A signature green and yellow John Deere tractor with a sign on its back window that read “PFar’s Retirement Ride” led a motorcade of more than a dozen other farm vehicles along U.S. 24 Monday afternoon. The procession of 12 tractors, one sprayer, five school buses and numerous automobiles driven by the school’s community members and even former students was to honor Patrick Farnan’s last day as principal at Buckner Elementary School. With highway traffic stopped by Buckner Police and Fire, scores of people scattered along westbound U.S. 24 displayed signs that read “We’ll miss you!” as the farm convoy lead by Faran himself made its 5-mile trip from Buckner Elementary to Fort Osage High School.
“Now that was a send-off,” remarked one Buckner Elementary staff member.
Farnan has been principal at Buckner Elementary for 17 years. Inspired by the number of his students whose relatives would sometimes pick them up from school in a tractor, Faran told himself that he would like to ride in a tractor the day he retired as principal.
“The Buckner Elementary community is more than just a town,” he said, “it’s farms.” He added these students and their families who live on farms live not just in Buckner, but in Levasy and Sibley as well.
The principal got his wish on Monday, but had no idea that a whole parade of tractors would be organized for his last day at Buckner Elementary. Nearly a hundred people – current and former teachers, past students, parents of students, and relatives – gathered outside the school Monday afternoon to surprise Farnan with the farm cavalcade.
“This is awesome and incredible,” an emotional Faran said to all in attendance. “Thank you.” After those words, he was approached by a number of tearful faces wanting to give their former principal a hug.
“He’s just a good model,” Nikki Mershon said of Faran. “He connected with kids and was very active and involved with the school.” She said her and her husband helped coordinate the retirement parade. “It was a community-sponsored event.”
Buckner Elementary teacher Deanna Spooner said Farnan’s leadership is what he will most be remembered. “He was a father figure to all of us, including teachers.” Both Mershon and parent Kim Stringer added students at Buckner Elementary are mostly from single-parent households and that Farnan served as a positive male figure to all of them.
Farnan said he took his mother’s advice on why he decided to retire as an elementary school principal. “She said, ‘You’ll know when.’” For him, he added, the timing was right.
He has endured tragedy and hardship over the years. His son, Spec. Colby Farnan, died in Iraq in 2005. Before getting on his tractor, Farnan knelt in front of the Buckner Elementary School lettering placed outside the building. Wearing his son’s dogtags and a ballcap etched with a soldier battle cross, he later said he gave a prayer for his son and that he is “smiling down from Heaven” for his dad’s retirement. Farnan also noted his grandson also later died prematurely.
Farnan also said what made him continue as Buckner Elementary’s principal, despite a horrific motorcycle accident he would later experience, was the last conversation he had with his son. “I told him that I would take care of things here and he would take care of things over there.”
Farnan suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident in Arkansas October 2012, and was flown by air ambulance to Springfield, Missouri. That last conversation with his son, he said, was the driving force to help him get better and continue his career in education.
The man who has experienced difficulties said his most memorable event at Buckner Elementary just happened on Monday. Over the weekend, he was informed the power went out at the school, which caused the intercom system to malfunction. He said every morning the entire school would recite the Pledge of Allegiance and instead of him getting on the intercom to lead, the entire student body started both the nation's and school’s pledge without him.
Farnan said he is proud of his former school having to go from just around 24 percent of its students proficient or advanced in English/reading his first year as principal to 61 percent proficient or advanced the previous year.
“Put kids first,” he advises today’s teachers and administrators, “your own and everybody else's.” He added that principals shouldn’t worry whether a faculty member parked their car in the wrong spot or other trivalities, but to show love and support for each and every child.
“He made such a huge impact on a small community,” said Mershon.