Inside the Agricultural Mechanics Office at Pierce High School was a photo clipped to a file cabinet, one reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. This was no ordinary print, there was an upside down radio flyer wagon, and a young, two year old girl attempting to fix the tire as her father worked on a Ford Fairlane in the background.
After 31 years of running the Agricultural Mechanics program at Pierce High School, Cindy Rohde is retiring.
Known as the ‘FFA Mom’, Rohde has spent teaching students the basics of welding, how to properly identify various parts of an engine, time management and a whole lot of respect and shop etiquette.
Rohde’s career began when it didn’t.
“I never thought I was going to be a teacher,” said Rohde. “My mom and grandmother were teachers, and my mom always told me I was going to be a teacher.”
While working on a ranch as the shop manager, she occasionally worked with a shop teacher in Tollhouse, CA.
“I used to race with him and one day while we were welding on a car he said, ‘why don’t you become a teacher’,” said Rohde. “He said, you really like shop, you like Ag, and kids.”
He knew Rohde would be a perfect fit.
“I thought about it and decided to go back to college and get my credentials,” she said. “I have been doing it ever since.”
How she found Arbuckle, was another story.
While attending the annual Summer Ag Teachers Conference, Rohde met George Green, an aspiring Ag Science Teacher at Pierce High School in the small town of Arbuckle.
“I had interviewed at a few places, and was told about the position in Arbuckle and applied,” she said.
The day before the interview at Pierce, Rohde was offered a job.
“Salinas called and offered me a job; but I told them that I had this interview tomorrow and it was too late to change it. I asked them if we could wait,” she said.
Rohde and her mother made the trip to Arbuckle.
“While I was in the interview, my mom drove around town, and when I got back into the car she said ‘this is where you’re going to teach’,” she said.
When they returned home to Fresno, Rohde received the call – Pierce wanted her.
“I said yes,” she said emphatically. “I came to the right place.”
For Rohde, she always wanted to partake in shop mechanics, and though her parents didn’t let her take shop in high school, she ‘won’ in the end.
“I am super grateful that they hired me at Pierce,” said Rohde. “Lady shop teachers were not a thing, especially at the time.”
For the last 31 years, Rohde has taught several generations of students and proudly watches as they learn and discover their capabilities.
“I have always had a knack for picking the right kids, and giving them a chance to show themselves,” said Rohde.
While she couldn’t recount a favorite moment, Rohde recounted the overwhelming experience of the Arbuckle FFA Field Day.
“The Arbuckle Field Day is the best thing that I was ever involved in,” said Rohde. “It gives kids so many chances for leadership, to show their skills. And to try something new.”
Rohde said that the event encompassed the whole school, the community, and the county.
“It’s so cool watching the community come together, and seeing the kids proud of what they have accomplished,” said Rohde.
The Arbuckle FFA Field day has grown from a few dozen contestants to over 1,000 contestants from schools across the state.
“There is so much tradition with the event,” said Rohde. “It’s pretty amazing that kids want to show up. The community and school is ready for support, and many of the judges for the events are students who’ve come back. The students realize what they are representing. It’s something bigger than themselves.”
The Arbuckle FFA Field Day was recognized by the California FFA Organization in 2018 with the Distinguished Service Citation. And in 2014, Rohde was awarded the Honorary American FFA Degree at the 87th National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.
“When the school bell rings at the end of the day, that’s when the learning begins,” said Rohde.
As Rohde began her next journey she said she was going to miss the county fair, and most of all going to field days.
“Some of my fondest memories were when we went to CalPoly, and went to the ocean,” said Rohde, “So many of the kids have never seen the ocean before, or experienced areas outside of our hometown.”
Rohde plans on working in her garden, expanding her quilting talents, and spending time with family.
“I will come back to the field day and help out,” said Rohde. “We will see what happens.”
“I want to thank everyone in the whole county for supporting our students, and supporting our efforts over the years,” said Rohde. “It has meant a lot to all of them.”
Back in June, Rohde passed the keys on to Dusty Dyer, who will take her place in the Ag shop. Rohde said in a statement, “I had the honor of handing my school keys over to the new shop teacher at Pierce High School. Even though I’m excited about the next chapter in life, after 31 years it was like handing over a huge chunk of my heart. Hundreds of kids live here in my heart. Every single one of them a wonderful and unique gift from God. Every one a part of making me the person I am. I was never going to be a teacher, but God and my mom knew better. Not only did I become a teacher, I became the most blessed teacher ever. So listen to God and your mother. Thank you to my students, my Pierce family, my Ag Teacher family, Arbuckle, and Colusa County. I love you!”
“She’s a shop girl,” said Rohde. “Congratulations Miss Dyer, I know you’ll do great. Take good care of those keys!”
On social media, several former students, co-workers and community members gave their sentiments on Rohde’s retirement.
Steve Criner – “Thank you Mrs Rohde for your service, guidance, knowledge, and the love to teach. Class of 96”
Rebecca Aileen Myers – “So much fun in shop class, thank you for teaching a bunch of girls how to weld!!”
Michelle Tzolov Umfress – “You are a darn good teacher so happy you followed God’s and your Mom’s plan. You blessed hundreds of students and staff members. Congrats.”
Charlie Froh – “I remember being a freshman in 89 you turned that shop completely around in no time. Enjoy your retirement because you have more than earned it.”
Melissa Ehrke Doherty – “Myself, Ann Albertson Graham, and Brenda English were your first girls at Pierce High School. You took one look at us and our big hairspray hairdos and said ‘you girls need to do something about that!’ It was empowering to learn how to weld, wire up a lamp etc. Thank you for all your time.” ■