About Peggy Reiff Miller

I grew up on a small dairy farm in northwestern Illinois, went to a small country church, attended a small high school, then a small church-related college before venturing out into the big, wide world. I applied my liberal arts education to a number of jobs and careers for 35 years before hitting my stride as the writer and caretaker of the seagoing cowboy history. This calling has kept me well occupied since 2002.

S. S. Park Victory painting travels to Finland

The Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be in Finland when this post goes live. I’ll be delivering a painting of the S. S. Park Victory given to me by seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer. Fred traveled to Poland on the S. S. Park Victory’s second livestock trip in December 1945. When I interviewed Fred in 2007, he showed me the painting he had of his ship.

An artist’s depiction of the S. S. Park Victory off the coast of Naples, Italy. May 1946. Photo: Vicki Dreher.

Here’s the story:

On his voyage, Fred became friends with the ship’s night cook and baker, Eddie Carlson. Fred helped Eddie at night just to have something to do. He remembers making candy with Eddie and that Eddie, who played the guitar, spent a lot of time with the cowboys. Eddie must have taken a liking to Fred especially, because some time after Fred had gotten home Eddie paid him a visit.

Eddie hitchhiked to Smithville, Ohio, where Fred lived and asked a man on the street for “Freddie.” The man turned out to be Fred’s father who took Eddie to the house. Eddie presented the painting of their ship to Fred and went on his way. Eddie had stayed in service on the S. S. Park Victory for another trip after Fred’s that went to Greece. On the way home, the ship had docked in Naples to pick up ballast. An enterprising painter on shore had painted the picture and Eddie acquired it.

Fred had the painting framed, along with his Merchant Marine card. It has graced his home ever since. At age 92, he wanted to find a good home for the painting. He called me to see if I would like to have it. I said, “Yes! And I know who would REALLY like to have it and will see that he gets it.” I explained about the interest in Finland in the S. S. Park Victory and shot off an email of inquiry to my contact there, Jouko Moisala. His response: “I am really very interested in the painting!!!!!”

So in March, Fred’s longtime friends Don and Vicki Dreher, who have often traveled with Fred and assist him now, drove Fred the three hours to my home. We had a lovely visit.

Don and Vicki Dreher on an outing with Fred Ramseyer. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dreher.

Fred left me not only the painting, but also a Park Victory life jacket light and whistle he had, all of which I am delivering to Finland to be placed there with other memorabilia of the ship.

Fred Ramseyer and Peggy Reiff Miller holding the painting of the S. S. Park Victory. Photo: Don Dreher.

Life Jacket light and whistle from the S. S. Park Victory, 1946.

As our conversation came to an end, Fred said, “I’m glad the picture will do some good in the end, because the trip was the highlight of my life.”

Next post: Delivering the painting in Finland.

Advertisements

In Memorium

It’s time once again to remember and celebrate the Seagoing Cowboys who have passed on to another realm. The ones of whom I’m aware this quarter are:

Geissinger, Norman AlfredApril 6, 2018, Chambersburg, PA. S. S. DePauw Victory to Greece, December 10, 1946.

Roop, Carroll, February 3, 2018, Taneytown, MD. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Snell, Wayne Edwin, March 24, 2017, La Verne, CA. S. S. Ouchita Victory to Greece, July 9, 1946.

Swartzendruber, Joseph Dale, April 6, 2018, Glendale, AZ. S. S. Frederic C. Howe to Poland, May 16, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

 

Volunteers at Heifer Ranch carry on the spirit of the Seagoing Cowboys

I want to give a Shout Out in this photo essay to the wonderful work that goes on at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas! Just as the seagoing cowboys and innumerable volunteers helped Heifer Project become a viable organization, today’s volunteers help keep the Heifer Ranch and Heifer USA running.

Spring 2018 volunteers, minus the snowbirds who had already left for home. Photo credit: Ian Peters, Residential Staff Coordinator.

For anyone out there who has a hankering to volunteer somewhere, this is a great place to do it! A lively community of both young adult, in-transition, and retired short-term and long-term volunteers (including several from overseas) gathers here. They serve in maintenance, gardening, education, the visitor center/gift shop, dining, the farm – wherever volunteers can be useful. Housing and a stipend are provided.

The mission of Heifer International to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth binds the volunteers and staff together in a common purpose that forms a close-knit community. A potluck meal is shared year-round on Thursday nights. During the height of the snowbird season, game nights are enjoyed on Tuesdays. Special events, like a pie baking contest, Memorial Day cookout, and the annual “Hoof it for Heifer” race at nearby Petit Jean State Park, pop up year round. And Northwest Central Arkansas is a beautiful place to explore on days off.

