‘Faith and dairy passion’ fuel her humble work from Pennsylvania to Bolivia


Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding congratulates Karen Hawbaker, 2018 Distinguished Dairywoman. 

Karen’s humble courage and work at her own Warm Springs Dairy as well as the dairy at Andrea’s Homes of Hope and Joy in Bolivia through of Love In Action Ministries is an inspiration.

This is a small world. I met Karen six months after meeting my daughter-in-law Vanessa’s father who put me in touch with his brother David Rice in Nebraska for a stop to visit Prairieland Dairy on my working travels west. David told me about having volunteered in the project to build a dairy at the orphanage in Bolivia. He put me in touch with LIAM, and six months later, back in Pennsylvania where it all started, I met Karen and other project members to do this Nov. 27, 2015 Cover story in Farmshine, which was later reprinted in additional publications.

By Sherry Bunting for Farmshine

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A humble and honored Karen Hawbaker showed her faith and gratefulness as she was presented the 2018 Pennsylvania Distinguished Dairy Woman Award by the Pa. Dairymen’s Association, Center for Dairy Excellence and Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania during the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit here at the Penn Stater Conference Center Feb. 21.

“Without God’s strength, provision and blessing, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today,” said Hawbaker, thanking also her crew at Warm Springs Dairy, where she owns and operates the 180 cow dairy she and her late husband Rodney started in 1988 in Franklin County.

The award recognizes a dairy woman who has distinguished herself in her leadership and service to the dairy industry, both on the farm or to the broader industry and community.

Warm Springs Dairy has been recognized for numerous production awards, consistently being in the top DHIA herds for production and milk quality.

Since Rodney’s passing in 2011 from a farming accident, Karen has continued to operate the business with her dedicated employees and a focus on the cows, with custom operators doing most of the field work.

Through Love in Action Ministries (LIAM), Karen has been able to share her dairy passion and her faith and has been instrumental in carrying on her husband’s legacy in helping LIAM establish a dairy farm at Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy, an orphanage in Bolivia. 

“God instilled in me a passion and love for the work in this dairy industry both here and in Bolivia and wherever He may lead me,” said Karen when asked why she chooses this 3 a.m. work schedule with cows and all that goes with it. “God has been good, and He has brought good people into my life at the farm.”

The LIAM dairy project was started by Rodney as a plan to build a dairy in support of the orphanage. After planning the farm, Rod and Karen led fundraisers to build the dairy and then traveled to Bolivia in 2009 for the start of the barn, traveling there three other times before Rod passed away in 2011.

The project was delayed at that point, but cows arrived in the fall of 2014 and are doing well, with the farm providing milk and vocation for the children who live there.

Karen has served on the LIAM board and its dairy committee and loves the opportunities to volunteer her time to work with the farm in Bolivia. In addition to her involvement with LIAM, Karen is a member of Antrim Brethren in Christ Church where she teaches fourth grade Sunday school, leads a grief support group and helps with audio visual ministry every other month.


Gift of life, keeps giving



Justin, Claire, Reese, 10, Brinkley, 8, and Tripp, the dog, by the Christmas tree on a December afternoon just 3 weeks after the kidney transplant that gives Reese a new lease on life. Tucked in under the tree is Reese’s beloved cat Jack. Reese is quite enthusiastic about her four-legged friends, be they Holstein dairy cattle or house pets. Photo by Sherry Bunting 


‘Reese shows us you can have tragedy in your life and still move on and be full of life and hope for the future.’

 By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, Friday, December 15, 2017

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Cheese ball is back on the menu this Christmas at the Burdette house on Corner Road outside of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. It’s among the favorite foods that Reese Burdette has had to forgo for nearly four years to be easy on her damaged kidneys as she recovered from the May 2014 house fire.

That, along with hash brown casserole and all the yummy goodness of dairy foods, potatoes, orange juice and bananas — essentially nutritious foods high in vitamins such as potassium. In fact, so happy is Reese about bananas, Claire believes she’s eaten a tree full already.

Not only is Reese happy to be eating these foods again, “I hope to start growing again too!” the smiling 10-year-old said during my visit to Windy-Knoll View farm last Thursday.

