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!

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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!

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.

Gratitude from Silesian Heifer Project recipients

During this Thanksgiving weekend, it is fitting to share expressions of gratitude from early recipients of heifers delivered by the seagoing cowboys. This post takes us to war-devastated Czechoslovakian Silesia in 1946 and comes from a bundle of thank you letters sent to the Brethren Service Committee and the Heifer Project.

A December 23, 1946, letter from the Czech Child Welfare Foundation Vojtechov in Brno gives us an overview:
“The cows donated by the Church of the Brethren are rendering excellent service and are helping by their precious product to restore great numbers of our citizens who contracted tuberculosis and other diseases during the war, either in concentration camps, prisons or through deprivations and malnutrition. Your assistance shall never be forgotten. Thousands and thousands of people are helped by your gifts and are sincerely grateful to you.”

Frank Vojkuvka: “I didn’t have any milk for the children and the entire family suffered from under nourishment. Heartiest thanks for the donated cow.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From the Evangelical Parish orphanage in Trinec near Tesinsko, June 19, 1946:
“Toward the end of the war our orphanage invaded by the German armada was completely damaged. They left us merely empty iron beds and even those were damaged. Many orphans whose parents were killed in Concentration camps of Germany came to us. . . . We had a big holiday when we brought the cow home. No one could believe that it was given to us free.”

Kosarova Frantiska: Your fine cow means for us and especially for our 2 girls 5-1/2 and 1-1/2 y. so much easing our food supply. Since we have enough milk again we are all healthier.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Elizabeth Moravcova, Bolatice, June 20, 1046:
“My house was so damaged by bombing that it couldn’t be lived in. It was shot at by artillery from three sides. And you can imagine the crumbling and shattering caused by explosions in town. The furniture which I bought just before the war with money I painstakingly gathered was all gone. Our clothes and shoes were confiscated by the occupying army. And that was the way with kitchen equipment and other things in the home. So, after the war we are starting anew. I am beginning alone because until now my husband has not been reported. I am alone with two children – a 5 year old and a three year old boy, also an elderly mother. So I must work hard all week and have the children help me.
“If you can imagine the situation you will know how grateful I am for this gift. It means for me the greatest means of livelihood. It has become a member of our family. I thank you once again dear friends most heartily for this precious gift and believe me that we will think of you the rest of our lives and be grateful. May you live there over the sea happily and may God bless you.”

Kosarova Frantiska: “The wounds of warfare are healing gradually for us, especially as we are so fortunate to have such generous friends.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Anna Dostalova in Stepankovice, April 14, 1946:
“The war was bad and brought much evil to us. It razed our buildings, killed livestock and nothing was left except our ravaged home and six hungry children. The youngest became ill and died. He was longing for milk at that time to which the children have been accustomed. So when the cow arrived there was much happiness. Five eager children jumped about me and the cow. When I brought the first milk they stood around with their little pots each one eager to taste the milk from America. It has a wonderful flavor. The cow is now well settled and feeds well. For your goodness, I thank you again!

A note from Family Kysuconova: “Grandmother, parents and 3 children are thanking most heartily for the generous gift of a fine cow given to them. This cow is their saviour from starvation.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

And lastly, from Frantisek Martinik of Poruba, undated:
“The help given me by this gift [of a cow] is immense. . . . The friendly and sacrificial attitude of the selfless Americans in help to the Silesian people is proving that there are still good people in the World despite of the hatred in Warfare and that Love didn’t die and never will in human hearts.
“This truth and by deeds proved Love is warming and strengthening our spirit and gives us courage to rebuild our homes and reconstruct our beloved but war torn country of Silesia.
“The Lords providence may reward your magnificent deeds, we shall never forget what you have done for us.”

Heifer International continues this great work. Giving Tuesday is coming up! Consider a gift to Heifer in gratitude for all we have been given.

Delivering Hope to the Next Generation

I’m late with this post, as I was absorbed last week in the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference where I was a keynote speaker. I invite you to listen to the live streaming of my illustrated presentation that gives the back story of how I became the documenter of the seagoing cowboy history, the legacy of the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, and the importance of continuing to deliver hope to the next generation. The speech, which you can find here: https://livestream.com/livingstreamcob/NOAC2017/videos/162425620 begins at 13 minutes into the session and lasts for 70 minutes. I know — that’s a long speech! But that’s what I was contracted for and that’s what I gave. If you wish to jump to the seagoing cowboy part, you can start at 25:30 minutes (including the reading of my picture book The Seagoing Cowboy) or start at 35 minutes to skip the picture book reading and stop wherever you wish. Enjoy!

Next post will pick up Part II of the pre-WWII seagoing cowboys.

The Upper Silesian Museum and the Heifer Project

Last week, my desire to visit a museum exhibition in Germany to which I had contributed came to fruition. And what a wonderful visit it was!

The Upper Silesian State Museum in Ratingen, Germany. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

The Upper Silesian State Museum in Ratingen, Germany. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Off the beaten tourist path, in the northwestern German state of North Rhine-Westfalia (NRW), is a lovely museum that lifts up the history of the Upper Silesian people, a people with a strong tie to this region. When King Frederick the Great took control of Silesia in the 1700s, an area that includes a piece of northern Czech Republic and southern Poland, he invited coal miners from the NRW area to come and help develop the rich resources of Silesia. Much cross fertilization took place between these two areas. So when Silesians of German heritage were forced from their homes following World War II, it was to the NRW that many of them fled. Some thirty years later, many of these Upper Silesians began to pool together documents and artifacts of their history, and the Oberschlesiches Landesmuseum, now run by the NRW state, is the result.

