By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays High agriculture teacher Curt Vajnar didn’t think when he announced his retirement earlier this year he would not be able to say goodbye to all of his students in person.
Vajnar, like teachers across the nation, is teaching remotely for the first time in his 31-year career.
Vajnar is back in his classroom this week. The only students with him in person are his own children, who range in age from a senior at HHS to a first grader.
Although it is now April, Vajnar was nominated for the March Hays Post Teacher of the Month. This story was pushed back to allow for coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.
Chelsea Dickey, former student and parent, wrote, in her nomination said Vajnar is simply one of the best ag teachers in the state.
"I not only had him as a teacher but have had the privilege of having my children experience his great teaching ability," she said. "He pushes students to do their best and never gives up on them.
"Hays High will not be the same without Mr. Vajnar. He truly is one of a kind, and his dedication to agriculture will never be forgotten."
Vajnar grew up loving his grandparents' and uncle’s farm near Durham, south of Abilene.
Vajnar’s uncle also did a lot of gardening and raised and sold watermelon, cantaloupe and sweet corn. He said he was blessed to learn much through the family operation.
When Vajnar started college, he was an accounting major. His father sold insurance and wanted Curt to enter the business.
“I thought as an 18-year-old money was the way to go, and then I took Accounting II and thought, ‘I don’t want to sit in an office for the rest of my life.' That changed my course to ag that I always enjoyed.
“I always loved watching the animals born and crops being raised.”
Vajnar earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kansas State University. He also earned an school administration certificate from Fort Hays State University, although he chose never to pursue a role as administrator.
In addition, Vajnar said he was very competitive and enjoyed sports and FFA judging.
Vajnar passed on that competitive spirt to his students, many of who were successful in judging competitions and as FFA leaders.
Vajnar’s students several years ago won a national FFA land judging title. HHS has also had runners-up in the national competition under Vajnar’s direction.
He has had state winners in FFA competitions and three FFA state officers. It will be four if his son, Colton, is elected as a state officer this year.
“I push them hard,” Vajnar said of his students. “Kids will give you what you expect. If you expect low standards, that is what they will give you. … I have had a lot of kids do great things, and that is because I expect them to do great things.
“I will work as hard as they do. That’ll make me awfully tired sometimes.”
All of Vajnar’s 31 years of teaching has been at Hays High. In addition to teaching ag classes, he also taught biology and, for a time, driver’s education.
At the time Vajnar was named the Teacher of the Year by the KNEA, he was the youngest teacher to win that honor.
“That was a day it felt great to be at teacher,” he said.
At one time, he was also the only nationally board-certified agriculture teacher in the state.
Vajnar said the favorite class he taught was ag research.
“These kids have been told how to learn for 12 years and what to do every step. Their senior year in ag research is the most enjoyable because for the first time I give them structure and I give them guidelines, but they get to create their own educational experience with an ag research project.”
He said he is amazed when the students are in control what kinds of projects they develop.
Quintin Rupp, a senior, developed a cattle research project with a professor at the research station on high stress cattle. He got the cattle up and moving every six hours. It was a $12 to $13 difference in cattle that got up every six hours for two weeks compared to the control group.
Another student and Vajnar’s son Colton did an experiment on water rates and different grass types. The students mowed the grass and measured the bio-mass of the grass. They determined the grass did not need to be watered 2 inches per week.
Those results will be turned over to City of Hays water conservation department.
Vajnar has former students who are working both locally and internationally in the ag industry, and he is also teaching the children of some his former students.
Vajnar has had a lot of students who aspired to be vets, but when one of his one his children was born, he realized all the nurses in the maternity ward at HaysMed were former aspiring vets who had gone into the human health field.
Vajnar, 53, said he decided to retire now to spend more time with his younger children. He said he thought he missed out on a lot with his older two children as a result of time spent traveling with FFA teams.
He will continue to operate what had been his side business, Hays K-Lawn, a lawn spraying business.
In addition he hopes to spend time fishing, hunting and trapping.
He does not plan to completely step back from ag ed at HHS. He will be helping form a new alumni group that will help support the HHS ag program.
Nikole Cain, a recent K-State graduate who student taught at HHS in the fall, will take on the agriculture education role at HHS for the next school year.
You can still nominate teachers for the last Teacher of the Month award of the school year in April. Please send nominations to [email protected].