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story.lead_photo.caption Nick Rackers poses for a photo at the Osage County Country Club in Linn where he works for State Technical College of Missouri. State Tech has taken over management of the country club where turf management and landscaping are necessary and courses are taught. Photo by Julie Smith / Fulton Sun.

At the Commercial Turf & Grounds Management program at State Technical College of Missouri, instructor Nick Rackers displays more than two dozen flags representing professional sports teams or championship sporting events.

They represent where former students have gone on to make a name for themselves — not in the big games, but for preparing the turfs for those games.

Two of his former students were even given championship rings for their work on the fields during Kansas City Chiefs and Boston Red Sox World Series games.

"I just like seeing students who are successful, building businesses, work their way up," he said.

Working in turf management isn't considered a glamorous job, he said, but it can beat working in an office. And his students often go on to make a nice living.

The Cole County native and self-described "plant geek" was interested in growing things as a child when his grandfather had a farm in Wardsville. He worked part-time at Longfellow's Garden Center in Centertown through high school before earning a plant science degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

One of the things people often get wrong with their yards at home? Mowing at the proper height and using too much fertilizer/chemicals, he said.

"People mow as low as they can, but they need to adjust the heights for different times of the year," he said.

When he's not working, he's often doing volunteer work with the Jefferson City Evening Rotary Club. His involvement with Rotary started when former State Tech President Don Claycomb told him about a Rotary group study exchange in Australia based on agriculture.

"If you'd like to go, let me know tomorrow," Claycomb told him.

So in 2011, he spent a month with the group in Australia, sharing their knowledge at places such as nurseries and farms. The following year, he joined Rotary and has been active since.

"If I had said 'no,' I wouldn't be having this conversation right now," he said. "My life would be completely different."

He said his feelings about Rotary are summed up by a woman who spoke at a Rotary alumni event in Atlanta. She said: "They wanted me to say a few words at this reception, but I'm not going to talk very long because the conversations you are having in this room are more important than anything I have to say. Rotary has given us so much we could never pay it back, so we'll just pay it forward."

Rotary describes itself as a "global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves."

Rackers has since traveled abroad for other Rotary events, and he's sometimes been able to pair those trips with another passion of his — watching Olympic sporting events. He's seen Olympic events in the United States as well as London.

He especially likes watching beach volleyball, table tennis and badminton.

During the summer, he operates Flywheel Ice Cream with his father and twin brother, Nathan. They sell their ice cream at church picnics and other events, using a 1927 John Deere hit-and-miss tractor engine to slowly churn the ice cream.

All of his life's passions started with a simple curiosity.

"I don't accept anything," he said. "I gotta know why. It's kind of the tag on the mission statement at State Tech: 'To prepare students for profitable employment and a life of learning.' You have to be curious. You have to ask why and keep learning."

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