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2023 Nebraska Farm Bureau Silver Eagle Award honors Nebraska’s first AITC statewide coordinator

Nebraska Farm Bureau has selected Ellen Hellerich as the 2023 recipient of its highest honor, the Silver Eagle Award. Hellerich has spent a lifetime breaking down the complexities of agriculture for students and teachers in classrooms across the state of Nebraska. Hellerich served as the statewide program coordinator for the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) program from 1984 to 2011.

“For 27 years, Ellen developed AITC resources tied to state education standards to support teachers in connecting their students to their source of food, fiber and fuel – agriculture. She conducted workshops and ag tours for teachers, worked with education majors at colleges and universities, and led student activities at festivals and expos, to increase awareness of the importance of agriculture. She created the Ag Pen Pal Program, which, over time, has connected more than 100,000 students with a Nebraska farmer or rancher,” said Mark McHargue, Nebraska Farm Bureau president.

Being the statewide AITC program coordinator was more than just a job. She had a natural talent of bringing agriculture and education together in a classroom for teachers and students. Her strong passion for agriculture kept her involved in AITC after her retirement.

“Ellen served as a consultant for the American Farm Bureau Foundation. In that position Ellen developed curriculum materials for teachers to use with the Agriculture Book of the Year, which she helped to select. She also contributed to the National AITC Conference for several years. Ellen contributed to the first agriculture exhibits at the Lincoln and Hastings children’s museums. She provided exhibit consulting and programming at the Omaha Children’s Museum,” McHargue said.

During Ellen’s tenure with the AITC program, she worked to publish the children’s book “Why the Brown Bean was Blue” by Susan M. Pankey. She created “Putting the Pieces Together: Nebraska Agriculture Production Map” and helped design crop cards that correlate with the map. This eventually became the Nebraska Interactive Map Project, which is used by many classrooms today. The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation would not be the successful organization it is today without the strong start provided by Ellen.

“Ellen was at the forefront of integrated learning or bringing several classroom subject areas together into a single activity or unit. She was also a champion for including hands-on learning opportunities for students. She has demonstrated outstanding leadership, provided exemplary service to Nebraska agriculture, and has left her mark on thousands of students and teachers in Nebraska. We are proud to recognize Ellen Hellerich as the 2023 Silver Eagle Award recipient,” McHargue said. The Silver Eagle Award will be presented during the Nebraska Farm Bureau Annual Banquet Tuesday, Dec. 5, in Kearney.

Ellen and her husband, Gary, farm near Valparaiso and are longtime Lancaster County Farm Bureau members as well as donors to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation and the NEFB-PAC. They grow corn and soybeans in rotation and raise Black Angus cattle. The Valparaiso farm was an educational place for many to get hands-on learning about the day-to-day working of a Nebraska farm.

Ellen and Gary raised children who stayed connected to agriculture. They have three grown children: Terri, Koren and Vaden. Their children and spouses and grandchildren have pursued education and careers in veterinary science, food science and technology, meat distribution, livestock environmental compliance and farm financial services. The Hellerich’s have six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau is a grassroots, state-wide organization dedicated to supporting farm and ranch families and working for the benefit of all Nebraskans through a wide variety of educational, service, and advocacy efforts. More than 55,000 families across Nebraska are Farm Bureau members, working together to achieve rural and urban prosperity as agriculture is a key fuel to Nebraska’s economy. For more information about Nebraska Farm Bureau and agriculture, visit

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