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Cattle family chooses a purpose amid tragedy
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Cattle family chooses a purpose amid tragedy

At the 20th annual Minnesota Beef Expo, Tom and Joan Waldron were with their cattle when Chad Schmit, of Plainview, Minn., walked up to greet them at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Cattle Barn.

It was Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, the first day of the four-day event.

Hundreds of youths and cattle enthusiasts bring almost 1,000 show cattle to the Minnesota Beef Expo for competition, training, education and trade.

The couple’s and Chad’s shared passion was raising, showing, and selling high quality show Registered Shorthorn cattle. Active in the Minnesota Shorthorn Association, they worked tirelessly with youth for promotion and support of the Shorthorn breed.

Chad and Tom started talking about cattle genetics and breeding, a favorite subject. Tom stepped into the Waldron stall to show Chad something on a heifer and turned to see Chad had passed out on the straw-covered alleyway.

“There was no indication prior that anything was wrong,” Joan said.

Then everything happened so fast.

Cattle people with emergency training rushed over and began CPR. People called 911. Within minutes, an ambulance drove down the alley of the Minnesota State Fair Cattle Barn.

The ambulance sat there a long time while paramedics worked on Chad. A big crowd gathered around. Finally, the ambulance drove away.

Within an hour or two, Tom and Joan were told that Chad didn’t make it. He died of a massive heart attack.

He was just 35.

“There was a lot of emotions going on with all of that,” Joan said.

Cattle friends came up to the Waldrons asking what they could do to help.

“We explained that he wasn’t ‘with’ us. We know him, but he was just talking here,” she said. “He was stalled up with some friends that he comes up with every year.”

Word of Chad’s sudden death soon reached Michelle Graner, 27, of Kellogg, whose cattle were stalled with Chad’s. Almost a brother to Michelle, Chad was always there to help when needed, to share his knowledge.

“It was a very shocking experience for all of us with what happened,” she said.

As neighbors, the Graners, the Schmits, the Hoffmans, and the Allens showed cattle together for decades. Chad was a very good mentor to Michelle and to her nephew, Ethan Neumann, 15.

“His parents are awesome, and his brother, Jeremy, is great,” she said.

Just a few minutes earlier, Michelle had talked with Chad before he walked over to the Waldrons.

“He was with us all day,” Michelle said, still baffled by what occurred. “We had lunch. It was just like a normal Beef Expo until he passed.”

The Minnesota Beef Expo was Chad’s favorite event, she said. He had a very positive experience showing cattle when he was a youth, and he always wanted to pay that forward.

“I think he wanted to see that big smile on a kid and be able to mentor that kid with the cattle,” she said.

The one thing Michelle knew needed to be done was to pool money to buy the black and white Shorthorn Plus heifer that Chad had brought to the Minnesota Beef Expo.

For the rest of the night, clippers and blow dryers made up most of the noise as cattle people processed the almost instantaneous death of one so young.

By Friday morning, with clearer heads, adults at the show were beginning to figure out a way to move ahead after the tragedy.

A meeting was held, and folks determined how they could donate money to the Schmit family. Money could be collected and donated to the Minnesota Shorthorn Association, who could, in turn, give the money to the family.

The Waldrons, along with other individuals and families, began making phone calls to the Shorthorn people who would want to know what happened.

Joan said, “When we went down to our camper on Friday night, and we started calling a few people about money, I said to Tom, ‘I don’t want to walk around begging people for money.’

“When I went to bed that night, I prayed, ‘Lord, you know what the family needs. You know exactly what happened here. You just bring the money in,’” she added.

The next morning, Joan put up a box with a life-size photo of Chad, and the money just rolled in.

The group initially planned to give the money back to the Schmits and allow them to take home the heifer Chad had brought.

Talking with Chad’s brother, Jeremy, 38, they learned that the Schmits wanted to see a youth receive the heifer.

“They wanted the heifer to go to a youth who could start their showing career,” Joan said. “That’s what Chad was about. All of the cattle world came together and helped each other out. It was amazing.”

Organizers realized they had some wonderful youth that had applied to receive a heifer through the Minnesota Youth Beef Experience Program (MYBEP).

Each year, show families donate high quality heifers to deserving youth. Ten youth had been selected to receive heifers of various cattle breeds. There were dozens more applications of youth that didn’t get heifers this year.

So, several leaders of the Minnesota Beef Expo, plus Chad’s brother, Jeremy, who had arrived at the fairgrounds, got the MYBEP applications out.

Leighton Hugoson, 14, of Fairmont, Minn., had an excellent application.

The leaders decided he would be a good match for the heifer.

There was silence when Michelle remembered Chad got his start in the Shorthorn business with breeding stock from Leighton’s grandparents, Don and Kathy Heise.

There were no words to describe the moment.

The next morning was when the Heises and Hugosons got involved.

The Heises live near Lake City, Minn., at Oak Center Shorthorns. In the Minnesota Shorthorn Association, they love raising, showing, and selling cattle, too.

