbeat attitude about everything.”
Hall said last fall, on the “anniversary of when he died” demolition and construction began.
The army of volunteers that pitched in, she added, proves once and for all, “What a special place our town is.”
“It’s been overwhelming the people who have stepped up help,” said Ken.
The school’s FFA Chapter, nearly 50 members strong, will get off to a fast start thanks to Dalton Obermier’s gift of a gilt that will deliver her piglets in the lab’s first large animal project.
Hall said excitement for that big day is already building among students in the school.
“Clay wanted people to know about the production side” or agriculture. “Where their food comes from,” Hall said.
Once everything is in place the students will be able to house a menagerie that runs from ferrets, hedgehogs, rabbits, chinchillas, baby chickens to a frog, his turtle friend and the largest farm animals.
Speaking of amphibians reminds that the lab will include an aquiculture tank in which to raise fish as well. Students would like to watch some largemouth bass grow and develop and also to add crawdads, tadpoles and bigger frogs to their wet environment.
Funding begins with a $15,000 gift from Clay’s family to which the Nebraska FFA Foundation added $1,500. McCool FFA also won a video contest hosted by the Foundation that earned a $1,000 prize, too.
In an article in the Foundation’s 2014-2015 annual report, Hall said, “We’ve seen an increased interest in taking Ag Ed classes and not just from our traditional ag kids. This will also really give our students an opportunity to teach their peers, younger students and the community about animals, animal care and where their food comes from. And to just continue living Clay’s dream.”
Once a month the News-Times travels to area towns to find out what is interesting and unique to that community. This month’s featured
community is McCool Junction.