06/28/14 — John Tart wins FFA award

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John Tart wins FFA award

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 28, 2014 10:39 PM

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Dr. John Tart leans against a fence on the farm behind his home in Grantham. Dr. Tart was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Carolina FFA Association.

At 86, Dr. John L. Tart has spent the bulk of his life dedicated to agriculture and education -- including an "unprecedented" two-year stint as state FFA president during World War II.

So when the 86th annual FFA State Convention was held recently in Raleigh, it was only fitting that this year's Lifetime Achievement Award went to him.

"His commitment to agriculture and education made him a prime candidate for this award," said Joshua Starling, executive director of N.C. FFA.

About 3,000 people attended the gathering, an opportunity for students and teachers to recognize their success in the Future Farmers of America program.

The organization was also where the long-time Grantham resident got his start.

As an FFA member, he served as the state's FFA president from 1944 to1946, holding the distinction of being the only individual to serve two terms in the role, Starling said.

"Usually, they are only a state officer for one year," he explained. "We had an annual state convention, elected new student officers every year, six of those. Seventy years ago, it was during the war, and because students were deployed, we were not allowed to have a convention during the war. Because of that, his team decided they would serve an additional year. That was unprecedented. It's still unprecedented, that he would serve two terms."

Tart remembers it fondly, as well as the tradition that continues in his own family.

"Seventy years ago last Wednesday (June 18), I was elected state president of FFA," he said. "My grandson Jason (Thornton) was vice president of the state FFA about 10 years ago and my granddaughter Caroline Tart was state vice president two years ago."

The patriarch received his bachelor's degree in education from N.C. State University in 1950 and his doctorate in education in 1969.

He first taught agricultural education at Eureka High School for three years before moving to Grantham High School, where he taught for 12 years. There, he had state winners in prepared public speaking and parliamentary procedure and was able to see one of his students become state FFA president and a national FFA vice president.

His appreciation for parliamentary procedure led to the creation of the Dr. John L. Tart Family FFA Parliamentary Procedure Endowment.

For many years, he was a farmer on the 300-plus acres of Tart Farms in the Grantham community, where he still lives with wife, Marjorie. Their three children -- John Jr., Denny Tart and Dianne Thornton -- all live close by.

"I see everybody every day," Dr. Tart said.

His accomplishments have been impressive, among them serving as N.C. State Grange representative for the N.C. Tobacco Foundation, member of the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center Advisory Board from 2010-2011 and former Wayne County commissioner. He served in the N.C. House of Representatives in the late 1980s and was co-chairman of the House of Appropriations Committee on Education.

Founding president of Johnston Community College from 1969 to 1998, he is credited with the expansion of enrollment and creating a non-profit college foundation to support JCC and generate student scholarships. The John L. Tart and Marjorie S. Tart Scholarship Endowment is still responsible for aiding many JCC students in paying for an education.

He has also been recognized with the state's highest awards, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and Citizen of the Year.

His avid interest in education and agriculture has been carried on by several family members. His son, Denny, was agriculture teacher at Rosewood High School for many years before retiring from Wayne County Public Schools and granddaughter, Caroline Tart, a recent graduate of NCSU, will begin teaching the subject in New Bern in the fall.

The Lifetime Achievement Award came at a particularly poignant time. Tart was diagnosed with lung cancer in April, had surgery a month later and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

His daughter, Dianne, a retired teacher, said the family was not only proud of their father and grandfather but pleased that he was able to attend the recent ceremony.

"I had no idea that I was even being considered for it. I got a letter in the mail," Tart said at his home earlier this week. "It was probably the biggest honor I ever received."