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Thank you, Charlie

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 31 December 2015

Though I live only a short drive from Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, my most recent visit there wasn’t to cheer on Aaron Rodgers. It was for the Alltech Dairy School.

For those who bleed green and gold, the highlight of the meeting was probably hearing a keynote address from former Packer William Henderson; but for me, the most powerful speaker of the day was Charlie Crave.

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Perhaps you’ve heard his name before. Charlie and his brothers run a successful 1,500-cow dairy near Waterloo, Wisconsin, with an on-site facility for crafting their very own Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese. They’ve received plenty of awards for their world-renowned cheeses, high-producing Holstein herd and stewardship and sustainability efforts.

As Charlie discussed his family’s business, he emphasized the importance of being involved in the community, particularly through programs like 4-H. Though his own children are grown and his grandchildren aren’t yet of age, Charlie continues to volunteer on all levels – from local club meetings to chaperoning international trips.

He joked, “I need to go to another meeting like I need a hole in my head.”

I quietly laughed to myself at this comment, thinking of how inconvenient those extra meetings can seem. I confess there are times before a weeknight meeting when my attitude turns sour as I think about my undone to-do list and question if it is really worth my time to go to one more meeting. But Charlie’s next statement hit me smack-dab in my heart.

“But I do it because I know I have a gift to offer …” he explained. As Charlie went on to describe how he shares his skills to develop young leaders by volunteering his time and talent, I suddenly remembered that I was one of them.

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The first time I met Charlie, I was 15 years old. Fresh off the farm, I had hardly traveled farther than our gravel driveway, but I was boarding a bus full of other teenagers whom I had never met before and heading half-way across the country on a tour of historic cities of the eastern U.S. It was called the 4-H American Spirit Trip, and Charlie was the token male adult chaperone.

Over seven days, I took part in the experience of a lifetime. We went whale watching and ate lobster in Gloucester, strolled through New York City’s Central Park, traced the steps of our forefathers on the Freedom Trail and felt the splash in our faces of Niagara Falls. At that time, we were still able to climb up into the Statue of Liberty’s torch.

That trip was a significant milestone in my development as a young leader, forcing me to step outside of my comfort zone to make friends and embrace a new level of independence. For a kid like me, I never would have had the opportunity to visit those places or grow in that way had it not been for volunteers like Charlie.

My family didn’t take vacations, let alone miss a milking for anything other than the Wisconsin State Fair once a year. When Charlie gave his time to voluntarily spending several days on a bus with a bunch of teenagers, he was really doing so much more; he was giving many of us the experience of a lifetime.

A year or two after the American Spirit Trip, my path crossed with Charlie’s again. This time, he was a chaperone for the National 4-H Dairy Conference. Again, there he was, stepping away from his duties on the farm and at home to give youth like me the chance to learn and grow.

But I was just one kid; it’s not inaccurate to estimate that Charlie has impacted hundreds, if not thousands, of others over the years with the gift of his time.

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Since I probably never said it as a teenager, I am going to say it now: “Thank you, Charlie.” Thanks for embracing the call to serve others. Thanks for putting up with a bunch of moody, hormonal teenagers. Thanks for treating each one of us like we were someone special.

But most of all, thanks for reminding me that now it is my turn to give back and to face those meetings and volunteer activities with a smile because there just might be a kid like me who needs a “Charlie” to give them a chance.

So, think about the people who have helped you – the 4-H leaders, teachers, mentors – and give them that long-overdue “thank you.” And don’t forget that the next generation of dairy leaders needs you to be a “Charlie” too!  PD

peggy coffeen
  • Peggy Coffeen

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