Since I’m not a volunteer, but rather came to sequester myself to write, I rented one of the apartments available to guests. Very comfortable and enjoyable!

My make-shift office in the dining nook of Rupel Apartment.

Most volunteers live in the private volunteer housing area of the Ranch. The yellow building on the left is the “Com-shack,” the volunteer community building where potlucks, game nights, etc. take place.

The Dan West Visitor Center and Gift Shop is where a visit to the Ranch begins.

Volunteer Aly Pagano from North Carolina welcomes visitors and gives them their first introduction to the Ranch.

Volunteer Susan Bigler from Little Rock sold me a few things!

Three-year farmer apprentice Michelle Michalek from Michigan prepares the chicken nursery for its next batch of chicks.

Volunteer Marie Berniere from France and three-year gardener apprentice Tradesha Clark from Boston tend the garden on a hot day.

Year-long Brethren Volunteer Service worker Bob O’Neill from Pennsylvania spends much of his time mowing the lawns.

My husband Rex uses his building contractor background to design and construct a new electric house for the RV area.

When not needed on the mower, Bob helps Rex finish the electric house.

Mission accomplished! Much to the satisfaction of those who bring their RVs to live in while volunteering.

Nearby Petit Jean State Park is one of our favorite places to go on weekends to soak up the beauty of the Arkansas Ouachita Mountains.

But we needn’t go much further than out our apartment door to enjoy stunning views and absorb the peaceful surroundings to the accompaniment of bird songs.

A wonderful benediction to our two-month stay.

We ended our time at the Ranch June 8. We’ll be back!

Heifer International continues to impact the world

Here’s a great article that appeared Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. Columnist Rex Nelson writes about the impact Heifer International has had locally in Little Rock and the larger impact Heifer is having around the world:

Heifer plugs on

Thanks, Rex Nelson!

Touring Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Trustees

Following the Heifer International Board meeting two weeks ago, the Heifer Foundation Board of Trustees also held their meeting at the Heifer Ranch. I sat in to hear Heifer USA/Ranch Manager Perry Jones bring the Trustees up to snuff on the work of the Ranch and tagged along on their Ranch tour. Perry told the Trustees, “You haven’t arrived at just any old moment. This is a moment of evolution.”

That evolution stems from the merger of Heifer Ranch with Heifer USA last year. Heifer USA has moved their home base of operations to the Ranch, joining its mission with that of the Ranch into an emerging social enterprise. Perry told the Trustees the new Heifer USA’s mission is “to create job opportunities in rural America by bringing farmers together to build socially and environmentally responsible and profitable businesses, and to educate the general public about sustainable agriculture and Heifer’s work around the world.” So the previous educational purposes of the Ranch are now intertwined with the agricultural work of Heifer USA, bringing the Ranch full circle to its beginnings as an operational agricultural enterprise.

For a closer look at Heifer USA and Ranch operations, the Trustees climbed aboard the Ranch’s trusty tour wagon “The Lyle & Berta,” named after longtime volunteers Lyle and Berta Riebe from Minnesota who conducted the tours for many years. While covering about a sixth of the Ranch’s 1,200 acres, Perry, along with Education Director Rebecca Roetzel, and Farm Manager Donna Kilpatrick, helped us understand the impact of the work here.
Heifer USA is a social enterprise in that “both profit and social good are generated,” says Perry. All of the work done at the Ranch complies with the mission of Heifer International “to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.” Currently three social enterprises make up Heifer USA: a Livestock Co-op called Grass Roots (you can order their pasture-raised meat online!); the local and sustainable fruit and vegetable sales and distribution company and farmer-owned co-op called New South; and the Ranch itself, which operates as a working farm to model the sustainable and profitable methods Heifer teaches.

Sheep, chicks, goats, cattle, pigs, and a few rabbits are raised at the Ranch.

Garden produce is used in the Ranch dining hall and supplies CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes for subscribers.

Along with these three enterprises, the Ranch will continue to expand as an educational center, hosting groups of all ages from all over the country with the goal of becoming “a world-class destination with provocative and impactful education programming,” says Perry. This runs the gamut from walk-in visitor tours, to school day trips, to overnight immersion experiences in one of Heifer’s global villages, all with the focus of acquainting guests with global issues of hunger and poverty and Heifer’s response to it.

