2009 was a year of milestones for J.D. Wigley. Not only did he reach the age of 97, but he was honored by those he spent his life teaching.
Wigley was placed on the Alabama Future Farmers of America Wall of Honor.
Wigley taught vocational agriculture at Riverton High School for a number of years. When Buckhorn High School opened in 1958, Wigley became the agriculture teacher and the FFA advisor there.
Former students of his, including Homer Tate, Bobby Green and Frank Riddick, nominated the former ag teacher for the tribute.
The three wrote letters to the Alabama FFA Foundation in support of Wigley’s nomination.
"I believe Mr. J.D. Wigley should be in the Wall of Honor because of the immense influence he has had on my life and hundreds of other young men," said Tate in his letter. "He not only taught us life-long skills, but also instilled in us self-confidence and qualities of life needed our entire lives.
"He taught us to do our very best in whatever we began and to be winners in all our endeavors. Personally, he has helped me to be successful in my agricultural career."
Winning seemed to be a theme Wigley instilled in all his students.
Roger Jones, a Madison County commissioner and Buckhorn student, said in a Huntsville Times interview: "Mr. Wigley’s FFA chapter was second to none. Buckhorn won more than any of the other chapters in the state under his leadership."
Tate agreed whole-heartedly.
"You didn’t mess around," Tate said. "He made you win. When he and Mrs. Wigley got into something, they got into it to win. They taught us how to win."
Tate focused that drive to win into a successful farming career in Madison County.
Riddick characterized Wigley as a "unique" teacher.
"He not only taught from the books, so to speak, but he taught common sense things that would be helpful in achieving success in any endeavor you should choose later in life," Riddick said.
To prepare his students for the FFA public speaking competition, Wigley required all Vo Ag students to write a speech and present it to the faculty and student body, Riddick recalled.
"Writing the speech was bad enough but having to present it to a large group was even worse," Riddick said. "But, as I reflect back on this, now I see where it enhanced my ability to communicate effectively, which contributed greatly to any career success I have had."
Riddick noted that even after he graduated, Wigley continued in his role as advisor, directing him on many occasions over the years.
Green, who graduated from Riverton High School in 1951, fondly remembered his FFA years with Wigley.
He said Wigley was his teacher and advisor from 1948 to 1951.
"During that period under Mr. Wigley our FFA chapter won every county, district, state and national contest we entered, and we entered them all," Green recalled.
"Mr. Wigley had the leadership and ability to take any poor, backward, bashful, redneck country boy and make him into a proud, confident, motivated individual who could stand up before a civic group of successful men and give a speech without fear or hesitation."
Green praised Wigley’s wife, Lou, for doing her part. She taught Home Economics as a school subject and manners as a life subject.
Students remember being taught respect for parents, teachers and elders. They were instilled with social graces allowing them to act confidently at any social gathering or event.
"Mr. Wigley would go the distance to help get a deserving student a scholarship to attend college," Green said. "He did for me. What success I may have had in life I owe most of it to Mr. Wigley."
Tate noted, even though he may have forgotten some of the things Wigley taught him in the classroom, he would never forget the influence Wigley had on his life.
"You can multiply that by several hundred students," said Tate.