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Fairgrounds foundation launches leadership speaker series for youth

Jack Parnell, former United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, spent an evening sharing his experience and words of advice with FFA students from Nevada Union and Bear River.
Courtesy photo |

“The word ‘can’t’ can’t do anything,” said Jack Parnell, former United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, to a group of local high school students on Thursday night. “But the word ‘can’ can do anything it wants to do; so fill your mind with the word ‘can’ and believe that you can do whatever you choose to dream.”

Parnell recently addressed FFA students from Bear River and Nevada Union high schools as the first speaker in the Nevada County Fairgrounds Foundation’s Speaker Series.

The series, hosted by the Fairgrounds Foundation and sponsored by Sandy Ballou and California Outdoor Properties, brings business education — through access to business leaders and real-life leadership experiences — to local high school students.



“It was an honor to introduce Jack at the first Fair Foundation Speaker Series,” said Rea Callender, CEO of the Nevada County Fairgrounds. “Jack gave one of the most inspirational — and from the heart — talks that I’ve heard. He truly addressed why we started this series — to give high school students real life advice from real-life professionals, and to provide tips on how to build and succeed in a career.”

This is the fourth speaker series Callender has started throughout his career.




In addition to serving as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Parnell — who served during the George H.W. Bush administration from 1989 until 1991 — also served as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1987 to 1989, as director of the California Department of Fish and Game from 1984 to 1987, and as Deputy Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1983 to 1984.

Before working for the state, Parnell was the owner and publisher of California Cattleman Magazine and the founder and chairman of the Auburn Bank of Commerce. He built and operated the Headquarters House Restaurant, the Headquarters House Country Meat Shop, the Angus Hills Golf Course, and Parnell Ranch.

Parnell is a founder of the Draft Horse Classic, now in its 30th year at the fairgrounds, and has long been a supporter of youth in agriculture at the Nevada County Fair. He served as the auctioneer at the Junior Livestock Auction for many years, and in continuing that tradition, his son, Randy, and his grandson, Luke, continue to serve as the auctioneers each year at the fair.

Parnell shared his experiences and life stories with the students, and shared advice on steps he took to succeed. From a teacher early on who believed in him, to stories of success (and failures), Parnell’s main messages was to never give up on yourself, to always believe in yourself, work hard, and to dig deep when it gets tough. To use one of his favorite quotes of the night: “If you believe it, you can see it.”

In sharing his advice with the students, Parnell said, “Each morning, you wake up with a blank white sheet of paper in your mind. You can either scribble on it, wad it up and throw it away, or fill it with new goals and aspirations. Every day is a new day, so treat every day as if it’s important. Pay attention to what you are thinking about yourself, keep your thoughts positive, and pay attention to what comes out of your mouth.”

The Fairgrounds Foundation’s speaker series will feature six speakers, one each month, and will run through April. Invited students will have an opportunity to hear about the speaker’s career path, how they achieved their goals, insight regarding their area of expertise, and plenty of opportunities for questions.

Upcoming speakers include Dan Castles, CEO of Telestream; and John Paye, former NFL player for the San Francisco 49ers.


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