Panels showing the assistance of UNRRA, the seagoing cowboys, and the Heifer Project to Silesia following World War II. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Panels showing the assistance of UNRRA, the seagoing cowboys, and the Heifer Project to Silesia following World War II. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Since December 6, 2015, the museum has been featuring an exhibition titled “For Body and Soul: the Culture of Food and Drink.” The museum ends with a display focusing on “Food in Times of Crisis,” and it is to this portion of the exhibition that I have contributed materials. When the exhibit was extended to February 19 of this year, I grabbed the opportunity to travel to Germany and see it for myself.

Curator Melanie Mehring describes the difficulties of food in times of flooding and war. Photo: Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka

Curator Melanie Mehring describes the difficulties of food in times of flooding and war. Photo: Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka

As with most of Europe, Upper Silesia bore the impact of World War II. With the loss of farm animals and crops, feeding the populace became a challenge. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration came to the aid of Czechoslovakia and Poland, delivering not only livestock, but staple goods, as well. Two of the UNRRA shipments to Czechoslovakia included Heifer Project animals to be given to the neediest of farmers, and some of these animals were placed in Silesia. When the museum curator did an internet search on “UNRRA,” she found my website and contacted me to see if I might have materials to share with them. I pulled together what I had, and Heifer International gave permission for the use of some of their materials, as well. What a joy to see the beautifully assembled display in person!

Michael Ullrich reads the letter of thank from the Gallus family of Silesia for their heifer from the Heifer Project. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Michael Ullrich reads the letter of thanks from the Gallus family of Silesia for their heifer from the Heifer Project. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

The exhibit features the loading of the animals in the United States, the care of the animals by the seagoing cowboys on the journey across the Atlantic, and the arrival of the seagoing cowboys in the devastated port cities of Nowy Port, Poland, and Bremen, Germany. From Bremen, the animals were shipped overland to Czechoslovakia and distributed to farmers selected by local committees. A thank you letter from a Silesian family who lost all their buildings and animals highlights the significance of these gifts of heifers. The letter ends:

Courtesy of Heifer International.

Courtesy of Heifer International.

Dear friends from America, we thank you for all you have done and still want to do for us in our war-torn Silesia. Especially, my family and I thank you for the rich gift of my only heifer, which brings us great joy. You have done a good deed that not only we, but also our children, will long hold in our memory.

Accompanying me to the museum was Michael Ullrich of Bremen, Germany, whom Heifer International has contracted to write a booklet about the shipments of the Heifer Project to Germany in the 1950s. The heifers were given mainly to people of farm background who had been expelled from Eastern European countries after the war. Mr. Ullrich is interviewing as many of them as he can find, and I’m looking forward to his book! Many resettled Silesians were among the Heifer Project recipients, some of whom I met and interviewed in 2013. This museum visit brought the story full circle for me – “food for body and soul” for me, as well.

Melanie Mehring and Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka gave me a delightful tour around Düsseldorf on my arrival. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Melanie Mehring and Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka gave me a delightful tour around Düsseldorf, capital of NRW, on my arrival. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Immense thanks to the two lovely young women who facilitated our visit: museum education director Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka and museum curator Melanie Mehring! Your passion for your work shines through! May we meet again!

UNRRA expresses gratitude for Heifer Project

The work of the Heifer Project following World War II did not go unnoticed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. A letter to the Heifer Project Committee from UNRRA’s Director General was published 70 years ago this week in the January 11, 1947, Gospel Messenger of the Church of the Brethren:

UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND REHABILITATION ADMINISTRATION
1344 CONNECTICUT AVENUE
WASHINGTON 25, D. C.

November 26, 1946

Heifer Project Committee
New Windsor, Md.
Dear Mr. Bushong:
I am informed that your organization, the heifer-project committee of the Brethren Service Committee, has assembled a boatload of heifers which you will contribute to UNRRA for shipment from New Orleans to China in December. This will be the first boat of cattle to go to China, and is one of the most important gifts that UNRRA has received. Thousands of the cattle you have donated are now in Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy and Poland helping the farmers there to restore their war-torn lands and feed the populations—rural and urban—of these countries which lost 50% of their livestock in the war. The artificial insemination program in Greece, set up by UNRRA with your assistance, has materially helped to improve the depleted breeding stock of that suffering country.
The fine spirit of practical Christianity and the faith that your group has shown are examples to us all in these days when, without faith, we cannot progress. Your movement, beginning modestly as it did, has spread its spirit and its work. Transcending barriers of nationality and religious conviction, it has drawn to itself members of many denominations, and illustrated what can be accomplished when conviction and efficient enterprise and fine Christian generosity are combined.
I understand that your organization has decided to continue its work for two years after UNRRA ceases. This is further exemplification of its validity. May I congratulate and thank you in the name of those we have all been trying to help and wish you every success in the future.
Sincerely yours,
F. H. La Guardia
Director General

Yet further exemplification of the Heifer Project’s validity is that it continues today as Heifer International. The organization was set in motion 75 years ago this week, as recorded in the January 10, 1942, minutes of the Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana Men’s Work Cabinet: “The Cabinet decided to support Dan West’s Calf Project. Dan West is to give more information at our April meeting.”

The shipment to China to which Mr. La Guardia refers left New Orleans November 19, 1946, on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory carrying 723 Heifer Project cattle and 32 seagoing cowboys. Watch for stories from this memorable trip in upcoming posts.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.