STILLWATER — The Oklahoma standard. This is a phrase that weaves itself into conversations when Oklahomans are looking directly into the face of adversity — and even when they are not. Whether spoken by those who are in need of help, or those who are stepping up to lend a hand where needed, those three words describe the very fiber of each Oklahoman.
When wildfires erupted in northwest Oklahoma in early March, about 400,000 of acres of farmland were consumed by flames that showed no mercy or discrimination. The town of Laverne was evacuated. Volunteer fire departments from every small community in the area were dispatched to try to fight the fury. Another 750,000 acres in neighboring Kansas, Texas and Colorado also burned. The flames, partially fueled by 70 mph winds at times, devoured everything in its path, including homes, livestock, fencing, grassland, farm equipment and more. Tragically, seven people lost their lives.
It is times such as this when Oklahomans dig deep and step up to help in any way possible. Tristan Fields, a member of the Cleveland 4-H Club in Pawnee County, knew she wanted to find a way to help.
Thirteen-year-old Fields, who began showing livestock at the age of 5, had a steer she was showing at the Oklahoma Youth Expo in March. During OYE, together with her parents, Sen. Eddie Fields and Chris Fields, decided they would donate the limousin steer, El Chapo, at a special auction at OYE and give the proceeds to help 4-H and FFA youth who were affected by the fires. The steer brought in $60,000.
Sen. Eddie Fields claims Wynona as his hometown. He represents the residents of Osage County, and portions of Kay County.
Tristan, who has shown at OYE five times, is no stranger to selling her steers in the premium auction. Typically, she puts her winnings in her college account or uses it to buy calves, but because of the fires and her desire to help, this year was different.
“Both my grandpa and my uncle have been affected by wildfires in the past. I just remember how hard it was for them to replace everything,” Tristan said. “We just wanted to help because these people have lost everything — cattle, hay, just everything. They needed it more than me.”
Tristan puts in four to five hours of hard work every day taking care of her livestock, but said her involvement in 4-H has helped her with setting goals and learning time management skills. And, it helped establish a sense of helping others.
“I’ve just really grown a lot as a person over the past five years I’ve been in 4-H,” she said. “I get home around 4 or 5 o’clock and spend several hours here in the barn. Sometimes I don’t get started on homework until 10 p.m. Then I’m up at 6 in the morning to go feed again. I’ve just learned to manage my time and I’ll use these skills for the rest of my life. I know you have to work hard to get what you earn.”
Tristan said she believes it is important to help people because she knows if she were in their shoes, they would reach out and help her, too. That is why, despite the amount of time she worked with El Chapo, she wanted to help.
Due to his family’s fire loss several years ago, Sen. Fields said they got the idea to help after seeing the fire devastation on the news.
“This was a positive thing to do. It was the right thing to do,” said Sen. Fields. “When our family members lost property in a fire four or five years ago, there weren’t any efforts to help with recovery at that time. We talked it over as a family about donating a steer at OYE because we wanted to help. It’s the Oklahoma standard.”
That desire to help, Sen. Fields said, was likely instilled in him by his grandparents when he was a 4-H’er himself.
“My grandparents always said, ‘you help those that need help.’ I was taught those same values in 4-H, and I’ve tried to raise my family the same way,” he said. “You reach out and give a helping hand. Sometimes you can’t, but you do it when you can. This was one of those situations where my family could reach out and help and continuing the tradition of 4-H being able to reach out and help.”
A total of $60,000 was raised, thanks in part to a $15,000 matching donation from members of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. The Coalition of Oklahoma Surface and Mineral Owners matched that with another $15,000 for a total donation of $30,000. The auction itself raised another $30,000.
In all, 27 4-H Club and FFA members were affected by the wildfire by losing pasture land, livestock, fencing, hay or equipment.
On the day of the fire, siblings Rayli Cunningham and her brother, Keb Cunningham, both members of the Laverne FFA Chapter, left school to go home to help their parents move their cattle out of harm’s way. Fortunately, their show cattle were fenced in near their home about 10 miles north of Laverne.
“When I heard about the donations from OYE, I was very grateful because our family wasn’t expecting anything,” Rayli said. “After the ice storm we had earlier this year we thought we’d gone through the worst thing ever, but then comes the fire.”
Cunningham said, although the fire was devastating, she has seen the positive effect it has had on people in northwest Oklahoma, as well as from all over the country.
“We’ve had donations of hay and so many people offering to help. It really has made me thankful to live in this country and live in this area,” she said. “This definitely has touched my heart. If there’s ever a disaster anywhere else, I will definitely be returning the favor and stepping up to help. When someone’s down, you bring them back up. It’s just what you do.”
Keb Cunningham said his family lost two head of cattle and six baby calves, along with 8,000 acres of leased grassland in the fire and is thankful it was not more. Like his sister, he is grateful for all the help the fire victims are receiving.
“(Tristan and Sen. Fields) don’t know us, didn’t know anything about us, but they still had the heart to give it to us,” Keb said. “We were more fortunate than others who lost more, but we’re greatly thankful. I’m planning to buy a show heifer and sell embryos or buy a prospect cow to increase my herd.”
The generosity of the Fields family donation doesn’t end with the auction proceeds helping fire victims. The steer was donated to the Food Bank of Oklahoma to help even more families.
Tyler Norvell, executive director of the Oklahoma Youth Expo, said the steer proceeds were divided equally among those affect and each youth received $2,400 to use in whatever manner was needed on their farms and ranches.
“The 4-H and FFA kids who are involved in Oklahoma Youth Expo have those strong rural roots where it’s just naturally in them to help their fellow man. No matter what it is, they’ll give anybody the shirt off their back,” Norvell said. “Not only do they want to help, they feel obligated. It’s just what they do.”
Despite the devastating loss faced by the victims of the wildfires, Oklahomans have once again stepped up to the challenge of lending a hand. Simply put, it is the Oklahoma standard.