While she has forged ahead on this journey on every front, it was the kidney transplant everyone knew Reese would eventually need that was hanging out there on the horizon. Justin and Claire Burdette learned in September that their daughter was in renal failure. She had been doing so well, so the timing was a bit of a shock.

Many people had already been tested as live donors — from friends and family members to colleagues in the dairy industry. But who would think that the “angel” sent into Reese’s life would be a friend of a cousin by marriage who had met Reese one time, a young, single woman with a heart of gold and willing to go through the surgery to donate a kidney to give Reese the vitality of life this ‘tuff girl’ has been fighting for.


Ahead of the kidney transplant surgery, Reese’s aunt Laura Jackson updated on social media describing Alyssa as selfless, inspirational, courageous and beautiful with a giving spirit that is truly admirable. “Her love of children and animals led her right to us because right now, Reese does need some extra help,” wrote Laura. What many may not realize is that this gift of a new kidney comes from a woman “who loves her family and just wants to make a difference in this crazy world we live in… What this beautiful soul has offered up is a very different kind of life for Reese… the chance to be a normal 10-year-old with a chance to grow.”  Photo credit Bre Bogert Photography

Through the selfless generosity of Alyssa Hussey, 32, of Winchester, Virginia, a special education teacher with the Loudoun County Public Schools, the successful kidney transplant took place at Johns Hopkins on November 20. Not only are they both home and doing well, Reese was released just five days after the surgery, getting her home just after Thanksgiving and far sooner than imagined.

The two were expecting to have a visit at the farm this week, and Reese said she is anxious to show her hero around to see her growing little herd of 12 Holsteins, not to mention the five calves her sister Brinkley has accumulated among the Windy-Knoll View herd of top registered Holsteins.

Ahead of the transplant surgery, Reese’s aunt Laura Jackson updated on social media to say:

“What many may not realize is what this beautiful soul has offered up is a very different kind of life for Reese, a chance at a life with more quality and abundance, of water parks, river swimming, better health and the chance to be a normal 10-year-old with a chance to grow.”

Alyssa has given Reese the ultimate gift — the gift of life.

“We are relieved to have faced this. We knew it was coming. We just didn’t think it would be now. But what a blessing,” Justin reflects. “This kidney transplant would not be possible without someone like Alyssa. It’s proof that living donors are out there and we found one that we had ties to and never knew.”

Claire says that, “It’s hard to fathom someone willing to give our child their kidney and we barely knew her. But she didn’t think twice. We are beyond grateful.”

Burdettes_Dec2017-14 (1)It was a regular day on the farm when I arrived just as Reese was finishing school via the virtual robot — a necessity as she avoids large indoor crowds for the next 100 days since the transplant. Her younger sister Brinkley was just getting off the school bus. We had an hour to talk before Justin headed out to milk, driving down Brinkley and Reese Way, the dirt roads across the field between their house and the farm. The late afternoon sun, as the farm’s name suggests, broke through cold windswept clouds in the gap of the south mountains.



Three weeks after her kidney transplant, Reese looked forward to the annual sleigh ride in Greencastle last Friday evening with grandparents Jim and Nina Burdette. While she must avoid indoor crowds for 100 days, the outdoor Christmas festivity was high on her list of things to look forward to. Facebook photo.

At the kitchen table, the topic of conversation centered on the many things Reese was already reintroducing into her life since the transplant, the goals she and her mother Claire have set, and the activities she is looking forward to – not the least of which was a trip to Greencastle Friday evening for the annual horse-drawn sleigh ride with her Momo and Papap (Jim and Nina Burdette).

What is it about Reese’s story that has inspired such a far-reaching interest and impact? People write and call and follow her progress from near and far. It’s a story of faith, hope and the determination to live life to the fullest, to overcome challenges and setbacks, to never give up, never let go of the rope and to keep moving forward in a matter-of-fact way with fierce strength, raw honesty, family love and accountability filtered by the wisdom of a 10-year-old’s keen sense of humor.

Justin notes that they had a visit not long ago from a Canadian couple who keep in touch often to see how Reese is doing. They traveled to Pennsylvania just to visit her, amazed by her journey after nearly two years at Johns Hopkins recovering from the fire. This dairy farming couple had been through a barn fire and had dealt with animal losses that were depressing. Knowing Reese, seeing her, has made a difference in their world.

