Happy 75th Annivesary, Heifer International!

Monday, July 14, will mark 75 years since Heifer International’s first shipment, which went to Puerto Rico. Their mission: Ending hunger and poverty while caring for the earth. Here’s how the organization looked at age 20:

An unidentified 1964 article. Courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

At age 75, with headquarters now in Little Rock, Arkansas, the basic objectives of the Heifer Project and its “passing on the gift” model remain; but the organization has matured to the point where today entire communities are transformed through Heifer’s assistance and guidance. Animals are no longer shipped from the United States; they are purchased in the region of assistance where they are acclimated to local conditions and resistant to local diseases.

To date, Heifer has helped more than 34 million families break the cycle of poverty. Their current fact sheet summarizes their work this way:

Heifer International is a global nonprofit dedicated to helping farming communities around the world lift themselves to self-reliance. We work with small-scale farmers worldwide to achieve living incomes, ensuring that they have adequate food, housing and other essential resources to lead decent and dignified lives. We assess needs at the community level and address these through inputs like animals and training that are compatible with market needs. Doing so enables small-scale farmers and farming communities to build successful businesses, thriving networks and resilient livelihoods. To strengthen our impact, we have aligned our goals with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly zero hunger, zero poverty and gender equality.

One could wish Heifer International another 75 years of wonderful work, but it may be more fitting to say, “May you one day work yourselves out of a job through the achievement of your mission.” Happy Anniversary, Heifer International!

Special 4th of July Post: Heifer Project honored by German leader of displaced persons

As Americans celebrated our Independence Day circa 1960, a German newspaper reported that a resettled displaced German from World War II celebrated along with us. The translation of this inspiring story from the Heifer International archives follows (inserted photos were not a part of the article):

Thanks on the day of Independence for help in hard times

Langenhagen (a rural district of Hanover). Every year on July 4th one inhabitant of Langenhagen hoists the American flag in front on his one-family house. Already early in the morning, when the news vendors and the boys that bring the buns come, it flutters proudly at the high flagpole. Those who do not know the reason wonder and ask what that means, but the neighbors in the housing-estates street and many refugee farmers all over Lower Saxony know the reason. This flag is a symbol of thanks which one man here privately says to the American people. Thanks for 828 prolific heifers, given by USA farmers to refugee farmers in Lower Saxony in the postwar years, in order to help them to overcome their great losses.

Courtesy of Heifer International.

On July 4th, 1776, the declaration of independence of the USA was signed. Since then this day has been widely celebrated in the USA. Everybody who is in possession of a flag, hoists the flag; and thus Hans Moehrl, director of the Agrarian Department of the Confederation of Displaced Persons for the state of Lower Saxony also hoists the flag in his house at Langenhagen. “I just feel I must thank the American people for their help, and I thought I might express this thanks by celebrating with them their national holiday.”

He speaks with great emotion of the cattle gifts. Totally 3500 heifers (cows that calve for the first time) were brought into the Federal Republic of Germany. The churches of all confessions in the USA did this action jointly, and the children collected the money for the transport in the children’s services. The animals that were appointed for Lower Saxony were put up in the cattle-auction hall at Lehrte and during a festive hour they were given to the refugee farmers. Often a pastor accompanied the transport as cowboy, often the givers themselves came along and accompanied the animal as far as the new cow barn. The refugee farmers had to assume the obligation to give the first female calf to another refugee farmer, and thus a great deal of boon followed this action.

This newspaper clipping says: East Prussian farmer Hermann Kruger and his wife can, with special joy, thank their new friend, American pastor Edwin F. Riske (middle), for his gift of a heifer. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Mostly light-red Jersey heifers were concerned which are smaller than our black Ostfriesen. They also give less milk, but they distinguish themselves by a considerably higher fat content, often up to 8 percent. These cows are without horns, immediately after the birth the onsets are touched with potassium hydroxide, so they do not grow. Thus the animals become more peaceable. This is now also often done with German heifers.

Courtesy of Heifer International.

