Tyler Norvell – OYE President
He said it was the job he always wanted, and now, as Tyler Norvell ends his first decade at the reins of the Oklahoma Youth Expo, he’s proud of the work he, the OYE Board of Directors, and staff have accomplished.
Practically every man, woman, student, or child involved in agriculture in the state of Oklahoma knows about OYE. The annual livestock show, held in March at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City, annually draws participants from every single one of the state’s 77 counties.
Despite a tumultuous 2020, which resulted in a devastating shutdown half-way through the event, the future looks bright for 2020. With a pandemic still terrorizing the country, Norvell and team are ready to produce the Greatest Show.
Norvell grew up in Amber, Okla., as the son of a dairyman, putting in long hours on the dairy farm. “To this day I joke that the best day of my life was when I was 13 years old and he sold it,” he shared. “But it taught me how to work.”
While out of the dairy business, Norvel kept busy, as both his grandfathers farmed everything from cotton to alfalfa, and also raised cattle. He worked every summer and through the winters, farming and ranching his whole life. It’s not surprising that he was involved in showing livestock from the moment he was old enough until the day he graduated. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without showing, FFA, and my ag teacher, Billy Scott, who I think the world of,” he recalled.
After graduation, Norvell attended Butler County Community College in Kansas on a livestock judging scholarship for a couple years before transferring to Oklahoma State University. It was there, in 2005, that he and his livestock judging team won a National Championship.
Just after that win he got a call that would shape the course of his career. Norvell’s girlfriend, and now wife, Beth, worked with the late Justin Whitefield, who was the OYE Executive Director. Whitefield had ties to Oklahoma Farm Bureau, and knew they were looking for a lobbyist; specifically, someone that had actual hands-on agriculture experience.
“I was just a 21-year-old kid at the time, and this unexpectedly came up. I interviewed with them, and they hired me. I was working full time lobbying for Oklahoma Farm Bureau and going to college for my last semester,” he shared.
From 2005 through 2012, Norvell worked through the ranks at Oklahoma Farm Bureau, rising to the rank of the Vice President of Government Affairs.
Then opportunity arose. “I always said the only job I’d ever leave Oklahoma Farm Bureau for was OYE,” he shared. “I had looked up to Justin and seen what he had done to get the organization moving in the right direction, and how much he had improved the event from the time I had shown in it.
“The actual livestock show has been going on for 106 years, but OYE, the non-profit, wasn’t formed until 2002. That first year, there was one $1,000 scholarship awarded and the premium sale grossed $300,000. Justin passed away in 2006, but he had started it on the path to be very successful. In 2019 (because there was no premium sale in 2020), the premium sale grossed $1.3 million and we presented more than $350,000 in scholarships.”
He added, “I wanted to go out and get it right. I believe in the program, and what Justin was doing for kids in both urban and rural Oklahoma, and I thought it would be a neat opportunity to give back. I love doing what I get to do.”
When Norvell started at OYE, his responsibilities were broad. A smaller staff meant that he could be found daily handling several parts of the organization, from directing people coming in with livestock at the event to fundraising. “Whatever had to be done, I would do. Now we have a few more staff members, and my main job is to oversee operations and all the fundraising,” he explained.
Funds are an integral part of any non-profit, and with an eye to the future, Norvell made one of his first priorities ensuring the legacy of Oklahoma Youth Expo.
“When I interviewed for the job, I met with Mr. Bob Funk, our Chairman, and Mr. Jimmy Harrel, our Vice Chairman. I told them I was on board, as long as they stayed involved. About a year later, I went to Mr. Funk and said, ‘You know, when you and Mr. Harrel are gone, I want to make sure this thing lives on forever. If we can make sure we have our operating expenses covered and the facility to put it on, we can ensure that.’ And Mr. Funk said he thought it was a great idea,” Norvell recalled.
A year later, Funk announced his legacy gift, a $5 million testamentary challenge match for all gifts to OYE Onward. Every campaign gift, regardless of size or type, is matched dollar-to-dollar by Mr. Funk, up to $5 million.
“To date we have raised $2.5 million to match his $5 million, and matching his gift completely has been our goal from the start. This program is extremely important to me. I grew up showing every year that I could, my girls are involved with it. I haven’t missed an Oklahoma Youth Expo since I was eight years old, and it means the world to me and my family and friends.” He added, “We had to make sure that his program will live forever to give every Oklahoma youth the same opportunity the youth of the last 106 years have had.”
Contributing to the Onward Campaign is simple, and more information can be found at https://okyouthexpo.com/onward-campaign/
“If we had known in 2020 what we know now, I believe we could have finished our show. We just had no idea what would happen,” Norvell says, reflecting on the March Sunday when he had to announce that the event, not even half-way completed, would be immediately shut down.
