Posted by: trevormeers | August 14, 2011

Looking Back on One Year–And One Steer

We didn’t get a lot done around the place Saturday afternoon because the governor needed a hand moving some cattle. The push of 23 head drew a few more interested parties than show up for the normal move of a few steers from one pasture to another. A couple thousand of them, in fact, plus a few TV cameras.

The family with Thanks A Million. (Katie's photo ops were fairly limited at this event thanks to a fear of both cows and clowns.)

At 4 p.m. on the first Saturday of the Iowa State Fair, Teri and Allison sat in the VIP section in the center of the soaring Livestock Pavilion. In the stands at about the 40-yard-line (if livestock rings had yardage markers), Katie sat with both sets of grandparents, watching as I led the 1,350-pound steer Thanks A Million through the tunnel and into the ring behind farm-show radio personality Mark Pearson (showing Watson) and University of Iowa Assistant Wrestling Coach Terry Brands (showing Mocha McMoo).

The ring announcer’s deep baritone, basically the same voice I’ve heard at every rodeo I’ve ever attended, was rattling off trivia about Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad showing Ferdinand at the front of the pack, then Shomei Yokouchi, governor of the Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan, showing Swag. Then I heard the echoing loudspeakers say, “Let’s give a hand to the Trevor and Teri Meers family, the Ronald McDonald House Family of the Year!” Applause filled the pavilion as I made my way around the north end of the ring, working hard to keep Thanks A Million from crushing my foot and drizzling snot across my arm.

The “family of the year” line had the ring of announcer hype, like when they call every saddle bum who bites the dust “a good-lookin’ cowboy who just had a little bad luck tonight.” Truth is, the Ronald McDonald Houses of Iowa need one family each year to be a “celebrity showperson” among the real celebrities (and occasional generous business executive) who participate in the annual Governor’s Charity Steer Show. After the show, proceeds from the auction of the 23 steers go to the state’s three Ronald McDonald Houses. Net proceeds in the previous 28 years: $1.8 million.

Pro roper Billy Huber on his way to the Showmanship award (which was chosen by a judge other than this one Billy's roping).

You get more than a little self-conscious being the poster kids at this kind of thing, where everyone else is a genuine celebrity, at least in a local sense. Even though my official Steer Show trucker’s cap had my name embroidered in the mesh, it wasn’t much competition for Miss Teen Rodeo’s tiara. And who’s going to charm the crowd like the professional calf roper who puts a loop around the livestock judge’s leg as he walks by?

But even though I felt a little totemic standing out there in a pastel Ronald McDonald House T-shirt simply because our kid needed serious medical help several months ago (read this blog’s August 2010 entries if you don’t know the backstory), I immediately said “yes” when asked to participate a few weeks ago. And I’d do it again anytime. When we finished our stint in the Ronald McDonald House a year ago this month, I told them to let me know whatever way we could give a little back. Since then, we’ve shared our story in a fundraising letter, given the board some ideas from a clients’ perspective and now worked the business end of a steer. The director of the house in Iowa City worries that she’s already asked too much. But it’ll take awhile before we burn out on helping make sure the houses are ready and waiting when families need them, just as others had been making our room ready for years before we knew we needed it.

There’s no better motivator to volunteers than starting out on the receiving end of the service, counting on strangers and friends alike for help in times of great vulnerability. It hardly seems like any inconvenience to spend an afternoon hobnobbing with local celebs and fluffed-up cattle when we spent the same afternoon one year ago in Pediatric Intensive Care with a kid sleeping off spinal surgery.

K.J. reaches for his grooming brush while I give Thanks A Million the soothing belly scratch I was taught in the pits before the show.

And since I grew up looking at rooms full of horse and cattle show ribbons in my grandparents’ house, the steer show was just a dip back into the family business that’s been dormant since my dad stepped down from the college stock-judging team. It gave me an excuse to dust off my ostrich boots and buy a new pair of Wranglers. (The girl who sold them to Teri at Tractor Supply Co., said, “They put a security tag on the Levi’s, but not on the Wranglers. I wonder why.”) As VIP showpeople–I actually had to write “celebrity” next to my name when signing in to the restricted area–we earned all-access wristbands to the pre-show preparations.

Our steer was raised and exhibited by a junior-high kid from Eddyville with the made-for-rodeo name of K.J. McCrea. As the clock ticked toward 4 p.m. and we all waited for the governor to show up and take Ferdinand’s lead rope, K.J. gave me the quick tutorial on showing a steer. Poke his feet with the prod to line them up. Keep his head up, and when he’s set, scratch his belly with the prod like you’re pacifying an attacking alligator. During the show, the wrestling coach and I stood side-by-side, stroking bellies with serious focus while K.J. kept whispering, “Keep his head up!”

The show’s Grand Champion title went to, wait for it, the governor’s steer. Since my steer-judging expertise ended pretty much at confirming each entrant had four feet, I was in no position to declare the fix was in. And besides, who would begrudge a win for the guy that founded this show during his first gubernatorial go-round back in the 1980s, raising serious cash for the Ronald McDonald Houses ever since?

Alli waits outside the door to the auction ring, where we'll say our good-byes to Thanks A Million.

Thanks A Million seemed like a solid entry, in my book. When the McCreas finished fluffing his hair and spray-painting his legs to perfectly match the rest of his red self, he looked as cuddly as a teddy bear stuffed with prime rib. But I couldn’t help feeling like the McCreas and I were the spunky underdogs in this race. Most of the other steers had what looked like pit crews pimping them, and at least 20 people were cheering in the stands in “Team Ferdinand” T-shirts.

Before the show, I asked K.J.’s dad, who had more than a passing resemblance to Farmer Hoggett in Babe, how this was supposed to work. He said, “Not sure. It’s my first time myself.” And not being sure of what he was to bring to Des Moines besides the steer, Mr. McCrea went ahead and raised $3,000 from his county for the Ronald McDonald Houses. In the sale ring after the show, Thanks A Million went for an additional $4,500. It wasn’t the $11,000 the governor’s steer brought (most of the steers are worth about $1,300 on the market, to give you an idea of the donation factor in the bids). But I was plenty proud of Thanks, the McCreas and Allison for leading him into the show ring.

We got home from the show about 10 that night, threw our boots in the corner and fell into bed more tired than a day at the fair had ever left us. During the night, I kept dreaming about steers and big crowds and not stumbling over my sale-ring speech about our family’s story. But exactly a year ago, my dreams brought visions of neck braces and needles and hospital corridors. We still see a lot of doctors and therapists, and our family may never give enough back to balance out all the receiving we’ll do. But for at least one situation, we’d made the journey from patients to spokespeople, and we all say thanks a million for that.

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Responses

  1. Wish we could have been there for the big day…but I’m with Katie on the No Clowns rule!

  2. Thanks for the update, Trevor – so thankful for where you are this year versus last – God has done amazing things!!! Oh, and P.S. – they don’t need to put a security tag on the Wranglers because honest folk wear them kind!

  3. Good for you…doing what you can to promote the Ronald McDonald houses…and a wonderful way to show your appreciation for their support a year ago. I assume Katie is doing well? Will she need more surgery?


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