Sunday, August 28, 2011


"Randy's Story Never Stops"

I received an envelope in the mail from Dick and Marie R. of Richfield, MN. Their envelopes are fun for me to open. Always a poster for an upcoming breakfast or an article or a particularly special picture. Every once in a while Dick will send me a photo of himself or another Zuhrah Horse Shriner atop their mount with a note explaining the event and the date. These photos always make me smile.

This envelope was no different. The envelope was fat and contained the August 2011 issue of the "Zuhrah Arabian" of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was a twelve-page newspaper packed full of pictures, articles, and posters of upcoming events for the Minnesota Zuhrah Shrine Clubs. Our friends at the Maple Plain Ranch were, of course, represented. And lo and behold, Dick had drawn my attention to a special picture published on page 6. Hah! I knew one of those horses!

I'm going to let the article's scribe, Don Myron, tell you the story behind this picture. In his own words, as published in the Zuhrah Shrine Units column:

"...Let me tell you about a great happening that took place at the Ranch.

The Shrine Hospital called our President Brad R. one day and asked if the Horsemen could entertain a group of children at the Ranch. After a moment of thought Brad replied absolutely. To prepare for this day Brad, at a stated meeting, asked for volunteers to give up another day of their lives to entertain some children at the Ranch from the children's hospital. Four people volunteered! That day came one day in June. All four of the volunteers were on hand to welcome the children and their three supervisors or nurses or instructors as they were called. These nine children who were our guests were born without arms or legs.

The three volunteers were Dick R., Lowell C., and Paul B. These three took these nine new guests and placed a mammoth memory in their lives. They showed them how horses are groomed and cared for on a daily basis then they showed them how horses are saddled, took them in to the riding arena and gave them all horse back rides, three different times. These nine children weighed from 30 pounds up to 45 pounds and at 45 pounds, that is equal to the weight of a western saddle. Therefore Dick, Lowell or Paul had no problem gently setting each rider safely into each saddle.

"It was heart-rending watching the care and the attention that was given to these riders. The riders had big smiles on their faces and looked as if they had just conquered a brand new world. On the trailer that hauls these horses all over the country there is a saying, that says, "We ride so they can walk."

Dick, Lowell, and Paul had reversed that saying, "They were walking so these children could ride!" It was an emotional setting. The setting and seeing these children with their smiles on their faces left a tear on your cheek.

When these children were leaving they asked if they could come back. Our answer to them (was) that they would always be welcome any time they wanted to come back.

Sharing that day with those children was the most emotional day I have spent with horses in the 55 years that I have been a Horseman! Sometimes you would never have these opportunities unless you volunteered.

At the Stables of your Rhinestone Cowboys and From the Saddle of The Colonel,
Don D. Myron"

What a great story! Using their horses to help these children enjoy the freedom of movement atop a horse. I looked closely at the photo. Dick had a note attached to the photo to help me understand the players:

"Note Don Myron is standing with his arm on Randy and Randy's tongue is out. Randy loved the kids. The story of Randy never stops. As always, Dick"

Now it was my time to be emotional. You see, Randy is a Refuge Farms rescue horse. An elderly stallion with no teeth. No longer needed for his stud services, he was only days away from being euthanized.

I really didn't know Dick or the Zuhrah's then, but through their adoption of Randy and the expert care they have given this horse, I have come to know and have great respect for these men. In fact, my name for Dick is "The Consummate Horseman". And I mean it with all sincerity.

This is a nice, warm story, isn't it? A horse no longer wanted finding its way into the rescue world of Refuge Farms at just the right time. And then that old horse opened the door between the Zuhrah Shrine Horse Patrol and Refuge Farms. As Dick and I talked just the other day, we both commented how similar our organizations are - both using horses to help people in need. I am honored to be in such company.

But the story doesn't end here. No, not by a long shot . . . . .

