Celebrating Heifer International’s 75th anniversary in Castañer, Puerto Rico

Seventy-five years ago, sixteen impoverished Puerto Rican families received the first gift of heifers donated by American farmers through the Heifer Project. This past Saturday, two historical developments of 1942 that led to these gifts were celebrated in the lush mountain town of Castañer, Puerto Rico.

October 5, 2019. A tour of the modern Castañer Hospital and its new emergency room wing started the day’s festivities. Photo courtesy of the planning committee.

In July 1942, the Church of the Brethren Service Committee opened Civilian Public Service Camp #43 in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, as part of the alternative service program established through the U.S. government for conscientious objectors during World War II. The first sub-unit of CPS Camp #43 was set up in Castañer to serve this thickly populated mountainous area in dire need of medical services. The CPS men assigned there built a small hospital out of a barrack structure and provided other social services.

The remains of the original Hospital Castañer.

After the war, the Brethren Service Committee continued the work there, including the formation of a Church of the Brethren congregation (Iglesia de los Hermanos). The hospital and congregation have both survived and thrived, exemplifying the meaning of community in its deepest sense.

1942 also marks the beginning of the Heifer Project, when Dan West’s idea of sending cows to people devastated by the Spanish Civil War was put into motion as a program of the Brethren Service Committee. With many heifers ready to ship by the end of 1943, shipping across the Atlantic was impossible with World War II underway. Already at work in Puerto Rico, the BSC chose this poverty-stricken island as the alternate destination for the first Heifer Project shipment.

CPS Camp #43 Director Rufus King worked closely with the Farm Security Administration in Puerto Rico to make arrangements. Sixteen heifers arrived in San Juan via ship July 22, 1944. They were distributed by the FSA in municipalities near San Juan to needy recipients who could support a cow. The cows offered many children in these families their first taste of milk.

The next year, on May 25, 1945, a larger shipment of 50 heifers arrived in San Juan. From this shipment, six heifers and one bull were allotted to the CPS Camp #43 sub-unit in Castañer. The heifers provided milk for the hospital and CPS workers and served as a demonstration dairy project for the resettled small farmers in the area. The bull served to improve the dairy stock of the surrounding communities.

A portion of Medford Neher’s mural depicting the history of Hospital Castañer highlights the Heifer Project shipment to Castañer of 1945.

At Saturday’s Heifer International celebration event, a roadside marker was placed near the old hospital to commemorate the site where the barn for this small dairy herd had been located.

Heifer International Vice President Jesús Pizarro; Lares, Puerto Rico, Mayor Hon. Roberto Pagán; and Church of the Brethren General Secretary David Steele unveil the marker commemorating Heifer International’s work in Puerto Rico.

In an afternoon celebration in the town square, two special gifts brought the 1942 developments of CPS Unit #43 and the Heifer Project full circle. General Secretary David Steele presented a check from the Church of the Brethren for $100,000 for the Castañer Hospital to the hospital’s Executive Director Domingo Monroig.

And in honor of Heifer International’s practice of “passing on the gift,” Steele and Heifer International Vice President Jesús Pizarro presented a bull calf to local high school agriculture student Erick Yadiel Rivera to give him a hand up in his aspirations of developing a dairy herd.

The celebration ended roundly for me on Sunday morning when I had the opportunity to meet a Heifer Project recipient at the Castañer church.

Yours truly with heifer recipient María Quiles Pérez and Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren and Board Member of Heifer International.

María Quiles Pérez was a young girl at the time her father, Benito Gonzalez Rivera, was granted a heifer. They lived in the Guyao sector of Adjuntas near Castañer. Gonzalez Rivera would have been one of the small farmers selected either by the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration or the Farm Security Administration to receive an animal. María recalls that they paid $3.00 a month for their heifer. This payment would have been through a loan from the FSA or PRRA to cover transportation costs and other expenses for the animal. For the first shipment, and likely the second, the total came to about $75.00 per heifer.

“Raising a family was hard at that time,” María says. “Our heifer was a gift from God.”

 

Heifer Project’s first shipment to Poland, Part II – seagoing cowboys experience Poland

The seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias, like almost all cowboys who went to Poland, were immediately struck by the devastation that surrounded them. “No one can imagine the damage until it is seen,” Pennsylvania cowboy Milt Lohr wrote in his diary, amazed that people still lived in the ruins, and others were still buried beneath them.

Four days after arriving, city welfare worker Anna Yawaska came to take two car loads of cowboys through the rubble to visit an orphanage with almost 700 children. “They range in age from 1 year to 14 years,” Lohr says. Some of the children entertained the cowboys with songs and recitations – all in Polish. “We didn’t understand a word,” says Lohr. Even so, the children captured the cowboys’ hearts.

