What began with a phone call 30 years ago will end Jan. 31, with the retirement of Kevin Sells as the La Vernia High School agriculture teacher.
His journey has included helping and guiding students, growing the ag program, FFA successes, personal and professional growth and success, and more. Somewhere along the way, he also found time to marry and raise a family!
A La Vernia grad, Kevin completed his Master of Education studies at Southwest Texas State University in 1987 and applied for an open teaching position in La Vernia. At that time, the applicants were interviewed and hired by the school board. He wasn’t a shoo-in for the position, and Kevin remains grateful to Al Sodrok and Lother Puhlmann for encouraging the board to hire him.
Kevin can still remember his first day as a freshman in Rex Schnitz’s ag class. Mr. Schnitz asked all students what they hoped to do following graduation. Kevin said he’d like to be a veterinarian or an ag teacher. He was influenced by stories his father, veterinarian Dr. Lloyd Sells, told about the influence of his ag teacher in his choice to become a veterinarian.
It was a phone call from Schnitz that led to Kevin applying for the job in La Vernia.
He and Schnitz taught together for 20 years. Together, they built one of the strongest ag programs in Texas. Both men are quick to say that, although they were a part of the success of the La Vernia FFA Chapter, it’s all about the students’ accomplishments.Under their direction, the La Vernia FFA program earned four sweepstakes awards in judging and leadership events. La Vernia made its first National contest appearance in 1991 as runner-up in poultry judging. La Vernia’s 13 state titles led to eight National championships, including dairy foods, meat, and poultry judging. In 1997, La Vernia claimed two National titles in poultry and dairy foods.
Although some programs are judged by their awards, Schnitz and Sells are most proud of their students’ accomplishments following graduation. Productive members of society are a true measure of success.
Kevin married his high school sweetheart, Karen Burg, in 1986. They’ve celebrated many anniversaries by phone, as Kevin and his students attended the Houston Livestock Show. They have three children, Kyle, Katy, and Kourtney.
Schnitz, never one to call attention to himself, quietly retired in 2007 after 38 years of teaching. Jennifer Kotzur became Sells’ teaching partner, and the La Vernia FFA program continued to flourish, earning six State titles and five National contest appearances -- two of which led to National champions in poultry and milk quality. In 2012, Eric Davis joined the team; the La Vernia ag program expanded to include tractor tech, ag mechanics, and livestock judging.
It’s been years of success, whether measured in awards or students’ achievements beyond high school.
“He was almost like a parent,” said Braden Recker, a 2015 La Vernia graduate, now attending Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “If you have a 95, you’re slacking. He pushed me to strive for more.”
Kasey Reinen was part of an FFA championship milk quality team under Sells. He taught his students to be poised at competition, especially when they won.
“When we won the National title, he cried,” she recalled. “... He threw his fists in the air in a victory cheer and gave us all hugs. ... he screamed and whooped and made a fuss. It was so funny.”
It was also funny when Michael Jacobs, who graduated in 1990, dumped a bucket of water over his ag teacher, who was close to his own age.
“... we were trimming animals out at the ag barn and he took a hose and ran the water across me,” Jacobs said. “... I saw a 5-gallon bucket full of water, and ... I soaked him down with the whole bucket while everyone was watching. He was so mad, he wanted to wring my neck.” Expecting he’d get paddled for his actions, Jacobs was surprised. “By the time he got into the office, Mr. Sells was laughing so hard he couldn’t do it.”
“He probably doesn’t realize how many kids’ lives he has impacted ...,” said former student Eryn (Larrison) Pierdolla, now a science teacher at La Vernia High School. “How to weld, how to cut with a torch, learning respect. You become an uncle, a father, a brother ... family.”
After a nudge from Sells when she was registering for her high school freshman year, Debbie (Stanush) Bennett was in ag throughout high school, but it was Sells’ influence after college that really changed her life.
“After I got my master’s, I was at the park and ... spoke to him,” she said. She wasn’t happy in her career, and Sells gave her a contact number for someone he knew at an animal pharmaceutical company. She’s now the strategic account manager for Zoetis, a global animal health pharmaceutical company, “... and I love it!” she said.
Sells said he’ll most miss the smiles on his students’ faces as they accomplish their goals -- winning a contest, success in the show ring, acceptance by the college of their choice, landing the perfect job, starting their own business, or seeing their children involved in the La Vernia FFA.
Kevin remains thankful to his parents, Lloyd and Lois Sells, for their support and direction over the years that made him the person he is today.
Although he’s retiring from teaching, he’ll remain in the community and in the workforce, with R&D Custom Builders.
Building comes naturally to Kevin -- he’s helped build a firm foundation for many La Vernia students.
“He always cared for his students,” recalls 2014 La Vernia graduate Jordan Bailey. “He looked out for us. He taught us ‘Believe in yourself. Believe in each other. Have faith in God.’”
The La Vernia News thanks the La Vernia High School staff, LVN Correspondent Pascalle Bippert, and community members for their help in compiling this story. We wish Kevin Sells well in his retirement!
A life of service
In addition to teaching, Kevin Sells also has given of his time to serve in other capacities in the community and beyond, including:
•FFA (Future Farmers of America) Alamo District president
•FFA Area VII coordinator
•Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas, member of the board of directors
•State FFA Leadership Development Events (LDE) Committee member
•Life Member of the San Antonio Livestock Show
Serving as State FFA Scholarship Chairman from 2008-15 led to him receiving the E.R. Alexander Founders Award for Exemplary Volunteer Leadership, presented by the Texas FFA.