In five minutes – just a month after massive wildfires – a friendship was forged that will likely last a lifetime.
On Monday at the Oklahoma Youth Expo (OYE), Troy DeWitt, an Oklahoma Panhandle ranch hand, and Todd Brink, a farmer and rancher from Michigan, acted as if they’d been friends since childhood.
The two partnered on a Maine-Anjou heifer that DeWitt’s 17-year-old son Tel was showing as a commercial heifer at OYE at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City.
The Northwest Oklahoma Complex wildfires began on March 6, 2017. The monstrous fires would burn for days across 318,025 acres in Oklahoma and 782,333 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas combined, according to Oklahoma Forestry Services.
Exactly a month later on April 6, a convoy of 21 semi-trailers and pick-up trailers left the Wayland Hopkins Livestock Auction in Wayland, Mich., headed west towards Knowles, Okla. to help ranchers whose farms and livestock were destroyed by the fires. Their intent, which they carried out, was to deliver hay, feed, milk replacer, fencing supplies, and clothing items to ranchers who were affected by the fires. Then they headed back home to complete the round-trip of about 2,300 miles.
Upon arriving in Knowles, DeWitt, who also serves as fire chief for the Gate Volunteer Fire Department, met and visited with Brink, who back home has a herd of cows with his father, grows row crops and works in a feedlot. The conversation spanned no more than five minutes.
“I never saw him again the rest of the time they were here,” DeWitt said.
But that wildfire has ignited countless friendships through phone calls, emails and especially on Facebook.
DeWitt of Gate, Okla., and Brink of Caledonia, Mich., became friends on Facebook and one day the cowboy from Oklahoma noticed a post that caught his attention.
“Todd posted he had some show steers for sell and they looked good,” DeWitt said. “I asked him if he had any heifers. He sent a picture and said, ‘She’s pretty good, but I think I know of another.’ He sent a picture of that heifer and then called me and said, ‘Do you want to partner on this heifer?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
DeWitt’s wife Rhodena posed a fair question, “Are you sure you know him? You’ve only met him once.”
DeWitt said he couldn’t explain it. He just had a feeling, a feeling of trust.
“If someone drives nearly 2,300 miles to help out complete strangers, they’ve got to be good people,” DeWitt said on Monday while standing in barn 4F at State Fair Park.
Then he turned and pointed at the heifer.
“Now, this heifer is part of a friendship that will last a lifetime,” DeWitt said.
At the end of December, Brink brought the heifer to Gate. Then he called DeWitt a couple of weeks ago and said he along with fellow Michigan residents Charles Miller and his father Fred Miller, who drove with Brink last April, would be coming to OYE.
“I want to see all of the big shows,” Brink said.
This one in particular, as Tel DeWitt shows the heifer.
Tel, a senior at Laverne High School, didn’t come to OYE a year ago because, as his father Troy says with emotion choking his words, “He chose to stay and help me after the fires.”
Tel said the friendships formed with those from Michigan and other states following the fires is an example of good people who want to help others. “If something happened to them tomorrow,” Tel said as he nodded toward Brink, “I’d load up and head that way.”