MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — Forty years ago, Larry and Vickie Mitchell welcomed the first school group to their farm.
Vickie remembers it well.
“At the end, we did a head count and we were missing one,” Vickie recalled as she leaned against a fence on their 110-acre farm.
“We found him hiding under a bed. He didn’t want to leave.”
It still happens.
Their daughter Sara, now a teacher at Albany Elementary School, brought her students with special needs to the farm just last week.
“They cried when it was time to go home,” she told The Star Press. “They didn’t want to leave.”
Can’t say we blame them.
Larry Mitchell is a fourth-grade teacher at Monroe Central Elementary School and each fall, he brings his class out to enjoy some fun down on their Hoosier Homestead Farm.
Fun is the key word here.
“I honestly don’t know why it started,” Vickie said with a laugh as she organized snacks on a table. “But it quickly became a tradition.”
A tradition that has not changed much — if at all — in the past four decades.
They still play pass the grapefruit. They still take the same well-worn hayride path. They still roast hot dogs in the fire pit.
And Larry wouldn’t have it any other way. He serves as the MC, if you will, for the farm experience.
With an infectious laugh, Larry guides the children from his class through games that have them passing Lifesavers with toothpicks (using only their mouths) and busting balloons with their backsides.
“I enjoy it just as much as they do, every year,” he said during a recent party, still dressed in a shirt and tie from the classroom.
That most recent party, on Oct. 11, included a celebration of the milestone, complete with a plaque presented to Vickie from the students.
“That’s very nice; this is wonderful,” she told the students who presented her with the special “Hoosier Hospitality” plaque. “I’ve got a special place on the wall for this.”
Sara said her mom is quite the “party planner” and looks forward to the event each year.
“For a lot of kids, the only animals they see are in a zoo,” Sara said. “They have never been able to pet and feed a donkey.”
They feed the donkeys — Rosie, Sunshine, Daisy and Thunder — Frosted Mini Wheats, in case you were wondering.
They also get to hang out with the farm’s roosters, ducks, geese and a new litter of kittens.
“We get to do a lot of activities,” said Kylie Pyle, 9, as she geared up for the egg toss. Eggs, we should point out, that came from the farm’s chickens.
Ryleigh Dougherty, 10, roasted her hot dog to perfection, “with just enough burnt parts,” she said.
Kane Lancaster said he loved “just running around” the large grassy areas of the 110-acre farm.
Peyton Tinsman, 9, said he liked “hanging out with the donkeys” best.
His mom, Danielle, said she thinks “it’s great when teachers take time to do these kinds of things with their students.”
“These kids will never forget this,” said Jennifer Wessner, who was there watching her kids Dorian and Cloey take it all in.