Heifer International Honors the Seagoing Cowboys

Here are the promised snippets from our Beyond Hunger Northern Indiana weekend September 12-14 held at Camp Alexander Mack in Milford, Indiana. And what a weekend it was! Heifer founder Dan West’s son Steve later reflected on the event in an email to some of the planners:

Jan West Schrock and brother Steve share a moment of fun.

Jan West Schrock and Steve West, children of Heifer International founder Dan West, share a moment of fun at the Friday evening indoor campfire. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

There is a graciousness about Heifer that I saw all of you tapping into. It is rather breathtaking just how a simple idea can go around the world to 21 million families, help them to survive and to create gracious smiles of their own. Animals have a way of going to the heart of relationships, totally without human words, to make the right earthy connection that this world so desperately needs.

To capture the depth and richness of the weekend would take more posts than I have time to make. My focus here, in keeping with the purpose of this blog, will be on the seagoing cowboys who delivered the animals that brought those gracious smiles to people around the world.

Cowboys and cowgirls pose with their awards.

Twenty-four of the honored seagoing and flying cowboys and cowgirls pose with Heifer International’s CEO Pierri Ferrari and Peggy Reiff Miller. Photo courtesy of Church of the Brethren/Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.

Cowboys conversing

Ivan Patterson shares a story with fellow seagoing cowboy Gordon Shull. Photo courtesy of Church of the Brethren/Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.

Richard Reiste's display

Cowboy Richard Reiste tells about his trip to China. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.


What a joy to have twenty-six seagoing and flying cowboys and cowgirls together to reminisce with each other, to share their memorabilia with the 180 participants, and to share their stories.

Here’s what some of the cowboys told us:

Robert EppSS Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 1945

Walter Hochstedler and Robert Epp share stories.

Robert Epp (right) shares a story with fellow cowboy Walter Hochstedler (left). Their ships were in Poland at the same time in December 1945. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

The destructiveness of the war and the suffering of the people really impressed on me how war should be completely eliminated. We became acquainted with a cobbler there near the docks, and he said that when the Russians came through, one of them had been wounded and he took him in and kept him until he was well. And this soldier said he was so glad he had been wounded, now he didn’t need to fight anymore, which tells me that nobody really wants to do this.

Ralph AschlimanSS Plymouth Victory to Greece, February 1947

Ralph Aschliman makes a difference.

Seagoing Cowboy Ralph Aschliman (right) receives his Make a Difference Award from Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

On our return trip in the Mediterranean, it was a Sunday morning and the captain wanted us to unload the manure. We were just about 100% Mennonites and we said, “We prefer not to work on Sunday.” Well, our supervisor was not a Mennonite, and he thought he had a mutiny on his hands! So he came in and he said, “I want the name of every one of you who refuse to work on Sunday.” And I mean, it got quiet in there. Then one of the youngest guys said, “Well, you can have my name, right now.” That broke the dam and literally everyone said, “You can have my name.” That supervisor was stumped. He didn’t know what to do. Well, we agreed that we would make sure that the ship got emptied. Early Monday morning, we were out there. We relayed all the manure up to the winches. By the time the winch operators came on duty, we made sure that they kept busy and we unloaded it in record time. We were apologized to and said they just never, never saw a bunch of guys that could work like that. Well, we were all farm boys. We knew how to work!

Walter HochstedlerSS Morgantown Victory to Poland, December 1945

Cowboy gets a hug.

Seagoing cowboy Walter Hochstedler gets a hug from friend Garry Weybright. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

We were taken out in the country on the battlefields. We still saw skeletons out there. I was one of the youngest and, you know, I had to make a decision whether I was going to sign up for Civilian Public Service, a C.O. Most of the fellows from the Mennonite church I attended went to the military, which was very unusual. But out there on the battlefield, to see the skeletons, I had to think, “That’s a mother’s boy, it could be some wife’s husband, could be some gal’s daddy.” And the way things looked around there, it didn’t look like it did much good. I knew when I had to register, I would apply for a C.O. position. It made an impact on my life.

Matt MeyerSS Cedar Rapids Victory to Trieste, Italy, July 1946

Matt Meyer with his Make a Difference award

Seagoing Cowboy Matt Meyer displays his Make a Difference Award with friends Sarah and Jay Wittmeyer (left) and wife Virginia (right). Photo courtesy of Church of the Brethren/Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


The Mediterranean Sea was a worry. There was danger there in 1946 from the war. Mines were floating there, and if the ship hits them and it’s metal, usually it’s enough impact to destroy the ship. Every once in a while we’d hear an explosion, and it wasn’t very far away. That was a little scary.



Howard LordSS Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia, March 1947

Rock Springs Victory seagoing cowboys

Howard Lord poses with shipmates Dick Hoblin and Bob Heimberger who sailed to Ethiopia together on the SS Rock Springs Victory in early 1947. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

First breakfast, I went in to take care of the cattle a little bit and went to breakfast, came back down, and without having any warning at all lost my whole breakfast right there. I just hung the hose up, headed for the ladder, and Dick Hoblin says, “What are you doing?” I said, “They tell me you’re better off to keep a full stomach. I just lost everything of my breakfast, I’m going to eat another breakfast.” I ate another big breakfast and never lost another meal the whole trip.

Jack Baker SS Mexican to Poland, December 1945

Jack Baker tells his story.

Jack Baker shares his seagoing cowboy story in a breakout session I moderated. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

We had 202 horses and 444 bred Holstein heifers, and some of the heifers had calves on the way over. We were standing on the ship watching them unload those heifers in Poland and a dock worker found a bucket that the cows were drinking from for ten days, didn’t clean it out, got down under the heifer, milked some milk, drank it right out of the bucket. And we looked at each other and said, “Wow.” We didn’t realize how hungry they were.

This gives you just a taste of the stories we heard. For those of you living near Manheim, Pennsylvania, you’ll have the opportunity to meet another group of seagoing cowboys on Saturday, October 25, at the Manheim Farm Show Complex. Go to this link to register for this next Heifer 70th anniversary event: http://www.heifer.org/beyond-hunger/communities-of-change.html

Reports and photo galleries of the Beyond Hunger Northern Indiana events can be found at these links:

Next post: Why didn’t the first Heifer Project shipment go to Spain?

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