Joe R. Kirkland was born on December 30, 1943 in Macclenny, Florida to Steve and Nova Garrett Kirkland. His parents were both members of pioneer families who had earned a hard but rewarding living from the land. At Baker County High School Joe was an officer in his FFA chapter and knew that he wanted to pursue a degree in agricultural education. After two years at Lake City Community College he was accepted at the University of Florida, where he achieved his dream and earned his degree in agriculture in 1966. Joe immediately got a job at Paxon High School in Duval County, teaching vocational agriculture and serving as FFA advisor for three years. Then came a great opportunity to work at a statewide level when he was asked to join the State Department of Education in 1970 as the Florida FFA Executive Secretary.
Joe was filling some big shoes in taking on the position recently vacated by Richard Kelly, but he was more than up to the task. He planned, organized and implemented numerous local, state, and national competitive events and coordinated the State FFA convention every year. His performance in these tasks and many other FFA and agricultural education programs led to his promotion to Assistant State Director of Agricultural Education in 1973, followed by his appointment as State Director in 1975. Joe continued to lead and promote quality agricultural education programs in the State, but he also had a vision of a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the leadership development of Florida’s FFA members. Joe was a leader in the development of the Florida FFA Foundation as a mechanism for providing the financial support needed for awards and leadership development programs for Florida FFA members. He became one of the three charter Trustees of the Foundation when it was formally registered with the State in 1976.
In 1986, the Foundation acquired 126 acres on Lake Pierce in Polk County, and the existing Florida FFA Leadership Training Center (LTC) was completed and opened for business in 1992. Today the LTC provides a retreat-like setting for many FFA events and also serves other youth, community, corporate, and governmental groups. While this project was coming to fruition, Joe made a career change in 1981 but continued to with young people and agriculture as he became Vocational Director of the Columbia County School Board. He was promoted to Assistant Superintendent in 1990 and Deputy Superintendent in 1993. After ten outstanding years Joe retired in 2003, but he didn’t stop promoting FFA and agricultural education. He helped organize the Seasoned Owls group for retired agriculture teachers, and he currently spends many hours researching and organizing the history of the Florida FFA Association.
Joe has earned a number of well deserved honors and awards. He was elected president of the Southern Region of the State Directors of Agricultural Education and also served as President of the Florida FFA Foundation. He received the Honorary American Farmer Degree in 1979 and the Florida FFA Blue and Gold Award in 2002. Joe has been supported by his wife, Henrietta, and their children Karen, Ray, Kristal, Kelli, and Sarah.
Joe Kirkland was inducted into the Florida FFA Hall of Fame October 3, 2009.