Acts of kindness have power to inspire, change lives

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Judge Alex Costello of Compeer Financial gets a big hug from Seth Zimmerman following the Final Drive show.

When my mother was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer in 2011, her oncologist asked her what her treatment goal was.

"I'd like to live as long as my mother did. She was 80," she told the kindly Chinese physician—a tall request for a 75 year old woman who was facing enormous odds.

The doctor put his hand on her shoulder, smiled and said, "We'll do our best to get you there."

Those simple words filled her with hope and confidence, and reassured her that he and his staff would be walking beside her every step of her grueling journey.

Over the past year, I had the refreshing pleasure of witnessing the art of kindness at work across rural Wisconsin: during disasters, at county fairs, FFA conventions and even in auction barns where families where watching their beloved cows being sold off to the highest bidder.

The agricultural community has faced an uphill battle for the past four years. As an agricultural newspaper editor and wife of a dairy farmer, I too have grown weary of gloom and doom headlines. People yearn to hear real life stories that restore our faith in humanity or simply make us smile.

Last summer I tagged along with Waupun High School Ag teacher Tari Costello as she and her team delivered food and water to volunteers helping farm families impacted by the August 28 tornado.

RELATED: Community members step up to aid Waupun, Alto tornado victims

At the Eric and Danielle Wetzel dairy farm, an army of volunteers swarmed the farmyard and nearby fields, gathering scrap metal, debris and downed branches. Others grasped large tarps as they labored to cover exposed feed piles.

Waupun Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Tari Costello (left) gives Danielle Wetzel a hug and some moral support as the Wetzel family copes with wide spread destruction on their family farm east of Alto.

And only hours after the tornado had flattened their freestall barns, a constant convoy of cattle trailers began rolling into the farmyard, collecting the family's milking herd that would be housed on several nearby farms until the family was able to rebuild.

Among those helping was Alto dairy farmer Mark Navis, who had stood in the Wetzel's shoes 14 years earlier when a tornado destroyed his barn, killing several cows.

"I just felt this need to give back because so many people helped me," he said.

Fast forward to the 2019 Alto Fair. The Wetzel's youngest daughter, Liz, was so touched by the outpouring of kindness from friends and strangers, she made the decision to return the honor by donating the proceeds of the sale of her market lamb to help replace the fairground's trees destroyed by the tornado.

RELATED: Alto teen returns record bid back to community

Buyers circling the auction ring stepped up to the plate again and drove up the bids to a whopping $34 per lb. Jerry O'Connor who cast the winning bid for NBW Bank humbly replied, "It was the right thing to do."

Dan Cappozzo was so inspired by the All for One swine show at the Wisconsin State Fair that he wondered if Fond du Lac County could launch a similar event that paired special needs youth with 4-H and FFA members in the show ring.

Backed by a band of enthusiastic partners and advocates, the Waupun FFA hosted the first ever "A Special Final Drive" at the Fond du Lac County Fair this summer. Three participants spent time working with their youth mentors learning how to wash, feed and groom a pig, as well as practice showing it.

RELATED: Special Final Drive is a win-win for everyone

Swine project mentors, Jamie Reilly (left) and Katie Schwanke (right) congratulate Olivia Schrader for her performance in the show ring.

By the wide smiles on the faces of youths and their young mentors (not to mention the standing room only crowd), the event was a hit.

"Seeing him so happy and acting like a normal kid brought tears to my eyes," said Diane Zimmerman, mother of 17 year old Seth Zimmerman who used a tablet in the show ring to communicate with the judge. "He has a hard time controlling his facial muscles when he tries to smile. But when he was with these kids and later in the show ring, he couldn't stop smiling naturally."

Deliberate acts of kindness speak volumes, especially when there are communication barriers. During July, dear friends of ours, Armond and Maryann, traveled to Mexico to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. While ordering lunch, Armond suffered a massive stroke. I was in tears as I listened to Maryann recount the deeds of many kind strangers they encountered in their struggle to return home.

Stories like these touch our hearts and serve as an elixir that shores up our souls during the storms of life. I have a small magnet on my refrigerator that serves as a reminder when I start feeling overwhelmed by bad tidings: Find the good—it's out there.

And by the way, my mother lived to celebrate her 81st birthday!

Colleen Kottke

Kottke is the editor of the Wisconsin State Farmer