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 goodwill mission to Puerto Rico, 1945

CPSer Carl Epp and Rufus King prepare to unload Heifer Project cattle in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Seventy-four years ago this month, the second shipment the Heifer Project made to Puerto Rico, with 45 heifers and 5 bulls, arrived in San Juan, May 25, 1945. But why Puerto Rico? people ask. Weren’t the Heifer Project animals being raised intended for Europe?

Yes, they were. But while these cattle were being gathered in April, World War II was still in motion, making shipping across the Atlantic impossible. Heifer Project had animals ready to send and needed to find a place for them. The Brethren Service Committee, which oversaw the Heifer Project, had connections in Puerto Rico. They were in charge of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. This unit was formed in December 1943 to address community needs of medical care, public health, and social service on this poverty-stricken island.

Rufus King, Director of the Unit, reported in the Gospel Messenger (May 19, 1945):

Puerto Rico is one of the most thickly populated areas in the world. It has 550 people per square mile; two million people on an island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Only 20 per cent of the land is owned or tenanted by individual farmers, although sixty-seven per cent of the population is rural. The result of this situation is extreme poverty, ignorance, disease and malnutrition.

Puerto Rico became the logical place for Heifer Project to send its animals. The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit had two projects where cattle were placed, a Brethren project in the mountain village of Castañer and a Mennonite project in the coastal area of La Plata. Both projects had built hospitals. Each project received six heifers and one bull to form the nucleus of a herd to support the hospital work and the CPS workers.

The cattle pens at Castañer, Puerto Rico, date unknown. Photo by Dean Kagarise, Tom Lehman collection.

Carl Epp and Harry Martins with Heifer Project cattle at La Plata, Puerto Rico. 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit worked closely with the Puerto Rican Restoration Administration (PRRA) which helped set up homesteads for farm laborers. Eleven animals from this shipment went to PRRA recipients in the La Plata area. The remaining 25 were distributed to selected Puerto Rican farmers through the Farm Security Administration.

Puerto Rican farmers receive their heifers from the PRRA allotment, May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Rufus King summarizes the import of the overall work in Puerto Rico in his Gospel Messenger article:

We know we have only scratched the surface, but we Brethren must give ourselves a fair opportunity to demonstrate what can be done toward building up the body, mind and spirit of a people in one area of Puerto Rico; we must give ourselves a fair chance to see the fruits of our efforts in developing a spirit of initiative and co-operation among a people and in helping them to help themselves. This takes time, more time than the few years of the war period can afford.

Angel Perez Rodriguez with male calf born to Heifer Project cow, Castañer, Puerto Rico, 1946. Photo courtesy of Don Sollenberger.

Men at odds on a mission of goodwill

Dedication of Heifer Project cattle to be sent to Puerto Rico. York (PA) fairgrounds, April 29, 1945. Photo credit: Heifer International archives.

Seventy-four years ago this weekend, some 700 people gathered at the fairgrounds in York, Pennsylvania. The occasion? Dedication of 45 heifers and 5 bulls to be sent to Puerto Rico. The Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger (May 26, 1945) reported:

At one end of the fair grounds, we are told, implements were being readied for war and for the conquest by force while at the other end these cattle were being dedicated to goodwill and to conquest by love and understanding.

Unfortunately, the two cattle tenders who accompanied these animals did not exemplify the latter. This created a royal headache for Rufus King, Director of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43 in Puerto Rico, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. King had the job of receiving the cattle and entertaining the cattle tenders while they were on the island.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll call the men Cowboy A and Cowboy B. This unfortunate pairing became a learning experience for the fledgling Heifer Project Committee. When Cowboy B made his report to the committee after the trip, his recommendation number 6 read: “The shipment should be in charge of some one person.” And therein, I believe, lies the crux of the problem.

In a letter to family, King characterized Cowboy A as “a retired farmer who at 66 still works hard and gets irked when any one around him can’t work as hard.” Cowboy B, whom King characterized as “a very successful farmer and good man, but of the managerial type,” got sick on board and could not do his share of the work. Cowboy A, having been put in charge of the cattle at York, may have assumed he would also be in charge on the ship.

The cattle had been trucked overnight to Brooklyn, New York, on May 16. The next morning, they were loaded into sheds on the top deck of the S. S. James Wetmore. The ship departed at 6:30 a.m., May 19, giving Cowboy A and Cowboy B a full week together before arriving in San Juan May 25.

“The upshot of it all,” King says, “was that these Brethren on a mission of goodwill were mighty tired of each other and parted company soon after their arrival!  Individually, I enjoy the company of each and we have entertained each of them separately here at the house for meals.”

To Heifer Project leaders, King wrote, “It is indeed very disgusting to have a shipment of ‘good will’ sent by the Brethren and those Brethren sent to care for the cattle can not get along between themselves and therefore do not represent the basic idea back of the gift. How can we build a new world when we as individuals refuse to lie down in the same pasture?”

