By Thomas A. Kvamme
GILMAN – When tragedy strikes, a friend in need is a friend indeed.
In this case, the need expands to many friends some 873 miles away in Ashland, Kansas, who are recovering from a recent wildfire that destroyed huge numbers of homes, property and livestock.
The massive fire two weeks ago, raced across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado, affecting an estimated 1.5 million acres.
Drought conditions, combined with 70 mile per hour winds, proved to be the formula to fuel the disaster.
Reports indicated the area around Ashland, located in Clark County, was hit the hardest as thousands of acres were burned, accounting for nearly 85 percent of the county.
After hearing and seeing information through her Women in Agriculture group, that proved to be enough to prompt Pattie Bixby of Gilman to take action to help those in need.
Asking herself why this hadn’t been on the news, she began digging into it more.
She then realized the major news networks were calling this the Texas Panhandle fires, grouping it all into one.
Being a farmer herself, Bixby was taken aback at the number of animals that were lost in the destruction.
That proved to be enough, stirring her to reach out to the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association, first making contact with Ashley.
Wanting to know what could be done to help in any way, Bixby waited to hear back.
That proved to be the beginning of what is now being dubbed “Minnesota Love.”
Once Bixby made the decision to “zoom in,” on Clark County, the hardest hit area, the coordination effort has been ramped up.
Bixby, not one to take credit for herself, insists there is a “team” in place, with a number of individuals sharing in the love.
Although she had back surgery just three weeks ago, Bixby figured she could at least do some calling.
With that, Bixby approached the Gilman Creamery, and there she met up with a “wonderful person,” in Tina Peschel.
Bixby also credited the entire staff at the creamery as going out of their way.
The need was to have one major location to serve as a collection point for the much-needed relief items.
Early on, Bixby estimated they have collected more than 1,000 T-posts for fencing, along with barbed wire, pliers and heavy work gloves to be sent.
Bixby pointed out that items don’t have to necessarily be “new, if you can spare a pitchfork.”
Donations are going to help the farm families that are now homeless, staying in the town of Ashland.
Toiletry items are among items on top of the wish list, along with books and toys for children.
Bemis Trucking of Milaca has donated an enclosed 53-foot van trailer for use in transporting the next load of products.
As it stands, volunteers at a church near Ashland have been making bag lunches for the workers, thus a need for paper and plastic bags.
A large number of masks were donated from a chicken company in Iowa, which were among the items making the cleanup effort go smoother.
Bixby pointed to the number of cattle affected, noting ranchers have to recoup and account for losses, while then being required to properly dispose.
What hurt even more was the fact this was calving season for many, while the 90-degree heat only makes things even more miserable.
Sends a load
Bixby confirmed that one semi-trailer load of hay has been already dispatched and delivered.
Jordan and Ericka Zillmer drove all the way from Cleveland, North Dakota, using their own tractor and paid for the fuel bill, to pull a T-step deck trailer provided by James Trantina of Collin’s Brothers Towing of St. Cloud.
Through all this, Bixby connected with Jeff Kay, who operates a family feed mill in Ashland.
When we contacted him on Monday he was busy escorting a truck, as he is taking time to help with the relief effort.
Having taken on a run-down feed mill with his parents some 25 years ago, the aim was for a quality product and quality service.
They have since grown to 50 employees and produce 600 tons of feed a day.
“Two weeks ago today we were the hardest hit with the loss of 461,000 acres and 31 homes, and it was just very devastating,” Kay said.
Lead the way
Kay went on to say, “I’ve been in this all my life and know how things work and have the management ability, while somebody upstairs told me I had a large set of shoulders and go do it.”
With that he has taken on the responsibility of distributing all the hay, livestock and fencing needs in the area.
While he has given up his day job, he goes to work at 5 a.m. to get his work done early, allowing time to oversee restoration until the late hours of the evening.
Much like Bixby, “I’m not one to brag and like to be behind the scene as we care about the American farmer and rancher as they helped to build us and they need my help now,” Kay stated.
While he acknowledged receiving help from people up north, he added, “Pattie has done an outstanding job.”
With a population of 800 people, located “60 miles from a Wal-Mart,” everyone is pitching in as fencing is the most important item right now.
Kay credited folks from surrounding counties as all “pulling together.”
Providing a way to cover the cost of the fuel appears to be the hang-up now.
Bixby noted there are 300 bales at the Gilman Creamery now, while people in Rochester have been offering to help.
In addition, she has been receiving calls from Wisconsin and other points, all wanting to help.
Bixby noted that Centresota, a large agriculture outfit in Santiago, has agreed to help work on securing funds to help with fuel.
Meanwhile, Pojo’s Auto Body, located across from the creamery in Gilman, is taking donations for fuel and dealing with that area as they come in. Bixby also credited Mike and Ericka Lentner of Monson trucking of Monticello with joining the team.
Tyler Lafave is heading down with a load from farmers in NowThen, donating four loads.
While located in southern Kansas, Bixby looks to these folks as “our neighbors and they would do the same for us.”
As it turns out, Bixby learned that back in 1988, during a major drought in Minnesota, folks from Kansas pitched in to help farmers and ranchers here.
Now the shoe is on the other foot and with an outpouring of support, led by Bixby, the favor will be repaid.
Bixby has plans to go down to Clark County, but will do it anonymously.
For now her phone will be her best friend.
Bixby recently heard from a Cenex official, indicating some assistance with fuel could be coming.
Individuals or companies that would like to learn more about the effort can contact Bixby at (320) 515-9656.