Dear Friends of LOFC,
On July 15, 2022, the Mississippi Vocational Agriculture Teachers’ Association inducted Ollie Ancil Cleveland, longtime teacher of Vocational Agriculture at Lexington High School, into its Hall of Fame. His teaching career spanned forty-three years, twenty-six spent at Lexington High School (LHS). Mr. Cleveland always gave credit to his students for any professional success he enjoyed.
Prior to moving to Lexington in 1947, Cleveland taught in Camden for four years. It was in Camden that the State Department of Education first named his Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapter as an Honor Roll Chapter. It was also in Camden that he mentored his first State FFA Champion, the late Dr. Alton B. Cobb, who went on to become the State Health Officer for Mississippi. Dr. Cobb credited Vocational Agriculture under Mr. Cleveland for his success. In 1944 Cleveland and his Camden FFA boys finished fifth in a state contest selling War Bonds. They sold over $12,000 in bonds, the equivalent of over $203,000 in 2022 dollars—all in the tiny community of Camden.
While at LHS Cleveland mentored two National FFA winners: Eddie Harrison and James Sanford. In addition, he had eight state winners in the categories of Public Speaking, Parliamentary Procedure, Farm Electrification, Farmer Cooperatives, Soil and Water Conservation, Wildlife Conservation, Corn Production and Livestock Judging. Four of his students were elected to state FFA offices, including President and Vice President. The State Department of Education consistently awarded the Lexington FFA chapters with the status of Honor Roll Chapter.
Cleveland’s favorite FFA contest was Parliamentary Law, and over the years he had numerous Big Black District winners in that topic. Winners included John Downer, Edward Ellington, Pat Barrett, Jr., Don Downer, Jerry Fite, Walter Sullivan, Wyche Hooker, Julian Watson, and Borden White. Other Big Black District winners included Larry Spell in Corn Production, William Spell in Wildlife Conservation, and Glenmore Powell in Livestock Judging. There were many others, but too numerous to name. He required every student to build a gun rack or end table in the Shop Class. Former students often joke about their carpentry skills, or lack thereof. Students also learned welding, plumbing, electrical wiring, finish carpentry, and general construction skills.
He took pleasure -- and sometimes bragged to his fellow Vocational Agriculture teachers around the state -- that Lexington students could make anyone a successful teacher. He spent summers visiting the family farms of students and working with their livestock, poultry, row crops, and truck crops. Projects included on-farm elementary veterinary skills, fertilization, irrigation, and on-farm electrical wiring. After Lexington, Cleveland taught in Belzoni for two years and four years teaching agriculture and forestry at Holmes Community College until he retired.
Edward Ellington, a former student of Cleveland, wrote in support of his nomination to the Hall of Fame: “Mr. Cleveland’s efforts coaching the parliamentary team served me well throughout my life. It is so right that his work is finally being recognized.”
Richard Hammett, another former student, wrote: “Mr. Cleveland was not only a great teacher, but he was a great friend to all the boys. He would take us around to various dairies and farms to judge cows and crops, especially corn. He taught us so much about agriculture and so many other things. He taught us how to mend and build fences, work on barns and a lot about carpentry. He allowed us to attend meetings with farmers as they discussed issues. As a big strapping country boy that understood work, I loved that Mr. Cleveland would get us out of study hall and go to his farm. He made school fun.”
A member of the Lexington First Baptist Church, Cleveland served as a Deacon over a span of four decades, also serving many of those years as the Choir Director. He was a member of the Lexington Rotary Club and served as its song director, leading it in song, “R-O-T-A-R-Y, that spells Rotary.” Further, Cleveland supported the City of Lexington by serving as an Alderman. He and his wife, the late Bernice Thrash Cleveland, had three daughters, Betty Carroll and Barbara, both of Huntsville, Alabama; a son Dr. O.A. Cleveland, Jr. of Starkville, Mississippi; and the late Sue Cleveland.
Cleveland’s selection to the Hall of Fame was a four-year process and included recommendations from the late Pat M. Barrett, Jr., Edward Ellington, Billy Ellis, Julian Watson, and the former President Pro Tempore of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Robert G. Clark, Jr.
If you would like to honor Mr. Cleveland or another teacher who had influence in your life, please consider a memorial to LOFC in their honor.
Amanda Povall Tailyour, Editor
To Donate or make a Memorial Online: