A True Dairy Goddess
Meet Roxanne Reitsma- Dairy farmer, Mother, and untimely Widow
Today I went to the Souza Dairy in Fresno to meet with the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Dr. Kathleen Merrigan. It was a treat to meet with these officials that have the power to help our industry on our turf in a familiar location, a barn. All of this made possible by Congressmen Jim Costa.
I was not expecting to hear of the dairy crisis’ immediate relief. I was just grateful to have an ear so that they can put a “face” to the crisis and continue to make progress on our behalf.
What I was not expecting was to walk away today with a renewed hope, a rekindled spark of gratitude and strength.
Secretary Vilsack’s opening remarks assured us that he was in touch with our despair. He told us that in March of this year he had met with a widow, whose husband had committed suicide 8 months earlier. He was moved and felt the pain of this woman and 7 children. In looking at the 75 or so dairy farmers present he saw her among the crowd. He was at a loss for words and obviously moved by her presence. He called her forward and explained how that meeting with her and her children touched him. He explained that it recalled a painful memory of a friend lost to a suicide.
I have met Roxanne Reitsma before. I have seen her these past 8 months at meetings with kids in tow, pushing forward to help our industry. Roxanne comes from a large immigrant Portuguese family. She was raised with determination and strength that comes from believing in something greater than ones self. She was given a work ethic and just enough stubbornness and natural intelligence that can not be received in the best of colleges. She married Hans, also an immigrant from Holland who also held the same strengths. As their family grew so did their business. The true American dream! Life, though, brings challenges. They expanded and as luck would have it the milk prices dropped to record lows and cost of production jumped to record highs. The pressures and despair is something I believe ANY of us can relate to.
After our meeting a group of us decided to go to lunch. My good, longtime friend Julie Silveira Jorge, another strong dairy goddess, who has been friends with Roxanne for years and has been a huge help with the home schooling and assistance of the children. I felt honored to be a witness of their deep friendship and unbreakable bond. Also in tow were the 3 older children. Well mannered, well spoken and confident. A true testament of the people in their lives.
Julie and I proceeded talking about old times as we would glance out at Roxanne on her cell phone in a deep conversation (Easy to tell being brought up Portuguese…we talk with our hands). She came in after we had eaten, sat down with her smile and said, “sorry” I had to deal with the business”. As women do, chat of family and life pursued. Through our conversation you can feel the determination and strength in genetics and of faith that have persevered during these difficult 8 months. She explained of the struggle in bad financial times and dealing in a “mans world”.
Roxanne doesn’t dwell on the hand she has been dealt. She does what needs to be done and works hard everyday and “stays out of the end result”, what is to be will be. She did not want to attend today. She had very little sleep and so many other things to do. She stated that she was tired of being “the poster child”!
As she woke early, a little voice encouraged her to go. She also wanted to pay tribute to Secretary Vilsack and the warmth and care he had shown her.
Strong, generous women of faith and hard work are humbled enough to know that through their pain, some good things for others came out of it. I told her how our Co-op started a 24-hour Mental Health Crisis phone line. She had also heard that banks had also changed many of their tactics in handling customers and being more sensitive to their pressures.
She reminded me to be grateful for everything we have and to count our blessings. She reminded me that “God will give you strength” and to take it day by day.
I came home with a bit of this load lifted and a refreshed spirit. I came home with a desk load of work and the dread of another month ahead of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. That though has to wait. I had to sit down and write this out. I asked her if I could write about her on my blog. The generous, resistant “Poster Child” said yes. On the drive home I thought of a full long story and possibly more interviews etc. That would have taken more time and that would not have done her any more justice than my inspiration she gave me that is burning so hard in my heart….I just had to share it with others, pay it forward so to speak.
Thank you Roxanne! Your loss is great but your generosity in sharing with others and giving HOPE is a gift. You WILL persevere and soar, of that I have no doubt!
You are a mother, a widow, a dairy farmer, and a goddess, but mostly you are an Inspiration!