It was no longer a surprise to the honoree when the reception began Tuesday evening for Mike Aldrich, but the reception he received was no surprise to the many who packed the Neosho High School Agriculture building to bid farewell to the ag instructor and FFA advisor who is retiring after 31years of service to the R-5 school district, and the 4,000 people he has called his students over those years.

One of those former students is Holly (Turner) DeGonia, who called Aldrich her instructor from 2001 to 2004, and now calls him “mentor.”

“Mr. A was very instrumental in my life, and continuing on through high school and college,” she said. “When it came to judging horses, being active in agriculture and actually extending myself beyond the knowledge that I already had of horses into other species, into the livestock end of it, into the crops end of it, and really helped develop my knowledge that so much of it I’ve been able to use the rest of my life. I’ve always really been appreciative and he’s always believed in me and I never forgot about that. I always really, really appreciated the time that he spent with me trying to develop my knowledge in the contest area, and just anything about FFA. He was always very helpful.”

DeGonia said it is apparent how much Aldrich cares about his kids. Hating to remember that is has been 10 years since she was in high school, she stated, “Anytime you see him, he remembers all of his kids. All those kids that were active, he remembers us, and you can tell that he really, truly cared about each and every one of his kids. And if you had a desire to learn he would do everything he could to help you along the way.”

Aldrich said he has learned much from the kids in his 31 years.

“You’ve got those kids that you know are going to make something out of their lives, and then you’ve got others that you really wonder,” he said. “And I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of those kids as students, and that’s really cool.

“You’re tickled anytime you see a kid get out and succeed in life. I mean, that’s why we become teachers.”

He said the Food For America program, which he had in high school, is what inspired him to become a teacher.

“Because my two passions: I’ve always loved kids — as one of the oldest of 10 kids maybe is part of that — and then I’ve always loved agriculture. I guess that was bred into me.”

Upon retirement at the end of the school year, “Mr. A” said he will definitely miss the kids.

“But what I won’t miss is the in-service, but definitely the kids and seeing them succeed,” Aldrich said. “One of my favorite deals is watching the kids compete, and then I’ve had wonderful help and support here in the community — Mike Wilson helping out with dairy cattle, Brian Scott with agronomy and Gary Smith with forestry — and just all the people in the community that’s help teach me, too, and helped the kids. I’ll miss that part and I will miss the everyday interaction with the kids, too.”

Though he is retiring, Aldrich is sure he’s not finished teaching. He mentioned the possibility of substitute teaching at Neosho, or working for such agencies as University Extension, the Conservation Department, and the National Park Service.

“I’m going to find something for a couple more years before I totally quit working,” he said. “I just like teaching, and so that’s what I’m going to do, is teach some way, somehow, in some form.”

Planned as a surprise, which his wife, Cindy Aldrich, was able to keep the lid on despite an invitation to the community to attend the reception in Sunday’s edition of the Neosho Daily News, Cindy Aldrich said the surprise was kept until earlier in the day Tuesday, when a youngster told Mr. A, “I’ll see your family tonight at your party.”