The 10 day event was predicted to have more than 22,000 animals as well as 7,000 exhibitors and family members on the fairgrounds during the event. Norvell and his staff were in constant contact with the department of health, monitoring the situation. Just days before the start of the event, the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Oklahoma.
The event felt like a time-bomb. “I tell people it felt like those first five days of the event took five years. It felt like they took forever. Halfway through we called an audible, and decided to shorten the event to get people home quicker,” Norvell recalled.
With that decision made on Saturday, March 14, shoulders relaxed and tensions lessoned. “We got that done and then felt confident we would be able to finish the show,” he said.
Just 24 hours later, all that changed. A health emergency was declared in Oklahoma County, and the event was shut down. Youth exhibitors and their parents were devastated, tears flowing, as the facility and event shut down.
“It was horrible. We were watching the kids and parents mourn. I had a good friend tell me, ‘Tyler, it’s like they were mourning an unexpected death because there was no closure.’ Of course we know that it’s not anywhere the same as death, but they did not have the closure of more than a year’s work of worth. They didn’t get a chance to see their hard work through,” he said.
Norvell was dealt a double-dose of grief. In addition to dealing with the aftermath as the event’s producer, the cancelation hit much closer to home. “My daughter didn’t get to show her pigs, and so it was tough to wear both hats, but it helped me understand just how hard it was on the families and to experience it first-hand,” he said.
Norvell, the OYE Board of Directors, and staff went to work. Immediately they announced that any 2020 senior who had a market animal (breeding animals had already been shown when the event shut down) would be eligible to show again in 2021.
Next was a goal to raise $100,000 for hardship scholarships for 2020 seniors. “We said anyone who was a 2020 senior that did not get an academic scholarship should apply to get $1,000. We had 116 kids apply for those, so we raised another $16,000 so that every applicant got a scholarship,” Norvell said.
Lastly, OYE refunded anyone that had a market animal entered that didn’t get to show it.
I Saw God Today
By Beth Watkins
Nature is so majestically breathtaking because it is the perfect balance of order and chaos; predictable yet ever changing. This combination creates an endless cycle of life and death that is both hypnotic and sobering. In nature we see the consistency of how everything works together to create something greater than itself. Well, unless you wonder why God created flies, ticks or mosquitos, spiders and snakes. Spending time outside surrounded by nature is generally always peaceful and awe-inspiring. I never really thought about how trees end up growing along a fence line until my life included cows. Sitting on a tailgate in a pasture eating lunch, you have time to question these things. The answer is birds! They eat seeds, and drop seeds literally from both ends all while sitting on barbed wire. Sitting on a pond bank fishing, pondering, how do fish get in a pond that has never been stocked? The answer again, birds and other waterfowl transport fish eggs from other ponds. Sitting on my porch swing watching the sunset, I came to the realization that sunsets and sunrises are determined by where you stand on this big blue marble.
I’ve seen a few sunrises in my many years of life. I’m not a morning person at all, so if I catch a glimpse of a sunrise, I’m in go-mode and there is most definitely a reason I am awake. I’ll confess I’ve probably seen the most sunrises in the fall on my way to Arkansas for a craft fair. Shopping is always a great motivator for early mornings. I do get up early on Sunday mornings, but I’m in a hurry to get dressed and make myself “public” presentable, so I don’t have time to check on the sunrise. Why am I in a hurry? Because I have hit the snooze button two or three too many times. Thankfully I have a cup of coffee on my twenty-five minute car ride to church, which gives me time to catch my breath and tune-up my social interaction meter.
From what I can tell most people fall into two categories: an early bird or a night owl. I’m here to tell you there should be a third option, and I shall name it poised peacock. A poised peacock is neither an early bird or a night owl, but is a unique individual that is highly functional from 10:30am till about 10:30pm. If you have to be classified as some sort of fowl, I would say that category best describes my routine. The feathers can be fully extended at exactly 10:30am and remain up for the next twelve hours but, at 10:31 I’m down for the count.
I’ve been told you get a lot more done in a day if you get up earlier. I understand that concept, I’m just not a fan. I’m not shallow or narrow minded. I’ve given it a try. I’ve had babies, they’ve gone to school, I had to be up early, and still didn’t function well until after 10:30am. For this season of my life, I’m an empty nester (there we go with the bird analogies again!) and very fortunate, I write my own schedule. Even in the summertime when my husband puts me to work; you can’t cut or bale hay until the dew dries up, so no early mornings for this princess.
These days I prefer the time when evening begins closing in; time seems to slow down. The chores are finished for the day. It’s free time; time to choose how to spend the next few hours. If we compared our life span to the clock on the wall. I’m a few minutes after 6:00pm. For this analogy, ideally it’s a summer day that is coming to a close, which means the sun won’t set on my life till a little after 9:00pm. I am savoring these last relaxing hours, before the sunsets for good. A breathtaking sunset is the epitome of fading beauty. For a moment a glorious array of color is adored and then it’s over. Yet, the effects of admiration last long after the light has gone. My hope is that I have left an enduring impression on the hearts of my friends and family.