The cattle, on the other hand, DID exemplify the goodwill the Heifer Project Committee intended. More on that in my next post.

Conditions in Puerto Rico, 1944 or 1945. Photo by Rufus King, courtesy of the King family.

Wayne Hostetler: Heifer International’s First Seagoing Cowboy Delivers Heifers to Puerto Rico

In this 75th anniversary year of Heifer International, I will be highlighting the seagoing cowboys who delivered Heifer’s early shipments. Find the story of Wayne Hostetler, Heifer’s first seagoing cowboy in 1944, here and here.

Wayne went on to serve the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration as a seagoing cowboy supervisor on the S. S. Bucknell Victory in February 1946, delivering 788 horses to Poland.

Next post: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece

The Roger Roop Heifer Project Collection Farm

As World War II ended in Europe in May 1945, shipping possibilities across the Atlantic became a reality for the Heifer Project. Hundreds of heifers were on hand across the country ready to be shipped to the east coast, and Roger and Olive Roop of Union Bridge, Maryland, saw a need. Lifelong members of the Church of the Brethren, they had been hearing and reading about the development of the Heifer Project. When the heifers for the Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico in May 1945 were gathered at the fairgrounds in York, Pennsylvania, just up the road from the Roops, they drove up to see them.

Heifers ready for a May 1945 shipment to Puerto Rico are dedicated at the York Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Heifers ready for a May 1945 shipment to Puerto Rico are dedicated at the York Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Olive Roop, now 102 and living in Bridgewater, Virginia, told the youth of her church in a talk some decades ago, “What we saw [in York] made Roger feel that this was not a very suitable place for the collection, handling and shipment of cattle. The cattle were tied in stalls (no exercise)….”

When they got home from York, Roger and Olive talked it over and decided to offer their farm as a collection point. “Our barn had a loading chute, 4 large pens and we had about 15 acres of pasture divided into 3 paddocks,” Olive said. “Our 20 or so head of cattle could run on a back pasture. We were only two miles from the railroad and forty from the dock in Baltimore.” Being only six miles from the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, Roops also felt there would be Civilian Public Service men stationed there who might be able to help on the farm.

The Roger Roop farm in Union Bridge, Maryland, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The Roger Roop farm in Union Bridge, Maryland, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Thinking this was only to be a summer project, Roger and Olive drove to New Windsor and made the offer of use of their 15 acres and barn to the Heifer Project. Little did they know what was ahead for them. John Metzler, the coordinator of the Heifer Project at the time, reported to the Heifer Project Committee in their June 3, 1945, meeting that the Roop farm “has been offered to the HPC free of charge as a collecting point for cattle before shipment. He has adequate space to care for from 300 to 500 cattle at one time.” A motion was made and passed “that we accept the offer of Roger Roop for facilities for collecting cattle, using the service of one veterinarian.”

The Heifer Project was off and running. And so were Roger and Olive.

Next post: Activities of Heifer Project as Seen from Farm, Part I

 

Pierre Ferrari Talks about Heifer International

Heifer International, the award-winning development organization that grew out of the Heifer Project, is celebrating 70 years of service with events all across the country this year. One of those events, which I’m co-chairing, begins today right here in the land of Heifer’s beginnings. I’d like to kick off that event by sharing a phone interview I had this week with Heifer’s President and CEO, Pierre Ferrari.

Me: Thank you, Pierre, for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview! As you are aware, this blog is about the history of the seagoing cowboys, and that history can’t be told without also telling the story of the Heifer Project, the early years of Heifer International. As its current leader, I’d like to know what drew you to Heifer International. What was there about the organization that made you want to become its leader?

Pierre: First, the job was available. Second, Heifer was the right size for me to have an impact on its operation, and it had sufficient size that the organization would have an impact on poverty and hunger for the things that matter. So it’s really an interesting combination of feeling that I could have an impact as a leader, and also that I could be actively involved in the direction of the organization so it could have a substantially greater impact than it has had. I very much like the idea of community development and firmly believe in the poor being a principal agent for their own future so they can gain confidence, accountability, and self-reliance; and I thought, wow, an organization that is committed to that ideal and philosophy is where I want to work.

Third, the level of independence that Heifer has because it collects donations that essentially aren’t restricted gives the organization tremendous capacity and leverage to try the things that really work and to try to do the right things even better.

Me: This is a special year for Heifer as you celebrate the organization’s 70 years of service with events all across the country. The committee for the northern Indiana event to be held at Camp Alexander Mack in Milford this weekend is thrilled to have you coming to the land of Heifer’s roots to participate. Can you tell us what the theme of these events, Beyond Hunger, means to you?