The USA farmers did not only help Germany. Since the Spanish Civil War, since 1938, they sent totally 10,112 items of cattle, 1520 pigs, 47 horses, 7744 goats, 1241 sheep, 358,162 hens, 310,657 eggs for incubation as well as many bee colonies, turkeys and rabbits, and other useful animals into 29 different countries. Every family that got an animal had to assume the obligation to give the firstborn to another person in need. Meanwhile this action has come to an end for Germany; but it continues undiminished for other countries that are in need.

Reflections of a 1945 Seagoing Cowboy to France on stewardship

The focus of these blog posts is usually on a seagoing cowboy’s trip. This post will focus, however, on how the trip to France in August 1945 affected the life of 35-year-old cowboy Paul Rodeheffer and his family, as shared with former Heifer International staffer and “Cowboy Custodian” Bill Beck in this undated account.

Paul Rodeheffer’s card from the seagoing cowboy file of the Brethren Service Committee. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Stewardship to us is receiving and sharing God’s gifts with others for His purpose in the world….

Because I was a farmer producing food, I did not have to go to war. Out of gratitude, I took the unexpected chance to go with the first load of cattle [to France] for the organization “Heifers for Relief,” where the cows were given to orphanages, hospitals and families with more than six children.

It was here that I saw firsthand that gifts given through the church (in this case Church of the Brethren) actually reached their destination. Through the years we have ignored pleas for our money through the mail and over T.V. We give to the church and its related schools and organizations because we know it gets to the right place.

This trip was the biggest risk we ever took. I left my wife with two boys, 3 and almost 1 year old, at home with my father. It was just before harvest, and the corn picker which I had bought was not even set up. For all its uncertainties this trip proved to us that the more you give the more you get. In our family it changed our priorities about many things.

1st. My absence from the farm changed family attitudes. I, tending cattle on a freighter, seasick sometimes, changed my thinking. At home, my father, unable to carry on alone with the farm, changed his mind and decided to let me buy it when I returned. My only sister agreed, and so just 33 years ago this week, we made the transaction.

2nd. The trip gave us new friends, on the boat and in the churches where I shared my experience. The baby sitter who stayed with Elnor and the boys, and now her whole family, are among our best friends.

3rd. The trip gave me a lasting relaxed attitude toward work and possessions. After two months, I came home on October 20, 1945. The corn picker had to be set up and crops were waiting to be harvested. But the beans and corn were all saved with no Sunday harvesting.

Stewardship, like the miracle of seed time to harvest, is a progressive lifelong process for us.

Heifer Project shipments to Europe begin in earnest with a shipment to France in September 1945

The Heifer Project made two shipments of heifers to France in the wake of World War II. The first load of animals went to the region of Normandy in September 1945. The second, sent in April 1946, was destined for the Alsacian region of France.

Thirteen seagoing cowboys, one supervisor, and one veterinarian took care of the 150 Heifer Project animals and UNRRA’s 151 horses on the first trip. Cowboy Wayne Brant of York, Pennsylvania, donated one of those heifers. He had previously raised some calves for the Heifer Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico.

Wayne Brant and two heifers he raised for the Heifer Project, 1944. Peggy Reiff Miller Collection.

When the call went out looking for men to give about six or seven weeks of their time to help care for shiploads of heifers to go to Europe, Brant jumped at the chance. “I announced to my family my intention of volunteering for one of the trips,” he says. “I think my wife, who was teaching school at the time, was a little shocked since we lived on a farm with milking cows and a teen-aged hired boy, who was to take care of the farm chores. She soon gave her consent.”

Wayne Brant’s Merchant Marine ID card, 1945. Peggy Reiff Miller Collection.

On board ship, one of Brant’s jobs was to accompany the veterinarian on his daily rounds of checking the animals. “Several of the horses became ill,” he says, “because of exhaustion from slipping on wet decks, which at first were hosed down daily. Plans were soon changed and the hosing was discontinued.”

The ship docked in Le Havre, France, for unloading of the animals, then continued up the Seine River to Rouen for the unloading of tractors and grain. Arrangements for distribution of the Heifer Project animals were made by Brethren Service worker Eldon Burke. Many of the cowboys got to visit Burke’s home in Paris.

