Seagoing cowboys to reunite to mark 50th anniversary of Heifer Project

September 08, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

About 50 cowboys will mosey into New Windsor this weekend to help in the 50th anniversary celebration of Heifer Project International.

These guys put their spurs away years ago, if ever they used them. They're now all senior citizens; the oldest is 103.

The HPI cowboys will round up their memories of the years when they helped the world's hungry.

Hundreds of the cowboys cared for thousands of domestic animals transported by sea, and later by air, to needy families overseas. It was all part of Heifer Project, a nonprofit ecumenical organization that uses animals to address hunger and poverty through sustainable agriculture. Since 1944, HPI has been helping rural families around the globe.

Dan West, an Indiana farmer and one of the first cowboys, developed the idea for HPI in 1938 while he was a Church of the Brethren relief worker in the Spanish Civil War. After months of distributing powdered milk, Mr. West decided sending heifers to the needy areas would be more practical.

"You will eventually run out of milk, unless you have the cow," said John Dieterly, HPI regional director from his office in New Windsor. "Dan West promoted the project around church camps and got it started."

The first shipment of three heifers -- Faith, Hope and Charity -- went to Puerto Rico in 1944.

Before he died in 1971, Mr. West had met many people in Carroll County and enlisted their help in the project. Roger Roop had just begun farming in Union Bridge and offered his barn, pasture and paddocks.

"The next thing I knew I had a truckload of Guernsey heifers and a ledger to record all the proper papers," said Mr. Roop, who posted a "Heifers for Relief" sign at the entrance to his farm, often the last stopover for cows headed overseas.

Most cowboys stayed at the Roop farm during the early years of the project.

Earl and Miriam Beard often donated heifers from their Westminster farm to the project and plan to take part in the celebration at the Brethren Service Center this weekend.

First, we sent Pansy to a refugee family in Germany," Mrs. Beard said. "The family wrote and thanked us. We heard from them every year at Christmas."

By the end of World War II, "all Europe was in tremendous need," said Mr. Dieterly, and the project really took off. As one of the first Europe-bound heifers, Pansy made a stop in a posh Philadelphia hotel, where she was paraded before potential donors.

The Liberty ships, which once transported troops, were re-outfitted to transport the animals and relief supplies, as a venture between HPI and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency.

The S.S. John W. Brown, a Liberty ship now docked at Clinton Street in Baltimore, will be open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday as part of the anniversary celebration.

Someone had to care for the animals en route and that job fell to the seagoing cowboys," Mr. Dieterly said. "Many of them were rural farm people who wanted to help."

Slow ocean voyages could be stressful for animals. Eventually, HPI began air shipments. Flying cowboys watched over the animals and made sure they arrived at their destinations, which were often far removed from airports.

In 1969, Mr. Dieterly and his wife Miriam became flying cowboys to 24 Brahma cattle and 18 Hampshire hogs en route to Ecuador.

Air shipments have now become too costly, but the project continues. HPI uses its funds, all from donations, to buy animals in the countries it aids.

"In just about any country in the world, we can purchase good quality livestock and get people started on helping themselves," said Mr. Dieterly. "A dairy cow in East Africa can produce more income for a family than the average wage earner."

Those who receive an animal sign a contract to "pass on the gift" to another needy family. That gift is the animal's first offspring.

"Nobody gets a handout," he said. "The animal is a loan, paid back in the form of offspring."

Mr. Dieterly has seen many framed titles of ownership hanging in "humble houses" around the world. In areas where farms are not large enough to support a cow, HPI places alternatives.

"Half the chickens in South Korea descend from HPI hatching eggs," he said. "In China, a project started with 11 rabbits in 1986. Now, 2,000 families are raising 250,000 for meat."

The change in the way animals are acquired and distributed has eliminated the need for cowboys.

But the need for the project remains strong. Even in the United States, animals still are transported to poor areas.

Anniversary activities include an open house from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday and a rededication service at 4 p.m. at the Brethren Service Center, 500 Main St., New Windsor. Jo Luck Cargile, HPI executive director, will be the guest speaker.

The HPI anniversary celebration coincides with the center's own 50th anniversary festivities, which also begin at noon and include tours and displays.

& Information: 635-8740.

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