by Joe Bollig
St. Joseph of the Valley in rural Leavenworth County is a small parish. Even so, its parishioners have offered a big helping hand to the burnt-out farmers and ranchers of Clark County.
Nine friends, all involved in agriculture, decided they would help by hauling hay to southwest Kansas. Seven of the nine belong to St. Joseph of the Valley.
One of the group is Matthew Demaranville. He lives in Atchison and farms with an uncle.
Before St. Patrick’s Day, his friend Jason Crook called him and they talked about the wildfires that had burned more than a million acres earlier in March, from the Texas panhandle, up into the Oklahoma panhandle, and then into Kansas.
They came to a consensus: They had to help, and they couldn’t do it alone.
Demaranville and Crook knew the ranchers in Clark County needed to feed their cows, but the grass was gone. The burned pastures would need three to five years to recover, so hay had to come from elsewhere.
They contacted the Kansas Livestock Association, which connected them to a farmer in Minneapolis, who would donate 150 big, round bales of hay.
They got some trucks and trailers. And they got their friends. The total group included Matthew, his brother Andrew Demaranville, Crook and his wife Madison, Matt Wagner, Hank Crook, Adam Schwinn, Alex Cumming and Ben Chalfant.
And they set out with a convoy of seven trucks with trailers. Between Minneapolis and Ashland, they blew three tires.
“When you get down there in western Kansas, the people know what you’re going,” said Matthew Demaranville. “They waved and honked. Everyone was so thankful.
“When we got down to Ashland, we saw everything was burned. It was like watching a horror movie.”
“There was nothing but thousands and thousands of acres of burned fences and grass, and you could see people’s homes and barns burned to the ground,” he continued. “We saw quite a few vehicles of people who where caught in the smoke.”
The hay haulers deposited their loads at the Ashland Seed and Feed Store and went home.
“I think this was personal to all of us,” he said. “We did it to help people.
“It made us all feel humble, and thankful, and have a little bit of pride that we could help these people.”