Donna Kilpatrick gives a personal tour to visiting volunteers from the former Heifer Farm in Massachusetts.

 

A school group does a garden service project as part of their educational experience.

Some groups stay in one of the Ranch lodges…

Hersch Lodge

others rough it in the “Heifer Hilton”…

and others choose to experience the way people in under-developed countries live by staying in one of the Global Villages.

Global Village #1 enters at Guatemala house on the left. Thailand and Zambia houses are along the lake.

The education function of the Ranch is expanding in other ways, as well. The Ranch will become an on-site training center to “engage and prepare diverse farmers to succeed in agriculture,” says Perry. “We will engage more low-income, and minority and women farmers in profitable agricultural value chains.”

An exciting apprentice program has also been started. “Through strategic recruitment, this is an opportunity for us to be intentionally inclusive, reaching out to young people–especially women and minorities–in search of the opportunity to get a start in triple bottom line farming,” says Perry. “These apprentices train [for three years, ed.] under real farmers using the same methods that we use in the field; preparing them for success as commercial-scale sustainable farmers.”

With a lean staff, the Ranch, as did the Heifer Project in earlier years, depends on volunteers to accomplish its laudable goals. More about them in my next post.

Sharing the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas

This post will be more personal than my normal posts. My husband Rex and I are currently nearing the end of a two-month stay at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, where I’ve been sequestering myself to work on my book-in-progress about the first decade of the Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) while Rex has been volunteering in the maintenance department. Quite by coincidence, and fortunately for me, the Heifer International Board of Directors and the Heifer Foundation Board held their meetings at the Ranch this week. The Heifer Board invited me to sit in on Monday, and I am filled with admiration for the incredible talent of Board members and staff alike, appreciation for the work that Heifer is doing both here and abroad, and anticipation of the wonderful things to come.

A highlight of the meeting for me was hearing Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore tell of the marketing team’s visit to Honduras to see for themselves the impact of Heifer’s work there. Today, Heifer is so much more than just giving an animal to recipients, as it was in the beginning. It’s about building sustainable communities, achieving living incomes for community members through their small farms. At the dairy plant the team visited, Heifer has assisted a small business on the verge of closing by providing the owners with help in how to market the cheese they were making, teaching them good manufacturing practices, and providing capital for needed equipment. Heifer’s signature “Passing on the Gift®” value is achieved when the owners are able to pass on the knowledge of hygienic dairy practices to their small farm suppliers. The business has become so successful that families who had migrated to the United States for work are able to move back home because there are jobs for them there now, from the supply end to the marketing end of the cheese business.

Heifer International mission statement guides the Board’s deliberations.

In front of every Board member during the meetings, on the back of their name card, was Heifer’s mission statement. Another highlight for me was hearing of Heifer’s plans to expand their efforts in working at the last part of that statement: taking care of the earth. They already teach the sustainable methods of agriculture to small holder farmers in areas being affected by climate change, methods that help to reclaim, replenish, and protect the soil and water sources. The next step will be to partner with green investors to be able to expand this work to a scale that will help cool the planet.

Heifer President and CEO Pierre Ferrari (on right) addresses environmental impact issues of Heifer’s work. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff MIller.

The third highlight for me was to hear the Board begin their planning for a major global celebration of the organization’s 75th anniversary next year. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the 70th! I’m looking forward to seeing what the planning committee comes up with this time around and to participating in whatever ways I’m asked and able.

Heifer’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Christy Moore (second from right) introduces the 75th Anniversary agenda item. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Together again with “Sister” Jan. Photo credit: Jessica Ford.

The culminating highlight of the day for me was to share the evening stage with Heifer founder Dan West’s daughter in what was billed on the Board’s agenda as “An Evening with Jan Schrock and Peggy Miller,” or as Jan likes to call it, “The Jan and Peggy Show.” This is the fourth time we have presented together, with Jan sharing stories about her father and how he became Heifer’s founder and me sharing the history of Heifer’s beginnings, including stories of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer’s legacy. A bonus was having longtime Heifer Executive Director Thurl Metzger’s daughter Kathleen McNamee present to share about her father’s role in purchasing the Heifer Ranch. The Ranch staff created a very festive atmosphere in an outdoor pavilion and served a delicious meal using Ranch-raised meat and produce that set just the right tone for a delightful evening with the Board members, Heifer International’s Leadership Cabinet, and Heifer Ranch/Heifer USA staff and volunteers. A night to be long remembered.

