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Ripon resident’s grandson new FFA national president
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Luke O’Leary, grandson of retired Ripon Unified School District superintendent Joe O’Leary, was elected as the national president of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) on Saturday at ceremonies in Indianapolis, Indiana. - photo by Photo Contributed

Luke O’Leary, 20, was elected national president of the Future Farmers of America Saturday in Indianapolis, Indiana, as his dad Thom – a Ripon High graduate – led a prayer for the opening of the 91st Annual FFA convention with President Donald Trump at his side.

Some 60,000 attended the conference for high school and college age Ag students. 

Luke is the grandson of longtime retired Ripon Unified School District Superintendent Joseph O’Leary and his wife Ann.  His father’s brother David is principal of New Haven Elementary School in Manteca. 

There were nine members of the Ripon High FFA attending the conference.  Luke was no stranger to Ripon students because of his visitations to the RHS campus last Fall as the California state president of the FFA.

Trump was set to serve as the guest speaker with many traumatized by the horrific shooting in the Pittsburg Synagogue, calling it a “wicked act of murder,” earlier that day. Trump while enroute on Air Force One asked for a rabbi and a Christian pastor to lead the opening prayer. Staffers found Pastor Thom in a holding room in the auditorium.

Thom is pastor of Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo and was invited by President Trump to lead the prayer – after 10 minutes into his speech – in response to the mass shooting that left 11 dead and placed a pall over the FFA ceremonies. 

Trump  called O’Leary a great pastor and bowed his head with him during the prayer.  He later gave Pastor O’Leary and the Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow a group hug of thanks. In his prayers, O’Leary said people don’t understand why crazy things happen in the world – getting tastes of both heaven and hell.

Pastor O’Leary said he was thanked for the “hastily organized” appearance at the microphone by Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump.  

Some 200 texts have been sent Luke O’Leary’s way along with many snapchat messages and other posts since his Saturday election.  The Ripon community was abuzz with the news of the O’Leary family on Monday.  

He was attending Texas A&M when he received the California state FFA honor as its president and took time away from his college plans.  This year he will be doing more than traveling around the State of California to visit with FFA chapters, plus around the nation and the world – also meeting with leaders of business and industry, corporate sponsors, government and FFA officials and the general public.

Thom moved to Cal Poly in 1984 to play football and made it his home becoming a children’s pastor and college pastor in 1993, entering the fuller Seminary where he completed his Master’s degree and became a lead pastor in 1995. 

Thom and his wife Sherri were married some 25 years ago and have four children, Brooke, Kate, Whitney and Luke, noting that pepperoni pizza with wheat crust is his favorite. He says he still enjoys date nights with his wife and playing tennis – with the old guys.

The nine Ripon FFA students left home at 4 a.m. last Wednesday on their way to the airport, headed for Washington, D.C., prior to attending the national conference.  Four in the group would receive the highest American FFA Degree at the conference along with other students unable to make the trip.

Those getting their degrees at the conference were Riley Gillihen, Steven DeFreitas, Megan Harlan and Kayla Keating.  Those receiving the coveted honors back home included Mark McPeak, Cassady Hill-Shirk and Mark McPeak, Kassidi Hofman and Bryar Cosper.

Others FFA members attending the conference were Nicole Powell, Kaitlyn Avila, Ean Richards, Madison Hoogendoorn and Macie McPeak, receiving her brother Mark’s award.   

To contact Glenn Kahl, email