Weber, Maierhofer reflect on 33 years as Seneca Ag instructors

Lessons go beyond coursework, teach about being a community member

In 33 years of teaching agriculture courses at Seneca, Kent Weber and Jeff Maierhofer agreed seeing someone come into their class unsure of their future leave with transferable skills is the greatest feeling.

Weber is retiring as a teacher from Seneca High School at the end of this year while Maierhofer is sticking around until the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Both view their contributions to the agriculture program as community building: Teaching at the high school for 33 years means the majority of the native population under a certain age have had both of them as instructors.

“We had kids come in that didn’t want their name in the paper or go after awards or contests,” Maierhofer said. “They just wanted to learn so they can provide for their family, and they did that. There’s countless stories here like that.”

Weber agreed.

“Every year, there’s kids graduating like that, that had no idea what they wanted to do,” he said. “We’ve got that up and down the line. We’ve got kids working at John Deere and a young man who’s head of ag sales for Case IH North America. Those guys are great and were going to be successful anywhere, but I’m proud of the other students that stayed here and work in the community.”

When students stay in the community as adults, they’re bound to run into their teachers elsewhere.

“Not only do they live here, they take a leadership role,” Maierhofer said. “They learned in FFA how to talk and communicate, how to budget and how to lead.”

Maierhofer already had a personal stake in Seneca’s community: It’s his hometown and where he’s lived his entire life. He runs the Seneca Historical Society and takes part in many other community activities.

For Weber, it’s a community he grew to love and learned to call home. He moved to Seneca to teach after growing up in Cissna Park on the southern edge of Iroquois County.

“Now I’ve been here for 33 years,” Weber said. “I’ve been going to church here for 33 years. I’m on the City Council and I’ve been involved with all the activities in the community. I don’t see myself a year from now or five years from now wanting to move.”

This sense of community gets passed down to their students through volunteerism effort and FFA projects, of which there have been countless over the years.

One Maierhofer is the most proud of is 30 Miles an Hour, a project of about 500 volunteers gathering to clean up 30 miles of highway garbage in one hour.

“And it’s not just to pick up garbage but also bring awareness to pollution and how much trash gets left around in our society,” Maierhofer said.

Weber said the annual Toy Show is important to him: He helped start it 34 years ago when he was a teacher at Mazon and brought it to Seneca when he transferred. The last Toy Show had more than 700 people in attendance.

Then there’s the calf sale, a tradition that started 63 years ago before Weber and Maierhofer were at Seneca High School. Weber remembers driving more than 100 miles as a teenager for the sale.

The year isn’t quite over yet, though, and there are a few traditions both teachers plan to catch up.

Maierhofer and his wife take the senior girls to Galena for three days after they graduate to help them unwind from high school, giving them a chance to travel, and Weber took 50 kids skiing this year, 40 of them never having skied before.

“I’ve had families come back and say that they started skiing because of the ski trip because the kids had so much fun,” Weber said. “Whole families learned how to ski and go to Colorado or wherever else. All those little things that we did, I didn’t realize the impact I had until years later.”

Seneca Principal Mike Coughlin said Weber and Maierhofer mean a lot to the community, especially to the students who partake in the agriculture program.

Superintendent Dan Stecken agreed.

“They have their imprints on everything here,” Stecken said. “You see both of them outside of school on the weekends volunteering for causes.”

That includes upkeep and maintenance on the courtyard and the ag farm where the school hosts the calf sale and Civil War reenactments.

Stecken said a large part of the next few years will be moving on with younger teachers to keep up tradition while allowing them to leave their own imprint on Seneca High School.

“I think sometimes it’s easy to take them for granted because this is the way things have been ever since I’ve been here,” Coughlin said. “Jeff and Kent are tremendous.”