Like each sunset, everyday is different, you can watch the sunset on the horizon from the same spot everyday, but it will never look the same. Oftentimes I’m overwhelmed at the amount of peace you can find from just taking a moment to breathe in the beauty that God has created. Some of the most beautiful sunsets are formed from the presence of clouds in the sky. Which reminds me of Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose. I can testify to this truth; all things are not good, but we have a good God in all things.
Maybe Sunsets are my favorite because no matter what you are doing you are instinctively drawn to admire nature’s beauty, the moment the world just stands still, you forget your worries and you can breathe deeper and become refreshed, you can’t help but see God in a sunset. I’ve watched the sun drown in the Atlantic while traveling on a cruise ship headed west as Calypso music filled the air. I’ve caught a rather quick indescribable colorful sunset from Waikiki Beach as the Hawaiin drum beats livened the atmosphere. I’ve sat quietly on a beach in California hearing only the calming effects of the pacific waters as the sun slowly sunk. But still the grandest and most satisfying sunset of them all is the one viewed here, from home; where, in the summer, the frogs in the nearby pond begin their musical contribution to this glorious presentation; crickets begin warming up their instruments; cows eating grass close-by seem to keep the rhythm going as the colors in the sky begin to vibrate; as the sun sinks lower in the Oklahoma sky for the grand finale as the lights go down. Grateful for another inspirational end to an ordinary day, where the paved road ends.
Read more in the March 2023 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.
FFA National Officer Karstyn Cantrell
It was a Saturday last October, when Karstyn Cantrell heard her name announced from the National Convention Stage in Indianapolis. With a pounding heart, she realized her dream of becoming a National FFA Officer had come to fruition. Years of elation and heartbreak had all culminated in that moment, and it was all because she’d learned the value of saying “Yes!”
In the Blood
Karstyn Cantrell grew up on a fourth-generation cow-calf operation in the northeast Oklahoma town of Collinsville. Her great grandfather, Olin Lewis, had started a dairy co-op. While a dairy cow hasn’t stepped foot on the place since she’s been alive, her family still stores the yearly hay supply in that original dairy barn.
“When my father (Steve) was growing up, he started diving more into the Hereford side. He was big in FFA, and was Collinsville FFA Chapter President. I have an older brother, and when he was old enough to show, we changed a lot of the genetics of our ranch, going from more cow-calf animals to more show quality livestock,” Karstyn explained.
“I began showing when I was four years old, and my brother was my biggest mentor in the show ring. Now it’s something we continue today through a lot of the national shows,” she said.
Since she spent the entirety of her life in the agriculture industry, she made a pretty seamless transition from the green corduroy jacket of 4H to the blue and gold one of FFA. “I was always big in the show ring and thought that was where I was going to find my home, but as I got older, I really fell in love with things like livestock and dairy evaluation, and being active in the Agricultural Communications Career Development Events,” she recalled.
Naturally, Karstyn’s Supervised Agricultural Experience began as raising cattle on the ranch. As she got older, she added an agricultural sales SAE, where her family owns, maintains, and creates their own blends and custom show rations for cattle. “My junior year I decided to add a third component to my SAE with an agricultural communications side and started a blog where I posed weekly updates about things that were happening in Oklahoma Legislature that affected the industry. I’d also post show results, and information about different camps, contests, conferences, and conventions. I would see profit from my blog based off of every thousand views that I got.”
While agriculture has definitely always been part of Cantrell’s story, for a long time, it looked like volleyball would hold the most important chapters. Her mother, Michelle Cantrell, was the head volleyball coach at Owasso Public Schools, and Karstyn grew up watching the teams win state tiles. “I knew volleyball was going to be the lifestyle for me. I honestly contemplated choosing the college career for volleyball. I played club and school and sand, and while FFA was fun, that wasn’t where my focus was,” she admitted.
Then fate stepped in during her junior year, and health issues forced her to stop playing volleyball.
Her decision made for her, she began diving more into FFA.
Already a chapter officer her junior year, she was looking for a new passion. She had thought running for an Oklahoma State FFA Officer might fill the void left from volleyball, but it wasn’t until she was visiting with a fellow FFA Officer that she made the decision. “My friend Kaitlan (Teague) and I were talking about what our life was like, and how FFA had really helped us grow up,” she recalled. “I told her I had to be a State Officer.”
Unfortunately, the time that Karstyn would be campaigning for the position of Northeast Area Vice President was right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. “That meant all the chapter conferences, speech contests, livestock shows … all those things were closed down. I did a lot of virtual conversations to just maintain the relationships that I had already created. Instead of being the person who was in place at all the events, I really got to refine the connections I already had,” she recalled.