Pierre: Our mission is to end poverty and hunger. By working in a variety of ways in a more sophisticated approach, we want to go beyond just subsistence. This will end hunger and eliminate poverty in those places where we work, and we can have a genuine fundamental impact on the environment and a whole series of other variables, such as empowerment of women, development, political power, advocacy, beginning to right some of the injustices of existing systems, political, social, economic; that’s the idea – to go beyond hunger. It’s a much bigger agenda and we can do it, because we’re all set to go. We have the resources, and we can be flexible because we have unrestricted funds; we don’t work at the whim of government or major donors; we are strategy makers rather than strategy takers. We have a commitment to be agents of the poor if they want us to; we can stimulate them and encourage them to find the interior motivation to change their lives. That’s part of the answer to “beyond hunger.”

We’re tapping into Heifer’s roots as we celebrate all across the nation in our Beyond Hunger program. I went to Castañer, Puerto Rico, [where some of the early heifers were sent], and what’s left of the work Heifer did in that little town is this: it has held on to the fundamental values about how to be responsible for its own welfare, and so it has a set of democratic practices to hold itself accountable. It established boards for the school, boards for the hospital, and for 70 years has been working on its own responsibilities and a way of looking at how it manages its assets for its own benefit. And it’s evident. Very, very evident. And I think it comes out of the Heifer Project, how it got started. There’s a history, there’s a wisdom, there’s a level of gratitude for what Heifer gave them that is palpable from the children and grandchildren of the people who were first touched by Heifer.

Me: That’s a wonderful example of going “beyond hunger.” What excites you most about Heifer’s work today?

Pierre: It’s building on this huge history of 70 years worth of community self-reliance and autonomy. With that asset, that wisdom, if a community wants to, we can begin to leverage and help it extend its reach and activity into the marketplace or wherever it is that it wants to extend. There’s a very profound power in collective action. Our community development taps into that, engages that, at no cost. We help communities gain collective understanding towards a commitment and then say, okay, here are some things you can do if your community is interested. And generally, they are. I’ve yet to come across a community that says, no, we’ll just hang out. We’re doing good at this level. Which is fine if they wanted to do that, but we don’t get that response. Even if they cross the poverty level to some level of dignity, there’s always more – better roads, better schools, better water. People have dreams: better homes, university education, and whatever it is.

Me: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces to get that work accomplished?

Pierre: Resources are obviously one, right? But we are very blessed to have stable resources. Although I named it first, resources aren’t our principal challenge. We’re headquartered in Little Rock, in the northern hemisphere, and the practice of the aid sector is to be very technocratic and impose – and I hate that word – but impose solutions; and so some of the culture [at Heifer] is sometimes this, why is it that they don’t adopt things that we obviously think they need? So even though our culture is oriented towards our Twelve Cornerstones [watch for these in another post], how do we ensure that we allow communities to have agency for their own decisions? This is a challenge. Success is getting communities we work with to commit themselves and getting them to help themselves get out of poverty; it’s staying flexible and seeing ourselves as helpers rather than doers. That’s the biggest challenge. To see ourselves as helpers, not doers.

I’ll give you an anecdote. I was in Guatemala, up in the hills talking with farmers who were doing quite well from our perspective. Towards the end of the day of our visit, we sat down for a presentation that was made about the numbers, and the data, and what had been achieved. It was very well done. And when I reviewed the day with staff at dinner later that day, I said, it was a great day, and much has been accomplished, but there was one false note in all this: that the presentation about the success of the movement and the progress the community has made was made by our staff. I said, that’s just not right. I said to the guy that made the presentation, I’m not criticizing your presentation skills. That’s not the issue. I said, why is it that the community allowed you to make a presentation about them? What’s going on? I hope that the project is all about the community doing it and not us doing it.

Me: What significance does Heifer’s history have for its work today? How does its history inform the amazing work it continues to do all over the world?

Pierre: I think I mentioned the self-reliance, autonomy, and commitment to the interior change for which Heifer works. And I think this springs out of the spiritual roots of Heifer Project, which is from the Church of the Brethren and Christian. At a spiritual/metaphysical level, I think all religions are about interior change, right? So there it is, you know: when you commit yourself to interior change, then everything is possible.

Me: Anything else you would like my readers to know?

Pierre: This is going to sound a little bit like a fundraising appeal, but here’s what I think is important: that the long-term support for the Heifer Project continues from the everyday donors, so that we can have confidence that we can continue to speak truth to power and that we can look at and challenge systems that are not functioning well and that perpetuate oppression and poverty. We need this support to insure the level of independence that we have, an independence that is deeply needed in development. It allows us to be one of the voices that say, the government policies, the USAID policies, and their staff eventually make the problem worse. Too many of the people that we work with – I don’t mean the project partners, I mean some of the other aid organizations – are captured by the very system that perpetuates it; and so our level of financial independence and long-term commitment is important. It’s what gives us the courage, the vision, and the activism to always be our best selves. It’s not about Gate’s money, it’s not about a major donor, it’s actually the half-million small donors that give to us consistently – that’s the unspoken, vital power of Heifer Project.

