Editor's Note: In 1946, George Weybright accompanied a shipment of heifers to China as a Seagoing Cowboy. More than 70 years later, the domino effect of that trip continues to play out. Friends and family recently honored his son Mike Weybright's 80th birthday by giving to Heifer. The following is an account of the family's history with Heifer as told by Mike's wife JoElla Weybright.
These gifts are offered in honor of my husband Myron (Mike) Weybright on his 80th birthday. The idea of this honor was teh brainchild of Max Bailey, himself a longtime Heifer donor, volunteer and Heifer Study Tour participant (Thailand/Myanmar 2007). Max, along with his wife Judith, now lives in SEattle but he is a lifelong friend of Mike as they grew up together in Indiana. Max challenged our son and daughter to join in the honor, which they gladly did.
The Weybrights lived near Dan West’s family in northern Indiana, and Mike grew up with the West children. He is still in close contact with the surviving three, Jan, Larry and Steve. Mike’s parents were early supporters of Dan’s dream of “a cow not a cup” and Mike can recall discussions about these dreams being held under a shade tree on his parents’ dairy farm.
The dream became a reality for Mike when his father, George, agreed to accompany the first shipment of heifers from the US to China in late 1946. “Seagoing Cowboys” was not a phrase yet coined, but that’s what he was. Mike, along with his mother, Rachel, sister Muriel and brothers Loren and Garry, accompanied George to New Orleans where George joined the ship which would be carrying the cattle. George not only volunteered to help load and care for the heifers, but agreed to stay on in China into 1947 after arrival to help assure that the cattle were appropriately distributed. Nine-year-old Mike found he had to work estra hard at chores when the main provider was gone in a far-off land for 5 months! Mother Rachel had her regular farm chores, plus 4 children, a hired man who fell ill and a week-long ice storm that cut off electricity leaving 35 cows to milk by hand morning and evening. But when George returned, everyone was enthralled to hear his stories about China, including seeing trucks full of rebel (Communist) soldiers on the streets. He had taken many photos and gave slide shows at churches and gatherings around the area after he returned.
By 1948, Mike had a fine Holstein calf that he had raised and pampered as a 4-H project. When George suggested that Mike might want to donate that calf to the group of cattle being gathered for shipment to Europe, Mike had a fleeting thought that his dad should send one of his own cows if it was such a good idea, but in the end, the calf was freely given to join that shipment herd.
Mike never lost track of Heifer over the years. He joined a Heifer Study Tour to China in 2005, almost 60 years after his father’s adventure as a Seagoing Cowboy, led by Jan West Schrock and Phil West. It was amazing to see first-hand the results of Heifer’s many successful projects, although the tour did not go to Shanghai where the first heifers were delivered in 1948. The tour was able to see several Passing on the Gift ceremonies and Mike was honored as being a descendant of one of the original Cowboys to China.
In more recent years Mike and I have been volunteers for Heifer meetings, education and fundraising here in the Seattle area. I am very happy and honored to pass these donations on to you and to tell you that Mike could not have tought of a more fitting tribute for this significant birthday.
JoElla M. Weybright
Top photo by Russell Powell. Aer Axi (left) receives a pig from Mouse Rimu during a Passing on the Gift ceremony in Gudu village on Tuesday December 6, 2011. The two women belong to the Muendi Womens Group, part of Heifer's ongoing work in China.