One of the coolest moments of an Oklahoma State Officer’s tenure happens during State Convention, but, once again, those plans changed. “Normally you’re surrounded by thousands of people, and you’re standing arm-in-arm with every single candidate on the convention floor,” she explained.
But because of the restrictions in place, Karstyn and her family learned of her win in a much cozier setting.
“I actually got to watch my name get called surrounded by my parents, grandparents, brother, teachers, family, and a lot of friends. We had a cookout that day, and what would have normally been a stressful environment was really fun. We were able to reflect on what FFA has meant to not only me, but also my family,” she said.
When her name was announced, the celebration was on. “I’ll never forget sitting on the floor when they called my name. All of a sudden, we were hugging each other in a big dog pile, and there was confetti and all that stuff,” she said with a laugh.
“I can’t imagine what my life would look like if I had chosen to go down the volleyball route, especially as I think about my senior year, when I was running for a state office in a time of COVID. So much of my life changed that year,” she said. “At the same time, going down path of serving as a state officer has brought me to where I am now.”
Karstyn served as the Northeast Area Vice President for the 2020-2021 year. Following the State FFA Convention in May 2021, she began the Oklahoma process of becoming a National Officer.
“Every state gets one candidate, so for me, the process included going through interviews and conversations with industry stakeholders within Oklahoma FFA. I had the opportunity to secure Oklahoma’s bid in June 2021,” she explained.
But at the 2021 National FFA Convention, her name was not called to go on stage as a new National Officer.
“It was an incredibly humbling experience to be standing on the Convention floor and watching six awesome people go up on stage after their name was called, and be one of the people who were not,” she admitted. “I can honestly say I experienced more growth within the last year than I could imagine, just because of that circumstance. It really allowed me the opportunity to find who I was in and out of the blue and gold jacket, which better prepared me to go through the process again this past year.”
She expanded on that, and added, “That taught me so much about hard work and persisting through issues. I know, for National FFA, there are more than 850,820 FFA members that we get to serve, and each and every one has faced adversity in some form or fashion.
“So for me that taught me to continue pushing through to find out what gives me joy as I walk through those difficult circumstances, and I can share that with others,” she said.
“Something my parents have always encouraged me to do is say yes to opportunities, so that I can figure out the places I need to grow,” she explained.
That advice has been taken to heart, as Karstyn is involved in many clubs, organizations, and programs on the Oklahoma State University campus, including Ferguson College of Ag VP, Chi Omega Sorority, Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow Club, Collegiate Farm Bureau Club, Student Network Alumni Ambassador Team, OSU Steering Committee, and OSU’s Student Government Association.
“I’ve always had my foot in a lot of different circles, but I think it’s cool to see that each of those have instilled a lot of different characteristics in me,” she said.
Karstyn is an Agricultural Communications major with a minor in Legal Studies. After her gap year serving as a National Officer, she hopes to return to OSU to finish her degree. “I would like to enter a law program, so I can hopefully serve Oklahoma once again in the agricultural policy field,” she said.
When asked what she would tell a young student contemplating joining FFA, her answer was simple. Say yes!
“Say yes. Go to that camp, that conference, that convention, and every time there is a chance to sign their name up, they should do it. That’s how they figure out their place. I tried lots of things that didn’t’ work for me, but they pointed me to what would be a better fit. As a student, you never know what experiences can change your life,” she said.
Read more great stories in the latest issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.
Lacey’s Pantry – Beef Empanadas
By Lacey Vilahauer
Total Time: 45 minutes
Ingredients:1 package of pre-made pie crust (2 rolls) ( or make your own dough!)
1 pound of lean ground beef- drained
1/4 cup diced onions
1/2 medium diced bell pepper, any color
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup Mexican blended cheese
Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with a baking mat, non-stick foil, parchment paper or oil. Set aside.
In a large skillet cook ground beef, onions and bell pepper until beef is cooked through, onions are translucent and peppers are soft. Drain any excess fat. Add cumin, garlic, salt, pepper, and chili powder to ground beef mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from burner.
Roll out pie crusts. Using a bowl similar to a cereal bowl, trace circles onto each pie crust. I can get 3 per crust. A smaller bowl will result in more circles.
With leftover pie crust, mix together and roll out and continue cutting circles, until all dough is used. I can get 8 total. Lay a pie crust circle down on the prepared cookie sheet. Add 2 – 3 tablespoons of filling to the middle of the circle. Top with 1 tablespoon cheese, do not overfill.
Fold pie crust circle in half, keeping the filling inside, and press edges down with a fork. Repeat steps 9 and 10 for all empanadas. Arrange empanadas on a cookie sheet. Beat egg in a small bowl and brush on top of each empanada. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes or until the tops are golden. Remove from the oven and serve with your favorite salads, salsas and guacamole.
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