Mark Hopfer taught at Days Creek School District for 38 years before retiring in 2011, but it hasn’t slowed his passion for educating students.

Hopfer is the Umpqua FFA district conference coordinator for the leadership conference, a biennial event at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, which he started 24 years ago.

The three-day event will see approximately 1,000 students from Douglas and Coos counties attend. Roseburg, South Umpqua and Days Creek high schools were at the conference Tuesday. Oakland, Sutherlin and Glide will be there Wednesday, and Elkton, Glendale, Myrtle Point and Douglas will visit Thursday.

“This conference was my brainstorm. That’s the reason I keep running it,” Hopfer said.

Hopfer started organizing the leadership conference when he realized the cost of attending leadership events were around $500 to $1,000 per student.

Bringing those same speakers to the area would be more cost-efficient for the Umpqua FFA District and the schools, and would also create more opportunities for students, according to Hopfer.

“It’s a good learning opportunity,” Roseburg High School freshman Ella Miller said. “There are many interests that you share with other people, you just have to connect.”

Hopfer worked with local foundations and businesses to make this a free event for all students. The only cost to school districts is transportation.

“It’s a very different style of speaking than I’m used to,” South Umpqua High School junior Kaana Fye said.

Speakers at the conference in Roseburg, included Kelly Barnes and Rhett Laubach, and focused on leadership, goal-setting and priorities in life.

“Your main job in life is to be a good person and to be productive,” Hopfer said. “It doesn’t matter what you choose to do in life, but whatever you choose to do — do it right and do it well. If we can get that message through to all kids and all people, we probably wouldn’t have some of the problems we have in society today. We wouldn’t have our homeless rate, we wouldn’t have our drug problem, we wouldn’t have our child abuse problems.”

Laubach, who speaks at about 130 conferences a year, talked to students about having goals after high school, having a goal in mind and working to achieve that goal.

“I have a continued love for FFA, because it helps young people keep ag-related jobs in their field of vision,” Laubach said.

Laubach has spoken at the Umpqua FFA Leadership conference seven times, starting in 2007, and said the reason he keeps coming back is the commitment by Hopfer to educate the youth.

“I learned people will say no but if I can deal with it and embrace that hard conversation it will help me build teams and relationships,” Fye said.

South Umpqua and Roseburg High School brought students interested in agriculture, but not necessarily part of FFA or 4H. While all students of Days Creek High School were in attendance.

“I’m having a blast,” Roseburg High School senior Ethan Louder said. “Everyone is really nice.”

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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