Derecho-like windstorms that hit the High Plains on Dec. 15, 2021, spurred wildfires that scorched a four-county region in the corridor of Ellis, Rooks, Russell and Osborne counties in Kansas. It was a reminder of how fickle Mother Nature can be in the heart of beef country.
Farm and ranch families with generations of ties to the region lost years of improvements to homes, buildings, cattle herds, fences, windbreaks, equipment, vehicles and many other items too numerous to list.
However, one sure reminder that came out of the aftermath, despite the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, people in the local communities stepped up. Droves of people came to help with hay and fencing supplies.
Elected officials arrived and they put the partisanship aside. They listened, offered encouraging words and oftentimes jumped in to help people they may not have ever met in normal times.
The best spirit of small towns came alive.
If you have ever driven along Kansas Highway 18, it gives you a sense of peace not found on the hustle and bustle along nearby Interstate 70. The farmers and ranchers who live in these and similar neighborhoods are in sparsely populated regions but they spur economic activity into local communities like Natoma or Paradise, which combined have a population of less than 400 people.
They also purchase most of their supplies and services in the region. Yes, when disaster strikes it comes at a higher price to small communities.
Neighbors responded with meals and offered their homes to people who were under incredible duress.
Those farmers and ranchers also saw neighbors come quickly without even batting an eye to help with the cleanup.
Producer Ken Stielow, owner of Bar S Ranch, remarked that he wanted to convey to Sen. Roger Marshall, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and his staff how encouraging it was to see the outpouring of support and reminders of the good found in the High Plains.
“If there was some way to take the entirety of the rural culture and move it to the city, I think our country would look a lot different,” Stielow said.
That comment and remarks made by many others who appreciated the generosity remind us all of the importance of having rural values. Rebuilding will take time and it will not be easy for anyone involved. Firefighting equipment used by volunteers will need to be repaired or replaced in some cases.
Calving season will have a much different look in 2022 compared to previous years. However, the producers are forever thankful for people who provided help to them.
There are ways to contribute including through the Kansas Livestock Foundation by visiting www.kla.org/affiliates/kansas-livestock-foundation/donations or sending a check, with “wildfire relief” written on the memo line, to 6031 S.W. 37th, Topeka, KS 66614 and proceeds will be used to help this effect by the recent weather event.
The community in the region of the fire has established a relief fund in coordination with banks and churches in the regions. Donations can be made through Southwind Bank, P.O. Box 433, Russell, KS 67665.
The spirit of good is alive and well even in difficult times.
Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].
Sign up for HPJ Insights
Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.