KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For every event that takes place during the American Royal’s fall festival, there are countless beneficiaries of the organization’s mission.
Most prominent of those are the Royal Scholars, a group of six exceptional college students who serve as ambassadors for the American Royal and are rewarded with $2,500 scholarships each.
“To me, being a Royal Scholar is such a great honor, because my grandpa used to show carloads of Hereford cattle back in the day,” said Garrett Kays, a junior at Kansas State University earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics. “I understand the history and the tradition of this area and of agriculture.”
Raised on the family farm near Wier, Kan., in the state’s southeastern corner, Kays is a fourth-generation farmer who, with his brother, runs a 40-head Angus cow-calf operation. His proximity to Kansas City’s exposition has given him a greater understanding of what has happened in the West Bottoms for the past 115 years.
“To learn more about the organization and to be part of the larger aspect of the history of the American Royal is quite an honor,” he said. “The coolest thing is the educational opportunities the organization provides to young people, especially in the greater Kansas City area. My background with the American Royal makes it even a more rewarding experience to be a Royal Scholar.”
Kays is joined as a 2014 Royal Scholar by Alyssa Clements, a University of Tennessee graduate who will begin her master’s program at the University of Illinois; Jade Kampsen, a senior at South Dakota State University; Morgan Weinrich, a sophomore at Colorado State University; Emma Likens, a senior at the University of Nebraska; and Sadie Kinne, a senior at the University of Missouri.
“Both my parents were raised on family farms, my mom on a dairy farm and dad on a sheep farm,” said Kinne, an agriculture education major from Eagleville, Mo. “I was raised on a registered Angus farm. When I was little, I was opening gates and keeping dad company, then I had the responsibility of choring every day.”
It’s that work ethic she carried with her to Mizzou and to her training to be an ag educator.
“Our society needs educated about where our food comes from,” she said. “It’s that simple, but it’s very hard to go about that. I would like to get into elementary classrooms and hold adult classes as well as high school classes.”
Through every phase, Kinne and her fellow Royal Scholars will tout the American Royal and its primary purpose of promoting education and agrarian values.
“The biggest message that I can contribute as a young person is to use my passion and my education within agriculture to educate others about it,” said Kays, who plans to represent the agriculture industry in the political arena. “We are not tying agriculture to food as much as we should. That’s why I’m interested in pursuing a career in this, working on food policy to benefit the most customers.
“Incorporating food into our conversations is the most important message we can provide.”
That’s the type of attitude that guided J.J. Jones into an agriculture career. Now the international trade director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Jones graduated from K-State after studying animal science and industry and international agriculture. He was an American Royal Ambassador, the predecessor to the Royal Scholars program.
“It’s a great program that recognizes youth leaders in the agriculture industry,” Jones said. “It ties into one of the longest running livestock shows and agrarian events in the nation. The American Royal has such a rich heritage in agriculture in Kansas City. It was such a great opportunity to be involved in the organization.”
That opportunity continues to pay dividends several years after Jones graduated.
“It’s still all about education,” he said. “I actually gave a speech on the livestock show in high school. I talked about the original livestock show in the 1880s and 1890s. That’s where the ranchers would go to see the latest techniques.
“Today – while there’s still the livestock show and the rodeo and all the other activities – it’s more about educating customers.”
Those lessons will continue for years to come.