The dock at Le Havre was still in disarray for the second heifer shipment in April 1946. Photo credit: Wilbur Stump.

“We were fortunate to be able to do some sightseeing,” Brant says. “I have vivid impressions of blocks of destroyed buildings in Le Havre. We were warned to stay within marked boundaries because of the many minefields. Not much damage was done to Paris because it was declared an ‘open city’.”

War destruction was evident in Le Havre, France, April 1946. Photo credit: Wilbur Stump.

Sightseeing in Paris on the second trip to France, April 1946. Photo credit: Wilbur Stump.

Unlike most cowboy crews, Brant’s crew was able to visit some places their heifers had been taken. “Five of the heifers went to a Children’s Home, which some of us had the privilege of visiting,” he says. “I remember the little shoes without soles when one of the house parents asked the children to lift one of their feet.”

Ohio cowboy Andrew Petry recognized his own cow among the five at the Canteleu children’s hospital. A Gospel Messenger report says, “On our visit to the dormitory, children were writing letters to their families. They were clean, but badly shod. The children live out in the open; classes are held outside. These 220 children (some of whom lost their parents during the bombings) all have a tendency toward tuberculosis.” The Heifer Project cows’ milk would go a long way toward treating that.

The Zona Gale returned to Le Havre after a week in Rouen. The supervisor’s report says, “The trip up and down the River was spoiled for the most of us because we were required to be down below deck cleaning up the cattle and horse stalls. It is to be regretted that there was not a better understanding between the ship’s officers and our own men as to where our duties ended and the regular ship’s crew’s began.”

What the cowboys unknowingly did, however, was get the ship ready for the loading of 90 soldiers in Le Havre to return them home from the war. Brant recalls, “They were not happy. The military flew them over but sent them back on slow Liberty ships.”

Brant notes, “The trip back seemed to take much longer because there was little to do. But we enjoyed getting to know one another better and we developed lasting friendships during the forty-five days we spent together.”

Next post: Reflections of a 1945 seagoing cowboy to France

IN MEMORIUM

Remembering seagoing cowboys who are no longer with us on this Fifth Friday of May 2019.

Miller, Jr., Owen, May 21, 2019, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Israel, 1952 (a Levinson Brothers shipment).

Byer, Burnel “Bunnie” Bolyard, May 20, 2017, Libby, Montana. S. S. Queens Victory to Czechoslovakia via Germany, June 29, 1946.

Daggett, Walter Wayne, March 10, 2019, Bridgewater, Virginia. Heifer Project shipment to West Germany, December 7, 1956.

Ramseyer, Floyd “Fred,” March 31, 2019, Orrville, Ohio. S. S. Park Victory to Poland, December 23, 1945.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

The Convergence of UNRRA, the Seagoing Cowboys, and the Heifer Project

By June 1945, the Heifer Project had, on their own, made two shipments of heifers across the seas to Puerto Rico, an overland shipment to Mexico, and two to Arkansas. A program of the Brethren Service Committee (BSC) of the Church of the Brethren, with other denominations participating, the Heifer Project was intent on sending cows to provide relief to the victims of World War II.

During the war, 44 of the “united nations” created UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to assist countries devastated by the war. As plans for UNRRA took shape, BSC’s Executive, M. R. Zigler, lobbied UNRRA to include Heifer Project animals in their shipments. The sending of six bulls to Greece in May 1945 served as a test.

When UNRRA began shipping livestock in earnest the end of June 1945, the seagoing cowboy program was born through an agreement between UNRRA and the BSC: the BSC would serve as the recruiting agency for the cattle tenders for all of UNRRA’s intended shipments. In return, UNRRA would ship Heifer Project animals free of charge and under the terms of the Heifer Project, meaning the animals would be a gift to the neediest of preselected farmers. UNRRA recipients had to pay a bit, depending on UNRRA’s agreement with the receiving country.

