After unexpectedly having to retire from Sumner High School after 38 years of teaching, National FFA Organization member Greg Pile found out he was ending his career with recognition.
Pile, 64, was awarded the Honorary American FFA degree in August. Every year, FFA chooses teachers from all across the country to receive the award who have demonstrated support of agriculture education programs and have motivated their students to succeed.
Pile is the only member receiving the award this year who is from Washington state.
“I taught for 38 years,” said Pile. “That’s definitely a milestone. (The award) is a wonderful way to cap off my career. I’m very honored.”
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Last year, Pile suffered a stroke. Upon his return to teaching in January 2016, he slipped and fell on a sheet of ice at school and sustained injuries to his head. He decided it was best to retire at the end of the school year last spring.
“It’s not my idea of how (retiring) is supposed to work,” Pile said, “but it’s working out. With all the things that tend to get somebody down, to have this come along and be awarded this, it’s very meaningful to me.”
I taught for 38 years. That’s definitely a milestone. (The award) is a wonderful way to cap off my career. I’m very honored.
Greg Pile, member of Future Farmers of America
Pile’s interest in agriculture and farming began at a young age while visiting and helping out at his uncle’s 450-acre farm in Virginia.
After getting a degree in animal science at the University of California, Davis, Pile moved up to work at Sumner High School in 1978.
“I really wanted to be a part of (agriculture) in any way, shape or form,” Pile said. “I wanted to be outside, working with animals, working with kids.”
While Pile has a passion for agriculture, one of the best parts about teaching, he said, was to work with students and watch them grow up to be successful.
“Without a doubt, the true reward is seeing where your kids have ended up five, 10, 15 years down the road,” he said. “If they wouldn’t have been so awesome, I wouldn’t have gotten up every day and been eager to go to work. This community made me want to keep working for 38 years.”
Pile helps students complete research projects, many of which involve raising sheep, pigs or other farm animals. At the end of the school year at the Washington State Spring Fair, the animals are judged and sold to market.
Pile still keeps in touch with his students, who in turn often keep in touch with him, too.
For his retirement party, Pile’s former students secretly planned to get together to surprise him. Some had been Pile’s students nearly 40 years back.
“Somehow they got it out on social media,” Pile said. “So I think they were pretty confident that I wouldn’t find out. It was really, really meaningful. That moment will be with me forever.”
Without a doubt, the true reward is seeing where your kids have ended up five, 10, 15 years down the road. If they wouldn’t have been so awesome, I wouldn’t have gotten up every day and been eager to go to work. This community made me want to keep working for 38 years.
Mallory Wall-Tweten, one of Pile’s former students who graduated from Sumner High School in 2007, still keeps in touch with him.
“I started working with Greg (during) sophomore year,” said Wall-Tweten. “We got started on a science project where I got the opportunity to work with sophisticated equipment and a sophisticated virus.”
After high school, Wall-Tweten got a job in a laboratory working with the same virus she did for her project, and credits part of her success to Pile. Now 27, she works as a clinical research assistant at Quintiles, a pharmaceutical company based in Denver.
“I don’t think there are words to describe Greg,” she said. “He was a mentor, a friend, and I just count myself really lucky to have known him. He gave me all the tools to be who I am now, not just a successful person in business, but a successful human.”
I don’t think there are words to describe Greg. He was a mentor, a friend, and I just count myself really lucky to have known him. He gave me all the tools to be who I am now, not just a successful person in business, but a successful human.
Mallory Wall-Tweten, Sumner High School graduate
Currently, Pile has been recovering from neck surgery that he had in September, but remains eager to get back outside.
FFA invited Pile to the annual National FFA Convention & Expo on Oct. 21 in Indiana, but Pile won’t be able to attend. Some of his students have been invited, though — 19 of them, to be exact.
“It’ll be the first one I missed in probably the last 35 years,” he said. “But I’m okay with that. (The students) are in good hands.”