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.”

 

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!

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.

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.

Main Street Elementary students have Heifer International at heart

Kudos to the Main Street Elementary School choir of Beavercreek, Ohio, for their performance last night to raise funds for Heifer International!

Main Street Elementary School concert, April 25, 2019.

 

 

With the theme “Sow it on the Mountain,” the students’ sang from the heart. Each song followed a narrative related to the history and work of Heifer International. Songs like “We Are the World,” “Happier,” “Imagine,” and “Sow it on the Mountain” all spoke of the students’ desire for a better world.

Sailor hats were donned after the telling of the seagoing cowboy history and worn throughout the rest of the concert. The students’ T-shirts highlighted the concert theme with this thought on their backs: “When we sow seeds of kindness we reap a world of peace.”

Main Street Elementary School concert, April 25, 2019.

The finale by the Main Street Pizzazz show choir included Naplan’s “Al Shlosha,” a Jewish maxim meaning “The world is sustained by three things, by truth, by justice, and by peace.” Beck’s “Best Day of My Life” wound the concert up in rousing style.

Main Street Elementary School concert, April 25, 2019.

 

The artwork created by the students to raise money for Heifer added to the charm of the evening. The choir students all had a hand in coloring in the squares on the caricatures of eight delightful animal heads drawn by the art instructor, depicting animals used in Heifer’s work.

Main Street Elementary School concert art work, April 25, 2019.

 

Kudos to choir director Anita Campbell and the choir members for an inspiring evening. And good luck to you at your competition tomorrow!

Dr. Martin M. Kaplan: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece, Part II

Today, we resume the adventures of seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan as he oversees the transport of six pedigreed Brown Swiss bulls to Greece aboard the Swedish M/S Boolongena, meaning “kangaroo” in Australian dialect.

“Molly’s John of Lee Hill,” renamed Parnassus by the Greeks, being led to the consecration service in Greece for the six bulls donated by the Heifer Project, August 1945. UNRRA Photograph.

The ship departed St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on schedule May 14, 1945. The next morning, Kaplan was introduced to the “experienced assistant who could understand English” which he had been assured he would have. “He was a good soul, about 55 years old,” Kaplan says, “whose extensive livestock experience was gained on a farm for a short time when he was a child.” Kaplan soon came to realize that “hi” was the extent of the man’s English. “We misunderstood each other beautifully with the immediate consequence that he fed the bulls twice as much concentrated feed as I had indicated. The lately arrived package of drugs [for the bulls] proved its value.”

After ideal weather the first few days, Kaplan says, “we entered a period of pitching and rolling during which ‘the kangaroo’ lived up to her name, until we reached Gibraltar.” Orders for a change in the ship’s Greek destination from Piraeus to Patras necessitated a six-day stay in Gibralter. The new route ran through an area where the magnetic mines laid by the Nazis had not yet been cleared, so the ship had to be demagnitized.

While in Gibralter, a “near-catastrophe” occurred, Kaplan says. “Duke, the oldest and strongest bull sporting two nose rings, indicating previous trouble, became restless. Duke broke the chain which partially confined him.” Then Duke made a “mighty heave backwards.” He tore the rings out of his nose spraying Kaplan with blood as he was trying to fix the chain. They now had “a pain maddened bull loose in what was too obviously an inadequate enclosure for an animal in his state.” Kaplan slowly retreated and advised those watching to “get out on deck and up on the hatch if the bull made a break.”

“There was little we could do until he had quieted down,” Kaplan says. So they went to dinner. Kaplan went to bed that night and dreamed of being chased by the bull.

Kaplan reconstrained the bull, then, by giving him “a Mickey Finn in his drinking water,” 40 times the strength needed to incapacitate a sailor, “which made him merely buckle slightly at the knees,” Kaplan says. But it gave Kaplan the time he needed to insert new nose rings and replace the collar with a much sturdier rope, “strong enough to lash a ship to a dock,” he says.

After a tense passage through the mined area, the ship docked in Patras, only to discover the message of the change in port had not reached the people who were to prepare the dock for unloading. A flying stall was constructed on the spot, and the bulls were offloaded and trucked to Athens and the experimental farm waiting for them. “Athens swelled visibly with pride as we entered with the bulls,” Kaplan says. “My contribution to the swelling was a not inconsiderable sigh of relief. May their seed flouish.”

