Every year at the Osceola FFA Banquet one of the final announcements of the night is the recipient of a special award. It is not for scholarship, not for leadership nor top fruit salesperson; but, most of all, for friendship.
At Osceola High School in Osceola, Nebraska, Jason Howard Haack was active in everything. His intelligence was obvious but not flaunted. More importantly, everyone he met was his friend. He graduated in May 2008.
“FFA was very important to Jason. It embodies the ideas of learning, honesty, friendship,” said Jason’s father, Mike Kaack. “In competition winning wasn’t everything, but learning and meeting new people and seeing new ideas were just as important.”
Only seven months later, the youngest son of Anita and Mike Haack was gone. He was 19.
“He was always ready to help anyone out, make us laugh, was pretty responsible and knew how to work hard for what he wanted, but was always looking for new ways to do things,” Anita said. “I just know that we still miss him like crazy and always will.”
Jason was home for holiday break from Northwest Missouri State in the first week of December. Somewhere between checking cows and going to help his sister, he was the victim of a fatal pickup accident.
As the Osceola FFA Alumni struggled to find a way to recognize his contributions and encourage others to follow his lead, they discussed what made him so special. Jason was an honor student, FAA president and played major parts in school dramas. As a trumpet soloist, he played Taps at military funerals and Memorial Day services. Most of all, he was a friend.
They decided to offer an annual award that recognized students in several categories. The Jason Howard Haack Friendship Award (aka the Barnwood Plaque) celebrates the qualities of friendship, dedication to community involvement, eagerness to learn, quickness to help others and passion for agriculture.
“I didn’t know Jason very well because he was older than me, but I know Jason was an amazing person. He encouraged, guided and helped everyone in any way he could,” said Rachel Wieseman, the 2013 recipient of the Friendship Award. “It was a tremendous honor to be presented this award, and I still cherish it to this day. It’s a constant reminder of the way I want to live my life and the person I want to be. Thank you, Jason.”
Tori Meysenburg earned the award in 2014. She said it was a representation of hard work paying off. She believes that with hard work you can do anything in life, and she thought that fact was important to Jason.
“I feel as though this award is given to someone who is friendly to people around them, hardworking in everything they are involved in and someone who shows a good moral character overall,” said Erika Burritt, the 2017 Haack Award winner.
While memories of Jason live on for those lucky enough to know him, his story is learned anew every year by young Osceola FFA members. The latest recipient of the friendship award shares a lot in common with Jason. Hayden Watts said he, too, enjoys working with his cattle, hunting, fishing and being in FFA. They even share the same middle name — Howard.
“He was a really nice guy willing to help people,” said Cierra Fisher, the 2015 Haack Award winner. “Jason was the youngest of four, he loved being outside all day everyday (if he could be with his cows), he always kept a smile on his face and he liked competing in range judging.”
The candidate selection process has changed over the years but the recipients are always more than deserving of this award — proving the influence Jason had on and continues to have in the Osceola FFA program.
“You plan on changing kids’ lives,” said Osceola teacher Steve Schmit. “Then you realize it’s your life that’s been changed.”