Don had written his emotional impressions of that June 23rd children's visit to the Ranch and his article was published in the August 2011 issue of the Zuhrah newspaper. But Dick had included another article that had recently been published. It read:

"Myron, Don D. of Plymouth, died July 26, 2011 at age 85. Don was a graduate of the University of Iowa. His career began with Gold Bond Stamps and he later formed Don Myron Realtors. He was Past President of Caaileros del Norte, the Zuhrah Shriner's and was still active with the Zuhrah Horsemen."

Dick told me that at the service, as you drove into the driveway, in the circular lawn just before the entrance to the building was The Colonel, Don's horse. Fully decked in the Zuhrah dress uniform and with empty boots, backward, in the stirrups. The Colonel was greeted by many of Don's friends and it seems only fitting that the horse that Don loved and trusted so be present to greet the guests and pay his personal respects to his owner.

I also found out that Don was a volunteer Hennepin County Park Rider and also a member of the Volunteer Ski Patrol. There is an upcoming event where Don will be recognized by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department for his years of service. It was fitting, too, that Dick recently rode The Colonel, Don's trusted horse, in the Zuhrah Parade Unit. Fitting because Dick and Don were lifelong friends. In fact, in Dick's eulogy of Don, he read the closing paragraph from the article his friend had written just a matter of days before he crossed over:

"Sharing that day with those children was the most emotional day I have spent with horses in the 55 years that I have been a Horseman! Sometimes you would never have these opportunities unless you volunteered."

Respect. Tradition. Honor. And a deep love of the horse. All characteristics and values that Refuge Farms holds high. And all characteristics of this group we have come to know as the Zuhrah Shrine Horse Patrol.

Funny, isn't it? How rescuing an old stallion without any teeth opens doors for you. Doors that lead you home. Doors that lead you to true, good friends that you never knew you had.

Thank you, Don, for sharing your story. Thank you to you, The Colonel, for being true to your owner. And thank you, Dick, for passing this story and pictures on to me.

"Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don't lengthen it now with undue grief.

If my parting has left a void
Then fill it with remembered joy.

Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow."

Amen, Don. Amen.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and that Randy

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Andersen Windows Was Here!!! Again!!!

If you recall last July, I wrote a blog about a team of four people from Andersen Windows that made an enormous difference in life here at Refuge Farms. An enormous difference made in a span of eight - yes, only 8 - hours. I was amazed at their hard working attitude. Their solid work ethic. Their concern for how I wanted the project completed. And their willingness to do whatever would help this organization. Kristi, Tassi, Jeff, and Tom were amazing. They arrived as strangers but left as friends. I was honored to have them here. And I was beyond grateful in July of 2010.

In mid-June of 2011, I received an email from Sue, the head of the Andersen Windows' "Bring It Home" program. I saw it in my mailbox and I prayed as I opened it. Could it be? Another team of four? Could I be so greedy as to wish that Andersen Windows would return again this year? It was obvious just by driving in the driveway this year that help was needed around here. Could it be?

The answer was in Sue's email. Yes, another team of four from Andersen Windows was on its way to Refuge Farms. Did I have projects for them to do? Would July 19th work in my schedule? And what kind of tools or equipment should these people bring with them?

I sat in my chair and just shook my head. The goodness of these people was a given. The generosity of Andersen Windows to pay their employees to work in the community was a pure gift to me here at Refuge Farms. Especially this year! And the list! Did I have a list? Oh, Sue! The issue was which list do I take off the refrigerator?

At 6:15am on July 19th, vehicles began pulling into the driveway. They were here, we chatted for thirty seconds, and then Keith said to me, "What is it that you want me to do?" That set the tone for the day. No talking. No standing around. No questioning "Why". Just heads down and doing "it". Whatever "it" was.

Todd brought his skid loader complete with bucket, post hole auger, and forklifts. Keith brought his strong back and smiles whenever you asked about his triplets. Lisa brought her familiar face as she had visited several years ago with another team from Andersen Windows. And Jason brought the hardest and fastest working set of hands that I have ever seen!

By 6:30am, the equipment was running, holes were being dug, posts were being pounded, and lumber was being cut. Major projects were underway and I was again in total awe and great appreciation for the work ethic of these people.

