October 12, 2020 at 3:00 p.m.
Dairy community members in Monroe and Vernon Counties did just that to help a dairy farm kid in need. Gage Leis, 10, of Sparta, suffered burns over 30% of his body, ranging from first- to third-degree, as the result of an accident on the farm the evening of Sept. 25. Gage is the son of Gabe Leis and Beth Wells-Leis, who operate Heritage Hill Farm and Wells-Holm Registered Holsteins along with three daughters, Madaline, 20, Addison, 13, and Haydn, 12. They milk 45 cows.
The Vernon County Holstein Breeders had a daylight meeting scheduled for Oct. 4 at the farm of Rob and Gail Klinkner in rural Viroqua. While the Leis family lives in Monroe County, the long-standing friendship of the Klinkners and Leises, dating back to their own 4-H and FFA days, has traversed the county line. That friendship has continued to the next generation, with their children developing close relationships.
That bond of friendship led the Klinkners to donate a calf to be auctioned off during the daylight meeting program to benefit Gage and his family. That donation set the wheels in motion and brought the dairy community out in full force, turning the gathering of Holstein breeders into a community event and benefit auction which raised over $30,000 to help the Leis family offset the expenses they are now facing while their son recovers from his injuries.
“This is just what farmers do,” Rob Klinkner said. “We rally around each other and support each other when times get hard. When we first decided to host the event, it was about the cows and the farm. It’s about a whole lot more.”
The outpouring of monetary donations and support the Leis family has experienced has touched the family, according to Beth Wells-Leis.
“We can’t thank everyone enough for the outpouring of love, friendship and prayers the last few days,” she said. “In the livestock industry, we tread water a bit differently; this is how we support each other in times of hardship. There are two special boys, a family with a heart of gold and countless friends behind this, who love our son and our family so much. They are trying to offer him the world, and this is why I have always loved agriculture and the great people involved in the industry.”
The Klinkners donated a September calf named Klinkner On Point Remember, an On Point daughter from a VG-85 Welsh-Edge Gold Chip Hold Up daughter. The family descends from Gail Klinkner’s first 4-H calf purchased in 1990 at the Vernon County Holstein Sale. Remember was purchased and donated back to sell again a total of nine times, raising $11,800 from a variety of area businesses and families to benefit the Leis family. Following the last fall of the gavel, the final bidder gifted Remember to Gage.
Monroe County Holstein breeder Bryan Stremcha and Vernon County Holstein breeder Paul Buhr also added a donation of a red registered Holstein heifer, Pierce-Vale Jordy Sauna-Red, to the benefit auction, with the twist of selling the naming rights to the heifer calf she is carrying, with the heifer and her calf being a gift to Gage. Adding to the sentimental value of the gift is she is the daughter of a cow that Gage recently bought, Pierce-Vale Spicey-Red, from fellow Monroe County Holstein breeder Lee Pierce. The naming rights ultimately sold for $10,000 to a syndicate of donors that went by the name “Friends of Gage.”
“The red heifer and her calf add to his Ruby cow family that he already owned,” Wells-Leis said. “They hail from the Stelbro Renita Ranger-Red family. Older genetics, but Gage is super proud of them.”
The two, and soon to be three, new additions to his growing dairy herd are just some of the things spurring Gage forward in his journey to get back to the farm. The road ahead of Gage is sure to be long and fraught with difficult days and surgeries, as the burns cover a great deal of the front side of his body, and the doctors have begun the process of skin grafting.
The Leises encourage parents to use their son’s misfortune as a teaching tool for their own children, taking the time to talk about the many dangers that can be found on the farm and importance of farm safety.
“There are a lot of uncertainties, surgeries and unconditional care ahead of us, but Gage really wants to be back on the farm with his animals, tractors and all the daily over-the-top activities he loves so much,” Wells-Leis said. “His journey back to where he loves to be is going to take lots of strength and positive thoughts.”
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