They are but one example of hearts Reese has helped to heal through her own example.

They are among the many who have written the Burdettes about what Reese’s story means to them, and what her journey has done for them in their own circumstances. Claire explains that, at first, these responses were hard to realize and digest because so many have done so much for Reese and their family that they felt they were leaning on others only to learn that others were finding support also in them.

Reese-Brinkley-Sleigh(FacebookPhotoProvided)“I think what Reese shows us is that you can have tragedy in your life and still move on and be full of life and hope for the future. I think that is what Reese has done for people,” Claire explains.

Healing and support going both ways – a lifeline — gifts that keep giving.

In like manner, the kidney donated by Alyssa Hussey is new hope transplanted, a gift that keeps giving in a young girl with a second chance.

Justin and Claire also had high praise for their summer intern who came back to help at the farm so they could be with Reese, worry-free, in the hospital for the transplant. Mikey Barton is the grandson of Ken Main of Elite Dairy and Cutting-Edge Genetics in Copake, New York. He had served as an intern last summer at Windy-Knoll View, and when he heard about the upcoming kidney transplant for Reese, he came down to help take care of things.

“We are so blessed,” the Burdettes said, describing the bond Mikey has made with their family. “Blessed that he comes back to see us and that he would take his time off to come down here so we could focus on Reese.”


Justin was quick to point out that he got back to the farm Wednesday to be sure to have Mikey home with his family for Thanksgiving, and that Mikey made time to drive the two hours south to see Reese in the hospital before heading north back to New York.

“We felt we have learned as much from Mikey as he has learned from us through this internship experience,” said Claire. “It has been a neat connection. He knows our routine and we didn’t have to worry about things at home for those few days.”

The Burdettes also credit the support of their local community and the dairy community from the beginning. Flannery’s Tavern on the Square in Mercersburg hosted a Team Reese fundraiser a week before the kidney transplant to help with medical and related expenses with the restaurant donating 15% of the days sales and providing a room for 75 silent-auction items donated and bid on by the greater community.

For the Burdettes, it has been the physical outpouring that accompanies the financial support of others that has lifted them up. To see a Team Reese fundraiser pack the local restaurant from open to close shows how much Reese has lived up to her nickname as “Mercersburg’s daughter.” When she and Brinkley walk into Flannerys, as they do once a week, people cheer. No price can be put on that physical show of support.

Every effort to this point has come together toward a life that will be much different for Reese now. No lines to tether her. No long trips for dialysis.

Clair confirms the doctors are very happy with her progress and her bloodwork looks good. Her main job in the next 100 days is to stay healthy and drink lots of fluids for that new kidney.

High on Reese’s list of “new” is fewer shots, fewer medicines, and working on giving up the tracheotomy for supplemental oxygen.

She is pretty excited about her Dad’s promise of a trip to Great Wolf Lodge where a waterpark is in her future.

“I can’t wait to bathe in that waterpark and get Brinkley soaked!” she says with a laugh.

But first she needs to reach the point in her journey where the trach is no longer needed. Now that the kidney transplant has occurred, there will be sleep studies and trials to be sure the timing is right to close the trach, and then the watersports and other activities will beckon. Reese already gave up the constant companion of traveling oxygen last Easter when she wanted to be outside with the other kids for a longer period of time, and decided on her own, she didn’t need it.

Reese has set a goal to attend the Pennsylvania Junior Holstein Convention in Lancaster in February. Mom’s goal is to get her through the next three months away from crowds to be strong and healthy into this next chapter of her journey.

Because we all know what comes next. There are calves to work with and cows to care for and in addition to a new calf Cream Cheese from her Carrie cow, named after the child life specialist who has been inspirational on this journey, there are the new gals from her Pantene line, like Potato Chip and Pretzel.

Reese and Brinkley talk excitedly about their cattle as they rattle off names and pedigrees.

But the cow work will have to wait, except for drive-throughs this winter. Instead, Reese is happy to be making and eating some of her favorite dishes. This week she made sticky buns with her Momo and a repeat favorite meal – sloppy joes.

She says, “No more driving to dialysis and getting home late at night!” That all ended on November 21 along with the line in her belly and the constant hemoglobin shots.

