Don’t tell the honoree — because it is still a surprise — that the Neosho High School Agriculture department will host a retirement reception for long-time agriculture instructor and FFA advisor Mike Aldrich on Tuesday evening.

Jennifer Thogmartin, ag instructor and FFA advisor, invites the community, especially past students of “Mr. A,” to a come and go reception in the ag building between 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tuesday to congratulate Aldrich for his 31 years of service to the school district.

“My goal is to get a lot of his former students to come back,” said Thogmartin. “I know he’d like to visit with them. He doesn’t know anything about it so far, as far as I know. I think it’s still a secret.”

She said Aldrich has had over 4,000 students over the years, and whoever would like to come visit with him is welcome.

Thogmartin said Aldrich has spent his entire 31-year teaching career at Neosho.

“And over that time we’ve expanded the program, we’ve expanded our course offerings; he’s just had a huge impact on a lot of students and he’s well known in the community for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “He’s been a big asset to the program.”

Thogmartin said Aldrich has led about five teams to the national level in dairy cattle and forestry and numerous Neosho students have earned state and American degrees during his tenure.

During his 31 years, she said there has not been much turnover in the ag department, as Aldrich has worked with just four other teachers.

“So, we’ve had a lot of continuance with the teachers here at the ag department, so it will kind of start a new era when he leaves.”

Thogmartin said she has learned a tremendous amount by working alongside Mike Aldrich.

“He put up with me as a new teacher to make me the teacher that I am today and helped guide me and motivate me,” she said. “Together, we’ve seen our program grow by almost 100 students since I’ve been here in the last nine years.”

Thogmartin attributes the growth of the program to the complimentary roles the two teachers played with each other.

“Because the things that we like — we don’t overlap in our interests — so the kids are able to utilize us both, because we are definitely both interested in different things and I think that has helped diversify our program,” she said.

Refreshments will be served at the “surprise” retirement reception for Aldrich and again, “mum’s the word.” Thogmartin said his wife, Cindy, will make this newspaper disappear until after the event.