Their staunch support of agriculture and dedication to educating Ceres students prompted the Ceres Chamber of Commerce to select Kyle Cerny as “Agribusiness Man of the Year” and Mardel Runnels as “Agribusiness Woman of the Year” during its annual Agribusiness Luncheon held Monday.
Held at Shane Parson’s Diamond Bar Arena south of Ceres, Chamber officials also presented scholarships to four high school students interested in pursuing Ag careers. They are Ceres High’s Kaitlyn Fausset and Central Valley High School students Amy Moreno, Leslie Garcia and Alexis Saldivar.
Sheriff Jeff Dirkse was the keynote speaker for the event, held under a large shelter on the ranch.
In introducing Kyle Cerny as an award recipient, Chamber director Eileen Stokman noted that as the sole Technical Education (TE) Youth advisor supporting the Central Valley High School and Ceres High School FFA programs, Kyle is responsible for the daunting task of overseeing 900 Ceres Ag students and seven Ag instructors (five at CVHS and two at CHS).
“Career Technical Education is what Kyle lives for,” said Stokman. “Career Technical Education courses provide students the opportunity to get hands-on experiences and learn real life technical skills in a variety of Ag pathways; and in Ceres Unified- those pathways consist of Ag mechanics, animal science, agri-science and ornamental horticulture.
“Wearing that many hats is an intimidating prospect, but at the end of the day, everything Kyle does come down to one singular purpose – giving the TE Ag students in Ceres Unified School District every possible edge available to succeed in the workplace of tomorrow,” Stokman said. “It is no secret – the agriculture industry and way of life in this state is under assault from many fronts, making it even more imperative that we continue to promote Ag education and give it every ounce of support possible in spite of the challenges we face daily.”
Cerny was raised in Ceres where he was involved in sports – not agriculture. His first taste of Ag was at age 16, cutting cords of firewood for a local walnut producer Mark Mello, a former FFA chapter president and alumni of Ceres High School. He also learned about growing walnuts, irrigating, weed and pest control, construction and maintenance.
Cerny was planning to become a CHP officer but changed his mind after suffering an injury before testing. He previously worked in loss prevention for Safeway.
“I started as a campus supervisor like my dad (Randy),” he said. “I applied for the Youth Advisor position. I didn’t get it. Six months later, they gave me a shot.”
Since he was hired by CUSD in 2018, Cerny has been involved in a myriad of district projects and initiatives and has helped solidify the high school Ag programs. During the first three years of his tenure, he worked with Ken Moncrief who is now retired.
Cerny, 30, was instrumental in revamping the Ag Mentor Program where local agribusiness men and women connect with students over lunch to provide guidance, mentoring and professional development for their future careers.
His caretaking of district partnerships with E.&J. Gallo allowed senior students to enroll in a 10-week pre-internship program known as Gateway to Industry, where E.&J. Gallo Winery put students through real life scenarios and team building activities to prepare them for a manufacturing internship with the company. Dozens of former Ceres students have been hired and completed paid internships with Gallo, many still working there to this day in full-time manufacturing and engineering roles.
Cerny has been responsible for coordinating mock interviews for CVHS and CHS Ag students for the past five years, for a first taste of a real world job interview.
“I’m super honored and humbled,” he said. “Ceres Unified School District allowed me to take this position and run with it. I do everything for the kids. I’m so thankful to be able to give back. To do it here in Ceres makes it that more special. Seeing kids succeed is the most enjoyable part of my job.”
Chamber President Brandy Meyer introduced Ceres High School Ag teacher Mardel Runnels as one who has devoted the past decade to Ag students at Ceres High.
Runnels, 33, is one of the FFA advisors, the Technical Education Department chair and serves on numerous committees. She received the Teacher Excellence Award in the 2017-18 school year, Certified Employee of the Year for Ceres High School in 2018 and earned the Outstanding Small Ag Program award for several years.
“Her biggest professional achievement of course has been her students that have joined the Ag industry,” said Meyer of Runnels. “She feels strongly in the success of her students and giving back to the community. ‘Teamwork makes the Dream Work’ is the quote her program believes strongly in and she tries to emphasize it to the students.”
“She would say her biggest professional achievement is the number of students that have chosen to enter the agriculture industry after graduating from their program at Ceres High School. In the fall, she welcomed two students from her first graduating class at Ceres High to the Ag teaching profession. Several of her students are working on becoming Ag teachers, studying to become veterinarians or vet technicians, enrolled in masters programs for animal nutrition or entering the nursing/medical field. This all reminds her of how thankful she is to be a part of this industry and how excited she is to welcome these students as colleagues one day.
“She believes strongly in the future generations of agriculturists and bestows upon them the value of this industry and how impactful being a member of the community and industry can be. She hopes that her teaching values and love for agriculture will carry though to all students that enters her classroom.”
Runnels considers her biggest personal achievement, however, as raising three children Floyd, Brighton and Elsie.
“I’m truly blessed to be recognized with this award,” she said. “I’m really honored. It was a shock. I’ve been helping out at this luncheon for 10 years.”
“The most enjoyable part of my job is the great kids I see in my classroom,” she added.
The event included honoring local dairyman Wendel Trinkler Jr. with the Grant and Mildred Lucas Memorial Award. Each year the Ceres Chamber recognizes an individual, business or group with the award as a way of honoring the late couple’s contributions to the local Ag industry.
Trinkler, 64, is the son of an immigrant father who settled in the Valley and started a family dairy in 1960 with 12 cows. At the age of 14, he started his own farming business while continuing to work on the family dairy. He earned State Farmer and Chapter Farmer awards in FFA while attending Ceres High school where he graduated in 1976.
Trinkler now has a dairy operation on Crows Landing Road near Ceres.
“Wendel’s love for agriculture, the support of his wife and family, and his incredible work ethic are the reasons for his success,” noted Renee Ledbetter, a Chamber director. “He has dedicated his life to raising his family, growing the family dairy his father started, growing his own farming operation, supporting local schools, non-profits, and 4H and FFA organizations. His passion and values focus around his family, farming and protecting the future of the ag industry.”
“It was a surprise,” said Trinkler. “It’s awesome. I’m not a political person; I just like giving back to the community.”
Chamber board member Chad Suydam announced the “Agribusiness of the Year” as Coit and Hewes. Located on the outskirts of Ceres, the firm manufactures and supplies premium replacement parts for equipment used to harvest nut crops, including pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and macadamias. Their supplies are also used throughout the Central Valley to harvest fruit crops, including olives, peaches, plums, figs and apples.
The Chamber named the business as a great asset to the Ceres community and surrounding areas, supporting customers, vendors, employees and community and school organizations like 4H, FFA and the Chamber itself.
The company began in 1991 when wire rakes were sold from the garage owned by the parents of Leroy Hewes and worked there until it grew into a new shop in 2001 and later expanded into a larger location in 2019. Hewes and co-owner Garry Coit have more than 30 years of experience in the nut harvesting parts business after launching their careers in the workshop of Charles Ingalls, an industry pioneer who developed nut harvesting equipment in the 1950s and 1960s. Also having an experienced nut grower at the helm provides them with a firsthand understanding of industry challenges and the value of quality parts that continuously perform.
–Dale Butler contributed to this report.