GREENFIELD — Less than a week remained in the school year, but Joe McCain could still be found in the greenhouse after school tending the plants as usual.

Though McCain retires this month as the agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor for Greenfield-Central High School for nearly 42 years, he plans to remain active as a mentor for FFA and 4-H members. He hopes to travel with FFA students, despite twice-weekly dialysis treatments — the result of kidney disease — that have made his retirement necessary.

“I’m looking forward to doing a little bit of traveling,” he said. “I want to take Amtrak up to the Calgary Stampede.”

Friends, family and current and former students surprised McCain on May 21 with a retirement party at the 4-H exhibit building at the Hancock County Fairgrounds.

Senior Calista Overman sneaked stacks of dusty FFA scrapbooks out of McCain’s classroom a day or two before the surprise party. She and other FFA members arranged the scrapbooks in a row down the wall of the exhibit building, where those who attended browsed and laughed at the memories they stirred up.

McCain’s current and former students say his dedication to educating young people about agriculture can’t be overstated.

He feels more like a best friend than a teacher, said 2007 graduate Heather Vincent.

The Hancock County resident taught Penny Hunt, her husband and all three of her children, including current senior Danielle Hunt.

Penny Hunt and another FFA parent, Michelle Moore, conspired to arrange the surprise party for McCain. More than 100 people RSVP’d, but at least twice that many actually showed up to wish McCain a fond farewell.

“I think it really shows how much he put into his job,” noted his son, David McCain. “There are a core group of FFA and agriculture students who have been very involved, and they wanted to give back to him; that’s evident in the room.”

The Hunt family knows McCain and his family well because not only did he teach most of them, they also live just down the road from him, said Danielle Hunt.

She expressed her gratitude to McCain for all his hard work for everyone in the Hancock County FFA chapter.

The sacrifices and dedication of the teacher have been overlooked for years, said Mary Iva Jones, a former student.

“He is a teacher about life,” she said. “He always pours so much into the kids. There’s so much time away from school, at functions — I know he spends way more time with the kids than any other teacher.”

McCain’s interest in his students doesn’t stop when they graduate. He can list dozens of students and where they ended up, from three of his students who are now agriculture teachers themselves to another student working for Nestle in Anderson.

A lot has changed in the four decades McCain taught students about agriculture, animal science, agribusiness and more, said his eldest son, Jon McCain. Where the practice football fields lay now, students used to cultivate crops, and where the auxiliary gym was built, McCain once ran a shop complete with tractors.

“I think Hancock County would be a way different place without my dad,” he said. “I don’t think it would be as rich without him. He has touched so many lives.”

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.