Fair bidders come together to help girl

ESCANABA – Last Saturday morning, 16-year-old 4-H member Alesha Gustafson wasn’t sure if she’d be able to auction her 251-pound hog Paisley at the U.P. State Fair. Earlier that week, she had undergone emergency surgery for Crohn’s disease at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and the auction rulebook specified that all sales must be done in person.

But when a group of volunteers and bidders heard about Gustafson’s situation, they took matters into their own hands, appealing to the U.P. State Fair Livestock Advisory Committee on her behalf. Soon, the livestock auction turned into an impromptu fundraising drive for Gustafson. Her pig was sold for more than $50 a pound – a sum made possible by a joint bid from dozens of individual buyers and organizations.

Gustafson, a member of Menominee-based 4-H club “When Pigs Fly,” said that she was not aware of the plan before the auction started.

“I really didn’t expect that much, and I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Gustafson said.

The sale was spearheaded by Gary Johnson of Johnson Brothers Farms, self-described “mentor to 4-H kids” according to Ken Gartland, one of the bidders.

“Mr. Johnson brought it to my attention that a little girl with Crohn’s disease had the last pig to be sold,” Gartland said.

Johnson contacted Rep. Ed McBroom, chairman of the Livestock Advisory Committee, to see if it would be possible to make an exception for her. In turn, McBroom contacted the other members of the committee, who unanimously supported the idea.

With their approval, Johnson rallied bidders to make a joint bid on the pig with the goal of raising money to help Gustafson, Gartland said.

In the end, Gustafson was able to attend the auction in a wheelchair, though her sister did the showing.

Though not every bidder at the event was aware of the situation before bidding began, many had heard that something unusual was about to happen, McBroom said.

“There was a lot of excitement,” McBroom said. “A lot of buyers had been asked to give, and had, so they stuck around. There was a real buzz.”

It didn’t take long before the auction gained momentum, Gartland said. Eventually, even the auctioneers began donating to the cause.

“When it hit $10 a pound, everyone was on their feet,” Gartland said. “It was unreal. You had guys crying – people who donated couldn’t believe it.”

“It was something,” Alesha’s father Mike Gustafson said. “It’s hard to explain it. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.”

In the end, Paisley was sold for $52.50 a pound, the result of a joint bid made by 51 businesses and individual buyers, U.P. State Fair Swine Superintendent Stephanie Bruno said. A 52nd, Rapid River Dairy, has since sent the Gustafsons a check. Each bidder contributed $1 per pound, save for Johnson, who paid $2 a pound.

It’s a figure which may represent a new record for Michigan’s livestock industry – and a new high point for the U.P. State Fair, Gartland said.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Gartland said. “I think it’s one of the nicest things to hit Delta County in a long time.”

“The whole fair is a great opportunity for the community to support kids, especially in agriculture,” McBroom said. “This is like that 10 times over, and for a really good cause.”

The Gustafsons were similarly moved.

“I’d like to thank the businesses so much for their support and generosity,” Gustafson said.

The list of buyers include:

Super One- Escanaba

Elmer’s County Market- Escanaba

First Bank/ Dagenais Enterprises- Escanaba

State Bank- Escanaba

Garceau Insurance- Escanaba

Rainbow Packing- Escanaba

Mel’s Lawn & Garden- Escanaba

Rays Feed Mill- Bark River

Stenberg Brothers- Bark River

AM Express- Escanaba

Northgate Equiptment & Sales- Escanaba

Carpet & Drapery Shop- Escanaba

Beaver Machine- Coleman, Wis.

Ken Gartland- Escanaba

Lakeview Assisted Living- Gladstone

Pomps Tire- Escanaba

Anderson Tackman/ Besse Forest Products- Escanaba

Syl’s Cafe- Ontanogan

United Producers- St. Louis, Mich.

Northern Michigan Liverstock- Gaylord, Mich.

Clare Livestock- Clare, Mich.

Wayland Livestock- Wayland, Mich.

Chuck Kewley- Daggett

Wells Lions Club- Escanaba

Brock Farms- Menominee

U.P. Vet- Stephenson

Moker Livestock- Wallace

Burnt Land Farms- Pickford

Martin Curstom Harvesting- Wallace

M&A Farm and Fur- Carney

Dennis Rye Milk Transit- Wallace

Viau’s Market- Escanaba

Foster Law Firm- Marquette

DeBacker Farm & Dairy- Daggett

Chenier’s Greenhouse- Flatrock, MI

Triangle Restaurant- McMillan

Northern Machine- Escanaba

Johnson Farms- Wallace

Lippen’s Potato Farm- Bark River

S&M Livestock- Wallace

Bloniarz Equiptment- Perronville

Love Meats- Rudyard

Granquist Dairy- Powers

Riesterer & Schnell- Pound, Wis.

Hanson’s Potato & Seed Farm- Cornell

Equity Livestock- Bonduel, Wis.

Lauren Family Farms- Gwinn

Johnson Brother’s Livestock- Escanaba

In Memory of Felix & Lloyd Johnson- Escanaba

Wangerin Logging- Stephenson

UP Ophthalmology- Escanaba

Maplewood Meats- Green Bay