The day itself was somewhat cooperative. For the morning hours, we had overcast clouds. High humidity made everyone drip with sweat but I heard not one complaint. Except from me. They drank water, wiped the sweat from their brows, and resumed their work. By early afternoon, the sun was approaching and the gnats were becoming unbearable. But still, Lisa came to me at the completion of her second project and asked, "What else do you have to do, Sandy?"

Finally, I was out of projects and we headed for lunch. These people, you know, begin work early in the morning and so lunch for them is typically by 11:00am. But not once - not once! - did I hear anyone ask about lunch, if we were going to break for lunch, or talk of the hunger that I know they were feeling! Nope. They worked. And when we were done, then we then ate our lunch.

And at lunch we talked about our families, our hobbies, and our interests. I was amazed at the variety of lifestyles present at the table. Single and married. With and without children. Early in careers and well into careers. The Refuge Farms volunteers were able to see the fabric of these people and one of them, Tracy, wrote this to me:

"I was amazed at how hard they worked, and how selfless they were, bringing in some cases their own tools and in all cases exhibiting such stamina in the awful heat, and such good nature about the variety of tasks they tackled. Each was always looking for some other task to do, rather than resting, any time there was a pause in the project at hand. They worked straight through, and were a real tribute to the organization. I was thinking it would be a great pairing to put people like that with young people with 'attitude' to learn what is expected, what others do."

One of the stories I like to tell about the day was a point in the gate projects when I stopped to take a few pictures. Tom, our Refuge Farms Building Committee Chairman, was heading up the project and had Todd and Keith and Jason working with him at the time. I stood close enough to hear the conversation that went something like this:

Tom: "You got that?"

Keith: "Yup."

Tom: "Huh. You see that?"

Todd: "We could put a cheater . . ."

Tom: "No, let's do . . . Ya, that's what I was thinking."

While shaking my head in disbelief, I realized that these strangers were now working so well together that complete sentences were not needed. They had their own language - what is a 'cheater', by the way? - and one man could anticipate the picture in the mind of the other man. Amazing. Total strangers at 6:30am and by 8:00am in each other's heads to the point of only partial phrases were needed to communicate. Amazing.

Later in the morning, Lisa asked me where the sand was that I needed moved. I looked at her and realized she didn't have the list of projects in her hand (I had mine in my pocket, no less!). No, she knew there was sand to move and where was it? So, Lisa, Tracy, Anne, and I took the skid loader and shovels and we went to move sand.

Partway through that project, Lisa asked if I needed more sand. It seems that Andersen had bagged sand from the spring floods stored in a warehouse and perhaps we could get some donated, if Refuge Farms had a need for sand.

Did we!? The entrance to our barns is a two foot mud bog. The horses must wade through the mud to get into the barn and back out again. And in the winter, when the mud freezes, it is like walking in a mine field! The frozen earth is uneven and causes hooves to crack and we humans can barely manage to go out the doors without falling!

And so, from that simple gesture on Lisa's part, an entire second adventure with Andersen Windows began. I was put in touch with Tim who said, "Sure. We've got sand. Do you have a way to haul it?" With a call to Jim, from Bay City, WI, I sure did have a way to haul it! And with the use of Tom's forks for the skid loader, I even had a way to unload the pallets once here.

Last Monday, Jim and I made two trips to the Andersen plant in Bayport and retrieved ten pallets of sand - 30,000 pounds of it! Clean, washed sand in bags and wrapped on pallets. On the way to Andersen's, it rained so hard that Jim could barely see! On the way back to THE FARM the wind about blew us off the roads! But, while we were loading (at the skilled hands of Craig), the rain stopped and the wind calmed. And once again, we met yet another employee who proved to be kind and considerate and an excellent representative of Andersen's.

So now, as an additional benefit of July 19th, Andersen Windows Day at Refuge Farms, we will clean out the "muck" in the barn entrances and fill the craters with clean sand. When it rains, the rain will seep down through the sand and when the earth freezes, we should no longer have craters and holes to walk through. I'll be sure to post pictures of the "after" effect of this project, that's for sure!

