Long-Time Arizona Leaders to Receive Statewide Award at FFA Gala in January

Long-Time Arizona Leaders to Receive Statewide Award at FFA Gala in January

One word sums up the value of the FFA experience for Ken Williams: “Outstanding.”

“I think it’s the greatest youth development organization in the United States,” he says with fervor. “I love the product – the members – and seeing the development of these young people. They’re outstanding members of society … very important for agriculture and our country. I can’t overemphasize what FFA does for young people … their self-confidence and leadership skills. I’m very passionate about that.”

Judy and Ken Williams will be honored on January 27, 2018 during Arizona FFA's Blue and Gold Gala.

He speaks from the personal experience of four years of involvement through high school, two terms as a state officer and a commitment of time and monetary support he’s continued to FFA and agriculture education throughout his adult life.

Over the last 20-plus years, he has been a leader in the Arizona Agricultural Education/FFA Foundation as a founder, treasurer for two years, president for four years and continuing active board member. In addition, he and his wife, Judy, have personally funded scholarships that have benefited dozens of agriculture students.

For that commitment, Ken and Judy Williams have been selected as the recipients for the 2018 Blue and Gold Award to be presented during the second annual Blue and Gold Gala to be held Jan. 27 at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.

“Ken really shows us what it means to be a supporter of FFA,” said Heather Rayner, Arizona Ag Education/FFA Foundation vice president, farmer and chair of the gala. “He’s not only an exceptional donor, he’s one of those wonderful people who supports our youth by serving on the board for so many years.” And it’s only fitting, Rayner added, that Williams’ wife of 57 years should also be honored for her role.

Williams related that he was born in Missouri, the son of a small-town grocer. In 1953, the family moved to Phoenix, where Williams attended high school and participated in the FFA program at Phoenix Union High School, serving two years as chapter president.

He went on to serve a term as secretary for the state FFA and then as president in 1958-59, spending that school year traveling extensively around the state and nation as a representative for the Arizona organization.

“It was an outstanding experience,” he said. “FFA helped in my personal development and it confirmed what I wanted to do,” which was work in agriculture in some form. “FFA had a dramatic impact.”

In 1963, he was among the first graduates of a new agribusiness program at Arizona State College and went to work for the Valley National Bank in the agriculture credit department. Over the next 18 years, he moved up the management ranks with the bank to vice president for several years.

Williams decided in 1980 that it was time for a career change and went into the horticulture business. He bought a small nursery operation in Mesa that produced poinsettias. That operation grew to encompass several acres and 900,000 square feet of greenhouses and shade houses in Mesa and Queen Creek that produced one-quarter million poinsettias for Christmas each year. Under the name McK Greenhouses, he marketed his poinsettias to several large chains throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Las Vegas.

He chuckled as he told the story of a couple of years that he enlisted his wife to visit each Costco in the Phoenix area every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas to ensure the stores had a fresh and full display of the plants. She also used a small van to deliver plants to outlying stores.

“My interest was that the stores sold all the plants they ordered,” he said. “They’re not very valuable after Dec. 25.”

He didn’t get many homemade Christmas cookies those years, though.

His nursery business further grew to include a location in Chino Valley and expanded into producing bedding and houseplants. In addition, he became part of a partnership in Texas that produced large houseplants in 3.2 million square feet of greenhouses and shade houses.

About 10 years ago he sold off his businesses to have time to travel with his wife. The couple now takes four trips a year, visiting places around the country and world.

However, Williams leaves a lasting legacy with the Arizona horticulture industry. He was a founding member of the Arizona Nursery Association Foundation that is celebrating 30 years this year, served as president from 1988 to 1989 and continues to be an active member of the board.

He and his wife also contribute regularly to the foundation that distributes thousands of dollars in scholarships each year that have benefited 300 students since its inception, said Cheryl Goar, executive director of the Arizona Nursery Association. These students have gone on to careers in the nursery business and as agriculture teachers, landscape architects and other professions.

In addition, the Williams’ have established an endowment within the ANA Foundation that now funds four scholarships annually of $1,000 each.

“We’re very fortunate to have Ken as a member of the association,” Goar said. “He is always there when we need him. He is passionate in his support of the industry, and Judy has been by his side.”

She continued: “They’re a great couple. We’re thrilled they’re getting this recognition.”

The Williams also fund a scholarship program through the Morrison School of Agribusiness at ASU, they support The Salvation Army and Billy Graham Association, among other causes.

“I’ve been blessed to do what I wanted to do,” Williams said. “The Good Lord has been good to me that way.”

Most of all, though, he treasures his “great family” that includes two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Editor's Note: The Blue & Gold Gala will be held on January 27, 2018 at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass. The presenting Sponsor is the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation. Major event donors include Calcot, Desert Ford Dealers, Farm Credit Services Southwest, Salt River Project, Stotz Equipment/John Deere and the U of A College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, among others. Get tickets at www.BlueAndGoldGala.org

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