It was just a plain old dollar bill, like the loose ones floating around in your truck console. But where it came from…and where it was destined, would remind us of the incredible spirit of the American beef producing community.
The rank odor of charred hay, livestock and rubber tires no longer lingers the devastated acreage. Desperately needed rains came to some areas, prompting the green grass to explode. Much has changed, but there is still much to do.
I caught up to Jeff Jaronek, Foundation Coordinator for the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, on the road a couple of weeks back.
“Yes, Tim, there’s a lot of work to do, Jeff relates over his hands-free phone. “That’s why I’m on the road today – as part of my job we’ve been coming up here a couple of days each week to help distribute fencing supplies to those affected by the wildfires. We’ve been doing this since early April.”
Jeff toured the devastation the Friday after the fires, and through this process got a chance to visit with numerous producers. “A lot of them are in their eighties or thereabouts, and they’ve all said they’d never seen or heard of anything of this scale,” Jeff shares. “It was just the perfect storm; the humidity was falling rapidly, high winds, they were coming out of a good growing season…the past spring and summer they got a lot of rain out in that country, which was great. Then, there was a lot of CRP ground, and just a massive fuel load there.”
My curiosity surrounding the cause of these horrific blazes will remain just that. Nothing has been determined. But we can be sure of one thing. “The outpouring of support that came from the state and across the nation,” Jeff recalls, “whether it was hay that came immediately…the fires weren’t even put out yet and we had people calling from other states ready to send hay, wanting to know where to take it.” The tired, soot-covered community was caught a little off guard with that, they were saying, ‘We’ve still got to put fires out’. The donors were saying, ‘Yeah, we know, but you need hay, tell us where you want it’.
“We don’t really have a dollar value of the number of loads of hay that came in,” Jeff figures. “We’ve distributed 40 miles of fence to 90 individuals and almost $150,000 in fencing supplies. And, we’ve received just a shade over $1.2 million in monetary donations.”
But what about that single, well-worn dollar bill? Jeff was on the ground floor of handling the donated funds.
“I got the privilege of opening those envelopes and reading the cards and the Scripture and words of encouragement, and I opened one that came out of Wisconsin,” he recalls, his voice becoming quieter. “It was from a family, and I believe they sent a $50 check, which was very much appreciated. They had three kids between five and ten years old, and they all drew a card to include with that check. One of the kids wanted to send their own money, and so they taped a dollar bill into the card that they drew.”
“We took that dollar bill,” Jeff continued, “and we put it in the account, and it got distributed to an individual who needed it. That child gave all that they could, and wanted to help out…it’s just very, very touching.
I wondered what the plan was now, moving forward. What is their number one and number two requirement?
“Right after the fires, the number one need was hay, and the number two need was fencing supplies. Currently, we’ve met those needs,” Jeff shares, although he adds that a lot of the bigger ranches that lost many miles of fence still have a ways to go.
“Today, the most important need is to keep the funding stream alive. Funds can always be used, it’s the simplest thing to distribute. The number two need that I see, from the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation perspective,” says Jeff, “is a permanent disaster fund. We’re working towards establishing that. This was a huge fire, and it was devastating for a lot of ranchers, but immediately following the fire we had a blizzard that hit northwest Oklahoma that killed a lot of cattle. It came late, it got a lot of calves, and it didn’t gain the national attention the fire did, but to those producers it was a devastating event, it was a disaster. We need to have a permanent way to help those individuals all across our state, and other states likewise.
Happy Toy Story
I couldn’t help but share this story that I squeezed outta Jerry Sims, the Happy Toy Maker.
“We have a customer in Ashland Kansas, her name is Cathy Giles. She’s been buying toys from us for three or four years. Her and her daughters all live there on the ranch, and when this fire came through it burned all three of their homes on the place. They’d been able to find the toys that they’d bought from us that were in each house and bring them back to us.”
Jerry and his crew sandblasted, repaired and repainted them, and sent them all back, good as new. But there was another story that Jerry, in his gentle way, shared that kind of went with the dollar bill story leading off this column.
“Over in Frederick, Oklahoma, there’s a little boy, nine years-old, by the name of Scout Spraggins, and he’s been getting toys from us for quite some time,” Jerry recounts. “His daddy was actually hauling hay up to the people in Ashland, Kansas, and this boy put all his toys in there with his dad to give to the kids that lost theirs. That’s a pretty amazing deal, for a nine year-old to give up his toys to some other kids.”
Field Report by Jeff “Tigger” Erhardt
March 30 through April 1st marked another successful gathering of cattle producers to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association annual convention and trade show in San Antonio, Texas. Ranchers took in several speakers, live cattle handling demonstrations, great food and music and of course the legendary southern hospitality. It was great to see old friends and of course make new ones. The TSCRA crew was great to be around. They took time to visit with me about the their programs, the issues facing cattle producers and I even got to spend a little time with the Special Ranger division of the TSCRA. What a great event!