Orphanage children entertain the cowboys of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias, Dec. 1945. Photo courtesy of the L. W. Shultz family.

Another day, on a trek into the country, Lohr and ten other cowboys happened onto a battlefield. “The trees were about all stripped of their limbs to a height of 40 to 50 feet,” Lohr says. The cowboys found foxholes, trenches, spent shells, German cannons, wrecked tanks, a destroyed barracks, and graves with German helmets on them. All reminders of a month-long battle only months earlier between the Germans and the Russians for control of the area.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias explore a battlefield above Gdynia, Poland, December 1945. Photo courtesy of the L. W. Shultz family.

Lohr writes of meeting Americans who had gotten trapped in Poland at the beginning of the war. Like the man from Buffalo, New York, who had come over to settle an estate just before the war and hadn’t heard from his wife in the USA since 1942. And a mother and two daughters from Detroit, Michigan, who had the misfortune to be in Poland on a European tour in 1939 when Germany declared war there and couldn’t get home. They were a rich source of information for the cowboys.

While in port, Lohr records seeing several ships come in with Polish soldiers, refugees, and prisoners of war from such countries as England, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. Cowboy supervisor Clifton Crouse wrote home of an English ship delivering 1100 Poles who had been in German slave labor. “We saw them going by the hundreds, taking their few belongings with them, on sleds, on their backs, trucks, etc. They looked happy, but I’m afraid they will be badly disappointed when they find out conditions.”

A German ship returning Polish refugees as seen by the cowboy crew from the S. S. Morgantown Victory, Jan. 4, 1946. Photo credit: Hugh Ehrman.

The highlight of the trip for Indiana cowboy Clarence Sink was a tour into the country to meet recipients of the Heifer Project animals they had delivered. “After traveling about 40 miles in the back of a truck,” he says, “we came to one village where they had a bobsled and team waiting to take us on. The first place we stopped was a typical little peasant hut. We stood and talked in the kitchen awhile and the lady of the house opened what we thought was the pantry door, and there in a little room was a fine Brown Swiss heifer that we had brought over from America. She was bedded down in deep straw and the family told us that they carried water to her. They stood with tears in their eyes because they were so appreciative.

“The climax of the whole day’s trip came about three o’clock in the afternoon,” Sink says, “when the people prepared a meal for us in one of the homes. Many of the people of the village had gathered.” Spokesmen for both groups exchanged meaningful greetings. “Then we sang and had grace for the meal of milk and eggs.” It was “a very sacrificial meal,” Sink says. Likely especially so, because this was an added event; the celebration meant for this crew of cowboys was mistakenly given earlier to the crew of the S.S. Mexican, in port delivering UNRRA animals at the same time.

Of the trip as a whole, Sink concludes, “It is our conviction that the Heifer Project has been successful not only because we have sent them cows but also because we took them our love and concern. We ate with them in their homes and we sang and prayed together. Missions of this nature will go a long way in hastening the day when we shall be brothers indeed.”

Heifer Project’s first shipment to Poland, Part I

Severely crippled by World War II, Poland became the third European country to receive animals from the Heifer Project. Between November 1945 and August 1948, Heifer made seven shipments to Poland sending 1038 head of cattle and 45 horses. [See the story of the S. S. WIlliam S. Halsted here.] Shipments ceased when Russia achieved a firm grip on Poland. After the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, Heifer resumed assistance to farmers there for a number of years.

Less than a month after V-E Day, the Heifer Project Committee was already laying plans for shipping to Poland. Their June 3, 1945, minutes recorded a vote that “We make shipment of animals, not to exceed 150, to Poland through UNRRA to be distributed by National Cooperatives, unless a better way is found.” Target date for the shipment was July 15.

With so many pieces of the shipping puzzle to be put together, however, it wasn’t until November 10 that the S. S. Santiago Iglesias pulled away from Pier 6 in Baltimore, Maryland, with 18 seagoing cowboys, 150 Heifer Project dairy cattle, and another 223 UNRRA cattle on board. Besides the bedding and feed for the animals, cowboy Milt Lohr reports that the ship also carried a cargo of 1189 drums of lard, 12,274 cases of soap, 3,371 tons of fertilizer, 12,560 drums of diesel oil, and 1,215 drums of fish oil. Relief packages from Polish officials who met the ship in Baltimore added to the cargo, as well.

Unidentified newspaper article from Clifton Crouse album. Courtesy of Merle Crouse.

On arrival in Poland November 28, the plight of the people soon became evident. “As we entered Danzig,” reports cowboy Clarence Sink, “we beheld a once large beautiful city now laying in ruins, ninety percent destroyed. . . .The unloading barns had all been destroyed, so our cattle were swung ashore and turned loose along the street. All of the feed was also swung ashore. . . .Early the next morning, about fifty people gathered and we were told that these people had walked in as far as fifty miles, from various villages, after these cattle. The Secretary of Agriculture from Warsaw was there and had charge of the distributions and all these cattle were driven, on foot, to the rural communities. [Read the story of one of those recipients here.]

