“I have always had a service outlook toward the community,” says Bledsoe County High School senior Keoni Payne. He certainly lives up to his commitment to community service: He’s president of the Bledsoe FFA Chapter, Beta Club and Future Teachers of America Club, is a member of the yearbook staff and was recently named salutatorian of the class of 2020.
“I really enjoy the FFA leadership development events I have participated in to enhance my leadership skills and my ability to effectively address agriculture-related issues and other local issues that affect our area,” says Payne.
His participation in the FFA Extemporaneous Speaking, Agriscience Fair, Farm Business Management and Quiz Bowl contests has also contributed to his outstanding communication skills.
Payne’s community service projects are numerous and varied. Examples include packing meals for those in need; preparing care packages for U.S. troops overseas; spending more than two weeks in Alaska last summer with a group of FFA members from across the country, helping restore wild salmon habitat; and a planned trip this summer with BCHS biology students to study and improve sea turtle habitat in Costa Rica.
“I really enjoyed the trip to Alaska,” he said. “I was one of only three students from Tennessee. The rest were a ‘melting pot’ of students from everywhere. I got to know a lot of people from different backgrounds, and we still stay in touch.”
Although Payne lives on the farm that belonged to his great-grandfather, his family is no longer farming. Payne has, instead, gained hands-on experience in agriculture working on several different farms in Bledsoe County.
“I have learned a lot by working with a number of different farmers and seeing how different farms operate,” he said. “As a part of my ag classes and FFA involvement, I am required to participate in a supervised agricultural experience. Since my family doesn’t farm anymore and I am interested in lawn management, I decided to start a lawn care business a few years ago. I started with a small mower that belonged to my family and soon was able to buy a trailer and upgrade to a larger mower. My family helped me get started, but I wanted to be able to pay them back with my earnings. I now mow a total of about 10 acres for seven customers. The experience has taught me a lot of life skills such as dealing with people and entrepreneurial skills.”
Payne’s career goals include earning a degree in agriculture education from Tennessee Tech and coming back to Bledsoe County to teach and eventually advance to an administrative position. He would also like to start a small farm of his own with a cow/calf operation.
“Keoni is well-respected both in school and in his home community, and high expectations are the norm,” says Ronny Collier, BCHS agriculture teacher and FFA chapter advisor. “He has an amazing work ethic and is always busy. He has logged a multitude of hours of community service and is always one of the first to step up if he sees a need.
“Some students just stand out from the crowd. Keoni is certainly one of those. The first thing you notice about him is his size. At nearly 6 foot, 7 inches, he is hard to miss, but his height pales in comparison to his other traits. His honor is beyond reproach. He is objective and is not easily influenced by the opinions of others. He is mature well beyond his years, and his sense of fair play is impeccable. He is intelligent, down-to-earth, well grounded, a leader, a doer, a hard worker, a friend.
“As a teacher, one of my objectives is to inspire my students to get outside their comfort zone and make the world a better place. Keoni has turned the tables and inspires me to be a better teacher, a better person. He has led the Bledsoe FFA chapter as president for the past two years and will be sorely missed next year. He has made a difference in the lives of so many in this community and state and will leave a mark that will last for years — both locally and across the state. Keoni Payne is the real deal.”