Jan West Schrock tells how her father’s service in World War I set him on a life-long path of working for peace. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

It was an honor to share the history of Heifer’s beginnings with the people who carry on its legacy today. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

Next post: A tour of Heifer Ranch with the Heifer Foundation Board.

The S. S. Park Victory Livestock trip #3, Greece, March 1946 – Part II

“April 30, 1946 approaching Patras. Almost 7 o’clock in the morning. I’m just getting up. Still sleepy. BOOM!” So begins radioman Will Keller’s account of the S. S. Park Victory accident off the coast of Greece. He continues:

“The ship gives a terrible lurch. ‘S____! We’ve been torpedoed. The war’s been over almost a year and we’ve been torpedoed,’ so I thought. Then I came to…we had struck a mine…15-20 miles outside Patras.

Mine damage viewed from under the S. S. Park Victory, May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“We were in a ‘tethered’ mine field. The black gang had heard the mine scrape under the engine room. They raced for the ladders. Someone slammed shut the watertight door to the Shaft Alley. Mine explodes under the Shaft Alley. Alarms, alarms, alarms! Broken glass. All electrical power lost. No lights. Emergency generator starts then shuts down. Battery-powered emergency lights are on. Look out porthole. Ship slewing trailing oil. Down by stern but not sinking.

“Radio’s dead. Turn on battery backup. Radio’s still dead. Open receiver drawer and find all tubes had jumped out of sockets. Jammed tubes back into sockets, push receiver back into drawer, turn on, and…it’s working! Examine transmitter carefully. Everything looks OK. But, it won’t work.

“Go out on bridge wing to take a look at antenna wires normally strung high between the masts. Now they’re lying on the deck and across the animals’ stalls.

“Bosun climbing ladder to the Bridge. I yell to him and point to antenna wires. He nods and directs two seamen to climb masts and raise wires off the deck. Cowboy livestock handlers gathering on main deck putting on life jackets. Now’s the time for quick whizz. Back on wing bridge and note antenna is off the deck. Seamen climbing down mast.

“Back to radio room. Turn on receiver. Turn on transmitter. Wonderful! Wait for dead internal on 500 Kcs, then ask Malta if they can read. OK! Malta says sounds OK. I tell him, casually, that we’ve struck a mine and that I’ll ‘CUL’ (see you later). The Mediterranean radio chatter dies down. A North African station, with French call letter whispers, ‘Anybody killed?’ I respond, ‘Don’t know.’

“Turn off radio equipment. Go to bridge and tell Captain and First Mate that I have radio working. They nod. ‘Thanks, Sparks. Standby.’ They continue to discuss with Engineers whether we can or should run the engine slowly and creep into Patras under our own power.

“I go back to the Radio Room.

“Fishermen in small boats come near Park Victory. Point to other tethered mines in the water nearby. Dumb thing to do is look over side to see mine 15-20 feet from side of ship. I looked.

“We are slowly drifting, trailing oil.

“I go back to the Radio Room…. Patras advised that an ‘Army’ tug was on the way.

“Sent off message to New York offices of Seas Shipping advising them of events.

“Towed in to Patras and docked. Unloaded donkeys. Donkeys reluctant to be driven off dock; seemed to prefer immediate relationships with opposite sex. Dock workers pound on them to clear the area so that more donkeys can be unloaded. This scene was repeated and repeated until all the donkeys had been unloaded and relationships satisfied. Townspeople, dockworkers and crew members fascinated onlookers.

The wounded Park Victory rests in the harbor at Patras, Greece, May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“May 1-8, 1946 With Park Victory wounded the cowboys are no longer needed. Cowboy livestock caretakers, Foreman, and two Vets leave ship for Athens. Captain Fairbairn replaced by W. F. O’Toole.

The seagoing cowboy crew of the S. S. Park Victory, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

“Helmeted diver goes under ship and explores damage caused by mine. He reports it looks OK to proceed to Taranto, Italy, for temporary repairs.”

The S. S. Park Victory in dry dock in Taranto, Italy. May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

By May 26, the Park Victory was on her way home to the Baltimore shipyards for full repair. Fortunately, no lives were lost in this accident.

The vessel made three more livestock trips that year before UNRRA disbanded. To Poland in August, to Germany with livestock for Czechoslovakia in October, and to Greece in December. Another accident while carrying coal to Finland the end of 1947 was to be her demise, however; but her memory lives on in Finland, where I’ll be going in July. More on that in a later post.