Their daughter, Jamie Heise Hugoson, showed cattle as a youth, even though she was allergic to cattle dander. Eventually, she married Jon Hugoson, and they settled near Fairmont on a farmstead. They have four children, and the oldest is Leighton, 14, in eighth grade.

Leighton has one of those special “two peas in a pod” connections with his grandpa, Don Heise. Although they live 150 miles apart, the grandson and grandpa talk for an hour on the phone three times a week. Their favorite topics are cattle and farming.

Leighton had shown his neighbor’s dairy cattle for years, but what he really wanted to do was get into the Shorthorn business, just like his grandpa.

His mother is good friends with and a college roommate of Natasha Mortenson. Months before the 2021 Minnesota Beef Expo, Natasha suggested Leighton fill out the MYBEP application.

Getting a Shorthorn heifer was his first choice if he was selected.

Just ahead of the Minnesota Beef Expo, he learned that someone else was chosen to receive the Shorthorn. While he was disappointed, Leighton went to the show anyway.

Natasha brought a Simmental heifer along for him to show, so the Hugosons went up to the Minnesota Beef Expo on Friday, Oct. 22.

That’s when the surprises began.

Jamie and her children learned that Leighton received an honorable mention for his MYBEP application. He was very excited when he was awarded a new show halter.

The Hugosons knew that Shorthorn breeder Chad Schmit died unexpectedly, but no one told them he died at the show just the day before.

“I didn’t make any connections,” Jamie said. “I hadn’t talked to my dad.”

That all changed Saturday morning when she received a text from Natasha to contact Virginia Mold, Minnesota Beef Expo event coordinator, as soon as possible.

“She tells me how Chad had passed away at the Beef Expo and he had a heifer that was going to be in the show and sale,” Jamie said.

Money was being raised, and the Schmit family wanted to give the heifer to Leighton.

Organizers had already talked with Don Heise, and he had agreed to serve as a mentor to Leighton.

On Saturday morning, many people at the Minnesota Beef Expo were still in shock and grief over what had happened to Chad.

The leaders hoped they could cheer everyone up with a surprise presentation of the calf to Leighton.

So, still unaware of his new calf, Leighton attended the sale. He saw Jeremy bring the beautiful black and white Shorthorn Plus into the sale ring and saw how nice she walked. He heard auctioneer Val Eberspacher say the heifer belonged to Chad Schmit, 35, who had just passed away. There was a moment of silence for Chad.

“The only thing constant in life is change,” Val said. “Chad loved the youth. He loved breeding cattle. He loved coming to the Minnesota Beef Expo.”

The heifer, named Destiny, was “sold” to the Minnesota Shorthorn Association and the Schmit family for $10,500 that had been raised in the previous 24 hours.

“This even gets better folks,” Val said. “This young man. I think he’s here. Leighton Hugoson?”

Not knowing what was going on, Leighton’s family gestured to him to go up to the ring, where he realized he was getting the heifer.

“This young man was in the MYBEP program, and he gets to accept this heifer. They’re giving this heifer to this young man.”

Leighton climbed up over the panel fencing, shook Jeremy’s hand, and took the halter handed him.

With his arm around Leighton, Jeremy whispered to him, “Do you still like the heifer?”

“I love her,” Leighton said.

“Are you going to take care of her?” Jeremy asked.

“I’ll treat her as best I can,” Leighton responded.

Jeremy said, “You know if you don't, Chad is going to come down and give you a kick in the hind end, right?”

Leighton said, “Yeah, that will probably happen.”

The joy and excitement on Leighton’s face broke the somber mood that day, even though there weren’t many dry eyes.

It was also announced that Sullivan Livestock donated a new blow dryer worth $1,500. The dryer was raffled off for $50 tickets. Another $5,000 for the Schmit family was quickly raised.

Jamie said their neighbors took Destiny home to Martin County. She hadn’t brought a trailer, but they got the new heifer as soon as they could that Sunday.

The Hugosons have a small acreage for horses, so they worked together and built a heifer pen. They decided to purchase a companion Schmit Registered Shorthorn heifer, and Leighton’s younger sister will likely show her.

About two weeks after the heifers were settled in, the Hugoson kids were still on cloud nine.

“We’re surprised the kids will actually sleep in the house,” Jamie said.

They get up in the morning and rush out to the shed to check on the heifers. They run again to the shed to check on them after school.

“Destiny is the sweetest,” Jamie said. “She ran over a wheel barrel the other day to get to Leighton, so she could lick him. You could tell she was a favorite of Chad’s. He must have worked with her a lot.”

Don and Leighton have been on the phone talking back and forth ever since. Don already has suggestions for AI breeding.

When folks were collecting money for the Schmit family, there was a life-size photo of Chad by the collection box.

Leighton has decided he wants to bring that photo to all the shows where he brings Destiny.

“We’ve become close to Jeremy,” Jamie said. “It’s been an experience I can’t even explain.”

Too many people to mention were involved in helping Minnesota’s cattle family upon Chad Schmit’s untimely death at Minnesota Beef Expo. Please know that the Schmits and the Hugosons appreciate every act of kindness shown them.

Minnesota Farm Guide Weekly Update

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