It was a well-kept secret. For months, representatives from Nationwide and the Iowa FFA had planned to present a surprise award to Brad Taylor, the ag instructor and FFA advisor at Roland-Story High School.


Weather caused the presentation to be rescheduled a handful of times since December. But on Feb. 5, in front of an auditorium full of surprised students and staff, Taylor found out he is one of seven finalists for the Nationwide Golden Owl Award.


Taylor received a commemorative plaque, a prize of $500 and a standing ovation for the dedication he’s exhibited in his 41 years of teaching and “leading future leaders in agribusiness.”


Taylor was the finalist chosen from the Northcentral District of Iowa. Seven teachers from Iowa and 10 teachers from Ohio were selected as honorees, each receiving a $500 prize and entrance into the final selection stage. One honoree from each state will be chosen for the grand prize, winning the Golden Owl Award and a $3,000 prize.


In Iowa, the grand prize will be awarded April 15 during the State FFA Convention in Ames. At that time, Taylor and the other finalists will go through an interview process with a panel of judges.


Now in its inaugural year, the Golden Owl Award is designed to reward educators for their dedication and support for their continued educational efforts, according to Steve Ferreira, the Nationwide representative who presented Taylor with his giant commemorative check as well as a real one to take to the bank.


“From Aug. 1 through Nov. 16, we’ve worked together to ask students, faculty and community members to nominate a deserving teacher,” said Iowa FFA representative, Josh Remington.


The result was 369 nominations for 92 different Iowa teachers. Multiple nominations were submitted for Taylor.


“Mr. Taylor has been teaching for a lot of years, yet he approaches each year with the same energy and level of commitment to the contests, conventions and the projects that his students have,” stated one nomination. “He plain loves kids and agriculture and loves to see both succeed!”


In his comments after receiving the award, Taylor turned the praise back on his students.


“Most of what has been mentioned is all because of you students and the desires you have to be the best that you can always be,” Taylor said.


Taylor has developed a comprehensive program that provides students with a holistic educational experience and opportunities for both academic and practical achievements.


Even though the Roland-Story community is mostly made up of non-agricultural students, with Taylor’s leadership and impacts, he has nearly one-third of the entire student population in his classes.


“He is impacting students so that they understand the opportunities that exist in agriculture,” Ferreira said.


Taylor has built a reputation among students, staff and community members that generates enthusiasm for students to take his classes.


“He gets many non-farm kids to participate in his class at a time when agriculture numbers are shrinking and it is extremely important to tell the story of agriculture to our youth,” Remington said.


“We created this award to bring attention to the growing need for agricultural teachers in this country,” said Brad Liggett, president of agribusiness for Nationwide, in a press release. “Providing teachers with these additional resources will help develop their programs and provide their students with an optimal learning experience. Our goal is to spread this award to more states in the coming years to highlight all the talented agriculture teachers across the country.”


“After 41 years, he still comes to work and is here before almost anybody, he’s still one of the last ones to leave, and he still loves what he does,” Roland-Story High School principal Steve Schlatter said of Taylor.