Retiring Ag Science Teacher David Mellor Created a Class That Felt More Like a Family


David Mellor, Ag Science Teacher and FFA Advisor, is retiring from Saline Area Schools after  27 years in Saline.

Mellor is perhaps not your conventional FFA teacher. He didn't grow up on a farm. He certainly did not have a conventional educational career - taking a 15-year break to work for beer companies and Kroger. But he rebuilt the FFA program in Saline into one of the top programs in the country even as old family farms give way to big subdivisions.

At a recent Saline Area Schools Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Steve Laatsch listed a long roster of awards won by FFA members. One thing Laatsch said about the SWWC agriscience program stood out.

"The Ag program was listed as fifth best in the US and first in Michigan by the Texas A&N Ag Experience Tracker," Laatsch said.

At the meeting, students expressed their gratitude for what Mellor added to their education.

Will Rogers said Ag science has impacted him more than any class he's taken, and he credits Mellor for pushing him.

"He got me to do public speaking and I got fourth in the state," Rogers said. "This program is different. It feels like (Mellor) is part of the family - like an extra grandpa if you need one. He's there in good times and bad. The next teacher better be a quarter as good as he is."

Allison Finkbeiner has been a member of FFA all four years of high school. She found confidence and lifelong skills in his program.

"He pushed us to do things we weren't comfortable with and helped us learn lifelong skills, like how to talk to people, how to be professional," Finkbeiner said. "I am glad we have such a great teacher to push us to do more."

Nate Girbach was one of Mellor's first students. Girbach is a farmer who graduated from Saline High School in 1995. He helped fund the FFA Toy Show and still works the show with Mellor. Today, his son, Maximus, is a freshman learning from Mellor.

"Dave Mellor does a great job. He's such a valuable asset to the community," Girbach said. "He keeps connected to the food beyond the supermarket.  He keeps students connected to the land."

Mellor grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. At his high school, students took agriculture, art, drafting and shop before deciding which to focus on. He stuck with FFA and learned to take care of his fruit trees and landscape at home. When he was 15 he was placed in a wholesale greenhouse where he worked in 13 greenhouses raising geraniums and tomatoes.

Notably, Mellor developed a refined pallet in FFA as he became an expert in milk judging. 

"It spoiled me a bit," Mellor said. But he still likes milk. "If it's good."

Mellor came to Michigan to study at MSU. After graduating, he taught Ag science at Harbor Beach and Bellevue. Then he decided to go into the private sector. He was a territorial sales manager and then marketing director for Miller beer.  He also worked at Kroger. After a couple buyouts, he went back to teaching in 1994. He left Saline to teacher in Weberville and then came back in 1999.

"The program had fallen apart in the two years I was gone. One year, there wasn't even a teacher," Mellor said. "At the same time, the program had changed a lot between 1994, when I left, and 1999, when I came back. The community had evolved away from farming."

In 1994, ag science and FFA was dominated by boys, mostly from farming. Gradually, more girls got involved in the program - today, 60 percent of the students are girls. And there are fewer farmers involved.

Still, the program is heavily influenced by agriculture - growing plants, raising animals and agriscience. But today's students aren't as likely to be learning how to work on the farm. They're learning about landscaping, how to manage landscape equipment, or gaining experience for a career in veterinary services. Or, as the Board of Education saw in April, they're learning the importance of effective public speaking.

"It's our job to develop a program that reflects what the community is - and it has to be career and job-driven," Mellor said.

Mellor's program has grown from 15 students to 80 students.

As his students reported, Mellor pushes his students to reach new heights.

"The most rewarding part of the job is getting to see a kid walk across the state and collect their award. It can change a kid and how they perceive themselves. They feel like a winner - like the kid who hits the homerun or scores a touchdown," Mellor said.

When he retires at the end of the school year, Mellor and his fiance plan to travel in Mellor's big new motorhome.

"I feel like I've taught students a lot of skills and lessons that will help them throughout their life. And I feel like I'm handing off the program in good shape," Mellor said. "I'm going out strong."

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