Me: That’s a wonderful note to end on. Thank you so much, Pierre. And a hearty thanks to you and your staff for your good work at Heifer International, an organization that continues to capture the hearts of those who support it and to provide a more positive and sustainable future for those who benefit from its many programs.

Next post: Snippets from the Beyond Hunger Northern Indiana event taking place this weekend.

First Seagoing Cowboy Takes Heifers to Puerto Rico

Today’s post comes from Heifer Project Committee meeting excerpts of August 21, 1944, in Nappanee, Indiana, item 4: “Heifers for Puerto Rico,” in which cattle attendant, a.k.a. “seagoing cowboy,” Wayne Hostetler [see previous post] reports on his trip to the committee.

The heifers were loaded July 13…. There were from twenty to twenty-five men ready and waiting to load them, and only four men were needed. The ship had five hatches. The heifers were right behind the officers’ quarters. Waterman office men made the shed extra strong. Its slope roof was 20 ft. x 16 ft. Dr. Meixel said that the shed was twice as strong as requirements. Negro stevedores were afraid of the cattle. It took one and one-half hours to load….

The ship left Mobile, Alabama, at 2:30 a.m. on July 14. It followed a storm, and had five days of calm. It waited one and one-half days at Guantanamo, and there joined a convoy of eight merchant ships and four escorts. [World War II was raging at the time.] They traveled at 12 knots an hour in three columns (escorts on each corner). The sea was rough, but no trouble was caused for the cattle.

Wayne fed grain and hay twice a day and watered three times a day. He also cleaned stables three times a day. All cattle gained on ship except one which aborted. On Sunday the Shorthorn heifer had a calf. A good crowd was there.

Mr. Fizell [Chief Officer] was very considerate; likewise the captain. (There were thirty navy men on armed guard, six on twenty-four hours, and four merchantmen on guard twenty-four hours.)

The ship arrived at Port of San Juan on July 22 at five o-clock a.m…. All heifers were unloaded by 5:30 p.m. by cage and hoist–one at a time. Rufus King [leader of the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit, see previous post] led them to the truck.

Rufus King with Heifer Project heifers in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Rufus King inspects heifers on board ship in San Juan. I believe this to be the 1944 shipment. Photo from Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Karen King Keim.

 

They all led well. Twelve were distributed [by the Farm Security Administration] to four counties. By 11:00 p.m., the farthest was placed–3-1/2 miles up a mountain beyond the road.

The Chief of Dairy and Forestry took Wayne and Rufus King on a tour.

One man receiving a heifer had twelve children. They had never had milk to drink. The County Agent’s advisers visited each home three times during the first week and as many times as necessary thereafter….

One of the families who received a heifer in Puerto Rico.

One of the families who received a heifer in Puerto Rico in 1944. Photo from Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Karen King Keim.

“Faith” [the first heifer donated to the Heifer Project] is close to Ocean front, and a suburban “colony.” She has plenty of pasture, shelter and a barrel for feed. Her heifer calf was kept in a one-room house with the family and carried out at feeding time.

Faith with Virgil Mock and Claire Stine

Faith, the first heifer donated to the Heifer Project with her donor, Virgil Mock on left, and Claire Stine who raised her. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

A visit by County Agent's advisors to Faith the Cow in her new Puerto Rican environment.

A visit by County Agent’s advisors to Faith and her calf in their new Puerto Rican environment. Photo courtesy of the Wayne Hostetler family.

Wayne left from San Juan by plane at 2:30 p.m. on July 29, and arrived in Miami at 10:30 p.m. His five rolls of films will be sent by Paul Weaver in four or five letters. Incidentally, Wayne drank “cokes” on the Captain of the boat who drank beer.

Chief Officer George W. Fizell wrote the following letter of praise from the SS. William D. Bloxham in the Port of San Juan to the Brethren Service Committee:

Gentlemen:

I want to extend my congratulations to you on the wonderfull [sic] work you are engaged in. The finest example of practical Christianity I have ever seen.

We who travel see how the other half struggle for existence and can perhaps realize the value of your work far better than the stay-at-homes.

I would also like to congratulate you on your excellent selection of Mr. Wayne Hostetler as your Representative. A fine type of American youth who would be a credit to us anywhere.

I am not a religious man but if I remember a little of the Bible I believe it was Paul who said ‘By their works ye shall know them’. More Power to you.

How I would love to find those five rolls of film Wayne had Paul Weaver send from Puerto Rico! I’ve found very few photos from this first shipment.

Next post: An interview with Heifer International President and CEO Pierre Ferrari.