Andersen Windows sells windows and patio doors. But they also have a way of hiring people that work hard and work well. People that genuinely do projects in the community to make a difference. I asked some of this year's crew why they volunteered to do this kind of work. Why did they sign up to go out and work in the community? The responses:

Because we know our help is needed.

Because we know things are better when we leave than when we arrived.

Because we know you can use our help.

How would I summarize the day? I think the words of Anne, one of the Refuge Farms volunteers who spent the day with us will do it just right:

"I had heard about the Andersen Window people coming to THE FARM last summer and how hard they work and how willing they are to do whatever needs to be done. You REALLY need to see these generous, wonderful people in action! And, action is the word. They worked non-stop until everything on Sandy's "TO DO" list was done! Then they would ask what else they could do!"

What was it that was completed on July 19th? Here's a list - read it and your muscles simply ache, don't they?

* The corral building was trimmed (a project outstanding for over 2 years)
* Fans in the corral building were mounted to increase air circulation
* Bucket holders were mounted on the new trim in the corral building
* Dangerous fence pieces were removed from the fencing around the Helen Keller side of the building
* T-posts were pounded to enclose the yard thereby prohibiting horses from escaping to Highway 29
* Corner brace posts were pounded into ground which covered the buried old barn - NOT an easy task!
* A full set of 5"x6" posts (total of four posts) were set and two gates perfectly hung to partition the Gelding's Pasture from the Old Barn Pasture
* A full set of 5"x6" posts (total of four posts) were set and two gates evenly hung to replace flimsy wire gates between the Gelding's Pasture and the Helen Keller pasture
* T-posts (more of them!) were pounded to connect the new gates to the existing wooden fence in the Gelding's Pasture
* Fence line was repaired to attach the old wire fence to the new gate sets in both pastures
* The heavy wooden picnic table was moved to its new location
* A sand pile was moved from the slab to the entrance of the corral where the rain made the ground like slippery goo!
* It was asked that ten or so bales of hay be brought from The Old Barn to The Big Barn. Later that night, when I went to do nightly chores, I counted over two dozen bales stacked there for me!
* Todd saw a project that wasn't on my list. He saw it and without being asked, he used his own personal equipment and he completed the project. A pile of old rotting hay was sitting in the pasture waiting to be moved to the manure pile. It seemed that whenever it was just about dry enough for me to begin moving the pile, the rains came and drenched the area again. I was in a perpetual waiting game with the weather. Todd saw the pile and moved it. Muck and all. What a gift! The ground is now smooth again and that nasty gnat breeding ground is long gone. Thanks, Todd. Very much.

How do you thank these people who come to work for a day? Who come, and in one day, make differences that you point out to your guests and say, "Aren't those gates just a thing of beauty? Do you see how straight they are? Do you know how long I have wanted to get gates there?"

Projects completed so that your volunteers say, "Now, we can connect those posts and keep our horses in the yard. Won't that be great?"

I don't honestly know how to thank them. I'll send a note with pictures. I'll tell them of PONY! and Appaloosa Mare standing in the breezes of the fans after they have eaten from their buckets in the corral building. I'll do my best to thank them but I know I will fall short.

This year, I am feeling a sense of helplessness with this knee. I see projects and know they must be done but thought I was unable to dig in as I would have in previous years. This year, Andersen Windows not only completed projects here at THE FARM, but they restored my hope. They encouraged me. They gave me a sense of "can do". I feel better inside my heart now. Major projects that were needed for the safety of the horses are done. And done well! Better than I could ever have done! Andersen's has given me my smile back. And restored my will to try!

Thank you to each of you. Thank you to Sue for thinking of us. To Todd, Keith, Jason, and Lisa for your hard work. And to Lisa who opened the door to Tim and Craig. I am personally grateful to each of you for restoring my song. And Refuge Farms? Refuge Farms is looking good again!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd - With our new gates! New fence lines! Newly trimmed corral building! And our sand!

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