Reporter: Ellie Mahan
August 4, 2021
For his many years of dedication and service to the agricultural education community, Chester Booth was inducted into the Texas Agriculture Teachers Association Hall of Fame at the Agriculture Teacher’s Conference at Corpus Christi American Bank Convention Center Thursday, July 22.
Booth was born in Whitney in June of 1937 and raised here. He grew up to be an educator of agriculture for a total of 31 years. Of those years, 21 were spent at Whitney High School.
“It was a job I enjoyed, and I think that’s important.” Booth said. “What really makes it special is that since I’ve been retired for about 30 years, about once a month, I’ll have somebody come up to me and tell me how much they appreciated what I did for them. Now, I can name probably 10 that I’ve had in class who are already retired.”
Booth has been invested in agriculture since around seven years old, when he drove a tractor and pulled corn by hand. Booth’s education journey began in 1943, in a one-room schoolhouse. He transferred to Whitney in 1950, where he enjoyed his agriculture mechanics classes that he took with JF ‘Farmer’ Brown as his teacher. Brown contributed to Booth’s love for agriculture.
Under Brown’s direction, Booth obtained his Lonestar Degree, showed a calf at the county fair, and showed and bred hogs. He caught a calf at the Houston Calf Scramble and was awarded $200 to buy a calf. Booth said Brown inspired him and made him want to be a teacher.
Booth said, “He [Brown] thought a lot of his students. I think that it’s important that you respect the students that you have. I did my best in working with students to encourage them to take responsibility for their actions.”
Booth graduated high school as valedictorian of his senior class in 1954. He then went on to pursue education further at Tarleton State University.
About the money he earned by selling the Houston Calf Scramble calf, Booth said, “The profit that I made off of that calf probably paid for about a year [of college]. Of course, back then between about 500 and a thousand dollars was the cost of a year of college.”
Booth also raised 100 turkeys, worked in the cafeteria and mowed lawns on campus to pay for college. At the time, Tarleton was a two-year school, so he transferred to Texas A&M, majoring in Agricultural Education. He earned his American Farmer degree and graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Education.
While at A&M, he was Second Lieutenant in the A&M Corp and had an eight year obligation to the military. In 1959, he worked as a teaching assistant at A&M while he worked on his Master’s degree.
He took his first agriculture teaching job in Axtell, where he taught for nine years, because that was as close to Whitney as he could get. Booth spent his summers going to short courses at colleges around the state learning everything he could about agricultural mechanics.
In 1968, he took a job at Aquilla teaching agriculture. Because the agriculture chapter in Aquilla was only two years old at the time, the school didn’t have an ag building, so Booth created a functioning agriculture space at the school.
In 1970 he began teaching the metal working side of the agriculture department in Whitney. Whitney went on to win the Ag Mechanics Show at the Heart O’ Texas Fair for 20 straight years. Throughout his 21 years, he took numerous Whitney students to Leadership Development Events and Career Development Event contests.
“They added the second ag teacher at Whitney, and I jumped at the chance for it partially because of Jimmy Box. He was a good teacher and had already built a good program here. If he was still alive, he would’ve been the first one to get nominated for the hall of fame,” Booth said.
Booth said Jimmy Box, who passed away, was a mentor to him, and he admired Box’s teaching style. Booth attributes his passion for teaching to Box along with his high school teacher JF ‘Farmer’ Brown, and his colleagues Rick Boles, Clarence Richter and Rick Pinner.
“Those guys deserve some of the credit for what I got, along with many many many super students,” Booth said.
Booth said he enjoyed taking his hobby of metal work and turning it into a career.
He said, “I had good superintendents who I worked with and for, so that makes a difference too. That just makes your work that much more enjoyable. I loved getting to see my students build something like a metal project and take it to a Texas fair at Waco and show it because I got to see how much they appreciated it when they won. When they built something, I liked seeing the enjoyment they get out of finishing what they started.”
Lauren Girsh, who has taught agriculture at Grand Prairie High School for the past two years and will teach language arts at Whitney Middle School this year, nominated Booth, her grandfather, into the hall of fame.
As part of her nomination statement, Girsh wrote, “Throughout my time finishing college, everywhere I went, I asked ‘Do you know Chester Booth?’ and was more often than not greeted with a ‘Yes.’ I would say ‘That’s my grandfather.’ I would be met with how they knew him and how he had impacted their life.”
Booth says his proudest moment was getting to see his son get his Lonestar Degree and all four of his grandchildren receive theirs. He hopes to live long enough to see his great-granddaughter get hers in a few years as well. His great-granddaughter would make three generations of the Booth family to obtain the Lonestar Degree.
Since he retired in 1991, Booth has been working with the Texas Baptist Men building churches. In the last 27 years, he has helped build more than 200 churches. He built one in Honduras, one in Alaska, one in Colorado, two in Mexico, one in Arkansas, one in Oklahoma, and many in Texas. He continues to build things, work in his shop and teach his great-grandchildren all about agriculture mechanics.
Girsh said, “He is selfless. He has a servant’s heart, always has. Whatever he does is for the benefit of somebody else. He tries to use every opportunity as a teaching moment. If you want to learn something, he will teach it to you. He inspired me to be a teacher and to specifically be an ag teacher. I grew up in ag and FFA, so I reaped the benefits of being in FFA, but had it not been for him continuing that education throughout our lives, I might not have [become an ag teacher]. Now my kids are benefiting from those things.”
Booth has six great-grandchildren, and four of them are strongly invested in agriculture. Booth enjoys seeing the younger generations take pride in everything that agriculture has to offer.
Girsh finished her nomination statement with, “He has dedicated his life to agriculture and teaching the younger generations. His past students have become construction workers, teachers, business men and women, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs. If you ask a majority of them how did you start in this line of work, they accredit it back to their agriculture teacher Chester Booth.”
Booth, along with 24 others, were the first educators to be inducted into the Texas Agriculture Teachers Association Hall of Fame. Booth said his family made him believe they were traveling to Corpus Christi to visit his grandson. He was pleasantly surprised to enter the convention center and see two tables labeled “Chester Booth and guests.” The association had to assign two tables to accommodate Booth’s supporters. Booth’s wife, two children, four grandchildren, their spouses, and two great-grandchildren came to cheer him on. Booth opened a program placed at the table and saw his name printed third on the list. It was at that moment that he realized he was being honored for his many years of devotion to agriculture education.