The Seagoing Cowboy Office at the Brethren Service Center, New Windsor, MD. Circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Over the course of UNRRA’s two-year active life span, 4,000 of the approximately 300,000 animals shipped were from the Heifer Project. It’s the seagoing cowboy stories from these UNRRA/Heifer Project shipments I’ll be focusing on during this 75th Anniversary year of Heifer International.

Heifer Project cattle bound for Ethiopia waiting to be loaded onto the S. S. Rock Springs Victory (out of sight on left), March 1947. Photo credit: Howard Lord.

In getting the seagoing cowboy program off the ground after UNRRA’s first two livestock shipments [read about them here and here], the BSC made these recommendations to the Heifer Project Committee in their June 25, 1945, meeting:
1. A foreman should be appointed who would be the spokesman for the entire group. [This was carried out. And a cowboy supervisor was hired by UNRRA for each crew, as well.]
2. Plans should be made for religious worship on the boat. [When UNRRA’s shipments mushroomed, this happened only when there were cowboys in the crew who initiated it.]

Cowboys on the S. S. Norwalk Victory take time for Sunday morning worship en route to Trieste, Italy. February 1946. Photo credit: Elmer J. Bowers.

3. An Educational Director should be appointed. This would include some education on relief needs, livestock needs, language of country which men are going to, church participation in the program, etc. [This fell by the wayside. Tending the animals left little time for anything else.]
4. Recreational program should be planned as on the return trip the men will apparently have no work which will occupy their time. [Some of the crews did take recreational equipment with them, but many had to devise their own pass-times. And the cowboys were often co-opted by the Captain to clean out stalls or do other work on the return trip.]

The Attleboro Victory crew enjoys a game of volleyball on the way home from Greece. December 1946. Photo credit: John Lohrentz.

The June 25 Heifer Project Committee minutes also state, “There was considerable discussion on the selection of these men that are to accompany these shipments. It is felt that we should make this a real testimony, as this is the kind of religion that talks.” These high ideals for this seagoing cowboy program at times bore fruit. But UNRRA’s shipping program and the need for cattle tenders increased so rapidly that just getting the required number of men on the ships was all BSC could manage at times. Ideal cowboys or not, however, these shipments of livestock on their own spoke volumes to grateful destitute recipients.

Dan West – World War I Conscientious Objector

Today is International Conscientious Objection Day. There will be an ecumenical gathering this evening at the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, commemorating those who were conscientious objectors in World War I. There was no alternative service at that time, so COs had to either serve within the military or go to prison. Dan West, the founder of Heifer International, was one of those men.

Dan was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1918. He entered service not knowing how far he could cooperate with the army. His experience became a defining moment in his life. Here is his story in his own words in a paper titled “Your Goals,” as told to a group of Brethren Volunteer Service workers years later:

       There was not any Alternative Service then, but I was a CO. After a few weeks I was transferred to the 39th Machine Gun Battalion. When I got there, I went to my new captain to get released. He cursed me hard, evidently to change my mind. But he didn’t.
A few hours later I went back with a new idea: to offer to go to the Ft Leavenworth Penitentiary. My captain did not curse me any more, but said he could not move me on then.
After a few hard weeks I was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps. There I did not kill anybody, but I felt a part of a killing machine. That still hurts my conscience, and I developed a new GOAL to work for peace-not for war. That has lasted ever since.

Dan became one of the most prominent voices for peace in the church and later became Peace Educator for the Church of the Brethren. In that role, he was selected to be the Church of the Brethren representative to a Quaker (Society of Friends) relief project in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and 1938. Observing babies and tubercular children dying from a lack of milk while his babies back home were well fed made him determined to promote a plan to send cows to Spain, an idea hatched in discussions with colleagues in the relief project. Four years later, Dan’s plan was adopted by the Church of the Brethren District Men’s Work of Northern Indiana, then later by the denomination as a national plan which soon became ecumenical. The Heifer Project, as it was named, grew into today’s independent Heifer International.

Dan West distributes clothing to Spanish women and children affected by the Spanish Civil War, 1937. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Would that more people would develop the goal “to do as much for peace as a soldier does for war,” another way Dan talked of his goal.