Consecration of the six bulls begins with centuries old prayers at the Superior School of Agriculture in Athens, the first of many breeding centers to be established, August 26, 1945. UNRRA photograph.

And flourish their seed did. Heifer Project sent another six bulls to Greece in February 1948, and UNRRA sent a few more. “Since the program started … over 16,000 calves have been born and more are coming every day,” states John Halpin, Artificial Insemination Program Director in Greece, in an August 1949 article in The Brown Swiss Bulletin. “These calves sired by outstanding selected sires will have a tremendous influence on the future dairy industry of Greece.”

Mr. F. I. Elliott of the Near East Foundation examines through the microscope the sperm taken from the first bull, after which farmers gather around to have their first glimpse of microscopic life. UNRRA photograph.

The Joannis Golemis family receives the first calf, a bull, born through the artificial insemination program in Greece from the sperm of “Orangeville Bell Boy”, renamed Imittos. UNRRA photograph.

Next post: Heifer Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico and two seagoing cowboys at odds.

Dr. Martin M. Kaplan: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece, Part I

It was an eventful crossing of the Atlantic for seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan. His “unusual mission” started the day World War II ended in Europe in May 1945.

With his veterinary degree and master’s degree in public health, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) hired Dr. Kaplan to accompany six pedigreed bulls to Greece. The bulls were a gift of the Heifer Project to service an insemination program of the Near East Foundation. Greece had lost 40% of its cattle during the war. The insemination program would help the Greek dairy industry recover.

After a long train ride from UNRRA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Kaplan arrived in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the morning of Thursday, May 10, to meet his ship. However, when UNRRA contracted the Swedish vessel M/S Boolongena, the war was still on. “The neutral Swedes did not want to break rules by having a paying passenger on one of their freighters going into a war zone,” Kaplan says. So with his master’s in public health, UNRRA was able to sign Kaplan on as the ship’s doctor.

M/S Boolongena, 1952. Source: City of Vancouver Archives. Photographer: Walter Edwin Frost.

Kaplan soon met “the six crosses I would bear” and the man who had purchased them for the Brethren Service Committee, Benjamin Bushong. Bushong was to have tended the bulls until sailing, but an urgent development with the 50 heifers being gathered for Heifer Project’s next shipment to Puerto Rico pulled him away.

In Kaplan’s entertaining report to UNRRA, he says, “[The bulls] were in an isolated railroad car, 1½ miles away from the ship. All the feed and water were gone, ½ bale of hay remained, 2 bulls were completely unbroken, and darkness was approaching….After throwing this lapful at me, Bushong bid me a cheery good-bye, and assured me that I would have little trouble.”

Kaplan had the railroad car moved closer to the ship and procured feed and hay after which he endured “rain and snow for three days, a growing compost pile that assumed formidable proportions by the fourth day in the middle of the car, [and] six suspicious bulls.”

The Heifer Project’s six Brown Swiss pedigreed bulls after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Photo credit: UNRRA Photograph.

In the meantime, stalls were built under the forecastle deck, the location at the front of the ship that normally housed sailors’ living quarters. This meant having to get the bulls through a 2½-feet-wide doorway, “but it was the best location available,” Kaplan says.

Departure was set for Monday, May 14. At 6:00 a.m., two hours before loading time, Kaplan says, “I fed the animals heavily to dull the edge of their tempers for the forthcoming excitement (my drugs hadn’t as yet arrived). There was little difficulty in moving the animals individually from the railroad car directly into a horse-box, thence by means of a crane onto the deck. The delicate procedure was to lead them through a narrow doorway, up a 20 feet long wooden ramp, over obstacles reminiscent of a steeple chase, into their individual stalls.” This task fell to Kaplan when the longshoremen, normally the only ones allowed to touch the cargo during loading, “formally invited” Kaplan “to lead the bulls to their stalls. . . . I led four of them and was chased by two,” Kaplan says, “but they all ended up in their respective places with a net result of one slightly squashed finger.”

[to be continued in April 12 post]