SIOUX CITY | As Morningside College President John Reynders sought to give some publicity Thursday to agriculture programs at the Sioux City school,  he hoped things went better than decades ago.

A self-described city kid, Reynders said the last time he drove something along the lines of a farm tractor was when working as high schooler at the zoo in Erie, Pennsylvania. One day he piloted a small tractor with a loader, trying to take some bales of hay to horses.

Reynders struck a door with the loader/bucket, sending splinters flying, and he never had that duty again. Nonetheless, there Reynders was Thursday, gamely climbing into a giant John Deere tractor, then inching north for 200 yards across the Morningside campus. Morningside student Devin Soll sat by him in the cab.

The college's Ag Club members took videos on phones and wore bemused looks, with one yelling out, "Honk the horn!"

Reynders exited, then exhaled, "I'm glad it is over."

The president accepted the students' challenge to get behind the wheel to call attention to National FFA Week, Feb. 18-25.

"The original plan was to have a tractor on display," Ag Club President-elect Rachael Arnts, of Alta said. "Then we thought to make it interactive."

ICON Ag & Turf, a John Deere dealership in Lawton, Iowa, delivered a tractor to campus for the challenge.

After three years of existence, 2017 marks the first time the Morningside Ag Club became an official FFA national affiliate.

The Regina Roth Applied Agricultural and Food Studies program is in its third year at Morningside, following a donation by Roth, a community philanthroper and co-founder and executive at Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products Inc. The college wanted to create the program because Sioux City is in the heart of one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.

"Regina Roth made this happen. It was her gift that got this program off the ground," Reynders said.

The program has three professors, Tom Paulsen, Chris Benson and Rich Crow, 50 students pursuing ag majors and another 25 with minors.

Keaten Miller, a sophomore from Charter Oak, Iowa, majors in agribusiness. Miller looked at Morningside in high school, and said he liked how Morningside students can have a lot of tours of agriculture businesses and get extended internships, also called externships.

"The ag program sold me," Miller said.

Arnts has a major in mass communication and a general agriculture minor. Being one year older and closer to graduation, Arnts said she likes how the Morningside professors are great at pointing out career paths.

"The job outlook is very promising for the ag industry," Arnts said.

Miller noted the publicity event came off pretty well, with Reynders performing up to snuff.

"He did great. He made it all the way there without running into anything or anybody," Miller said.

Arnts hopes Morningside students give the program or Ag Club some consideration.

"If they were involved in FFA in high school and they see the activities we are doing, hopefully that will encourage them to pursue it in college," Arnts said.

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County and education reporter

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