Dairy cattle being unloaded from the S. S. Santiago Iglesias in Nowy Port, Poland, November 1945. UNRRA photo.

Damaged warehouses and the litter of battle are grim reminders of the war as cattle leave the docks for Polish farms whose dairy cattle were destroyed during the fighting. UNRRA photo.

“Our unloading was slow,” Sink says, “because the men were so weak, physically, that they could only work an hour or so of their eight hour shift. The Commander of the Port, who was in charge of War Shipping, informed us that all of the dock workers had been living on less than half the required diet for body sustenance for over six years.” Cowboy supervisor Clifton Crouse told his family the stevedores were so hungry that they emptied five drums of lard, a handful at a time, putting it in their pockets.

Because of the slowness of unloading the ship, this crew of seagoing cowboys had three weeks to absorb the sights, sounds, and smells of postwar Poland. More on their experiences in the next two posts.

These Polish farmers and the guard were delighted to find 14 unexpected calves born on the Santiago Iglesias at sea. UNRRA photo.

Heifers to Belgium, 1945

Even before the Heifer Project became official in April 1942, Dan West was in communication with officials of the Belgian Commission for the Study of Post-War Problems. Dairy cattle were needed in Belgium. So it comes as no surprise that Belgium was one of the first countries to which Heifer Project animals were sent after World War II in 1945. Two shipments totaling 335 heifers went to Belgium that October and November. Mennonite seagoing cowboy Noah W. Schrock of Orrville, Ohio, started his trip that October at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland:

Sorting clothing at the Brethren Service Center, New Windsor, Maryland. Many seagoing cowboys helped with this task while waiting for their ship assignments. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

     There we helped paint and sort, pack and bale clothing. On Oct. 15 we went to the Roop farm where they had 350 cattle. “Brethren Heifer Project.”
     We loaded four car load for Williamsburg, Virginia. In three days we arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia. I rode on the engine or caboose. Every so often the R.R. Co. rule was to water the cattle. So they had to unload, water the cattle, and load again. Slow process. This was done 3 times.
Now the Long Shoremen were on strike, so I had to wait till I got orders. After spending a week or more with friends . . ., I got orders to report to a boat named ‘Wooster’ [Charles W. Wooster]. I watched them load 216 [UNRRA] horses and 124 cattle. On October 25, Charles Rohrer from Indiana and I started sailing. “The old ark are a movering”.

Rohrer, cowboy supervisor, of North Manchester, Indiana, continues the story:

Charles Rohrer at dockside with one of Heifer Project’s donated heifers, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

     I was given charge of the colored help, who were the cowboys, and were supposed to feed, water and bed the cattle. I am proud to say we did not lose any of our cattle, but gained five, as we had 5 fine baby calves by the time we arrived in Belgium. The ship’s crew became very fond of our baby calves and were constantly coming down to the hold of the ship to pet and admire our livestock.
Many seamen remarked that it was so peaceful down with the cattle that it seemed almost as reverent as a church, and we assured them they were with God’s cattle on His mission of love and good will.
We are all very happy and joyful to see Bishop’s Rock, the first land we sight . . . . We proceeded very cautiously up the English Channel because of the danger of mines and sunken ships. . . . After 16 days of sailing we arrived at the mouth of the Sheldt River, which flows from Belgium and Holland. . . . All along the river were points where the battle had raged, and buildings were skeletons of blasted and burned rubble.
When we arrived, I was amazed at the wide spread destruction. Over 3000 buzz bumbs alone had fallen on that unhappy city; hardly a building has all its windows and roof intact. . . . Most families lived in one room, as they receive only a little over 200 pounds of coal per month.
Food is scarce and very costly. . . . I cannot understand how the poor people live.
The Belgians were overjoyed to receive the gift of cattle. Their newspapers from all over Belgium gave us the warmest kind of welcome. . . .
The Belgian officials graciously escorted me around over Belgium, to inspect the places where the Brethren cattle were to be placed. They have 120 TB hospitals, which were very short of milk, plus a great many orphanages. Our cattle have been pro rated among these very worthy institutions. It was a joy to see the warm reception given me as I toured ward after ward of these institutions. Poorly clad children and adults sang American songs and cheered for America, and often thanked me personally, for those who were so kind as to give them help in so generous a manner.
I informed them, thru the interpreter given me by the Belgian Government, that it was our religious belief in brotherly love which prompted the gift. . . .
I can recommend this trip as a most profitable one, not in dollars and cents, but in experience and service to the Kingdom of God.

 

A calf born on the ship gives joy to a Belgian on arrival in Antwerp, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

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