The people who have stuck with Reese from the beginning continue to be there in large ways and small. A woman in town still sends Reese a card every week, just as she has since May 2014.

As for the Christmas celebration, her second at home since the fire, Reese has big plans. She shared her small, but typical 10-year-old’s list for Santa and the family traditions she looks forward to. To avoid contact with crowds, she’s shopping by internet, and she’s pretty excited that on Christmas Eve, she will be helping her Momo prepare the dinner.

For Claire and Justin, having their daughter home with her new kidney for Christmas is the greatest gift of all.

“There is so much good in this world,” Justin affirms. “We just have to look for it.”

One place to look is the inspiration of little Reese Burdette.

Correspondence can be sent to Reese Burdette, 8656 Corner Road, Mercersburg, PA 17236. Financial contributions or fundraisers for Reese and her family, can be sent to “We Love Reese” First Community Bank, 12 S. Main St., Mercersburg, PA 17236.


They prayed for direction… and found each other

By Sherry BuntingMeck-Hershey4576, Farmshine,     Oct. 31, 2014 – farmshine.net

 WOMELSDORF, Pa. — Some stories just have to be told, and this is one of them.

For Jeremy Meck and Kacie Hershey, engaged to be married November 7th, 2014, their chance meeting happened at a time of loss and uncertainty in the midst of one of the harshest winters southeast Pennsylvania has ever endured.

For Jeremy, it was a season of profound loss. Not only had he lost his brother to cancer in February, in Zach he had lost his best friend and business partner. Meck Brothers Dairy here in Berks County was the dream they had built up from scratch — a dream they had worked on together ever since grade school in Lancaster County when their late father Ronald, a poultry farmer, bought them a heifer calf for 4-H, igniting a passion for cattle that morphed from raising calves to milking cows, to buying and renovating their own dairy farm.

“It was a rough winter at the farm, with one thing after another, and it was hard to stay focused as Zach became more ill,” Jeremy related during a summer visit to the farm.

What he described was like a dark fog that threatened to settle-in around him. “I was praying for God’s guidance, for direction, for clarity… and I found myself praying for joy,” he recalls.

Goosebumps come with the next words from Kacie, as she confirmed her middle name is, you guessed it: Joy.

“God had a big part in us meeting,” she said about the chance meeting that was not so much by chance after all.

Kacie was facing her own need for clarity. She graduated with a teaching degree and was substituting here and there while working for her parents, Duane and Marilyn Hershey, at their Ar-Joy Farms near Cochranville, Chester County.

With Marilyn on the DMI board and Duane on the Land O’Lakes board, Kacie’s parents travel a lot. “I started picking up more responsibility at the farm and I needed to make some decisions,” she recalls. Seeking a teaching job, and feeling conflicted about the future, she, too, was praying for direction. What Kacie didn’t know was that her grandmother Anna Stoltzfus had started that week praying for God to bring someone into her granddaughter’s life.

Meanwhile, Kacie’s father, Duane, was one of several dairy farmers who kept intermittent contact with Jeremy during Zach’s illness and after his passing. Farmers in the community of Berks and Lebanon counties were especially helpful, reaching out in so many ways to mentor the brothers and to pitch in with fieldwork, and fundraisers, when the need arose.

From two neighboring counties in the same Land O’Lakes region, Duane and Zach had run against each other for the Land O’Lakes board seat a year earlier. The 3-way race had come down to a tie, and the differences could not have been more stark: Duane, a seasoned third generation dairyman whose father served as a representative in the Pennsylvania General Assembly versus Zach, the young, energetic, first-generation upstart dairyman always running full-tilt, wanting his generation to have a say.

The special tie-breaker election had occurred the previous January, with Duane winning the seat. The two continued their chiding camaraderie after the election, and Duane checked in from time to time to see how things were going on the farm after Zach’s cancer diagnosis the following September.

Newlywed to Suzanne Perdue, Zach’s illness came at a time when he was just settling into the future he thought lay before him. Being connected to a loss like this will test the strongest faith. Looking back on it, Jeremy says he learned a lot about commitment watching how Suzanne traveled that journey with Zach.

He recalls Zach’s advice to him: “Find a girl with quality values and a farming background, who understands what you are passionate about.”

But mostly, he recalls the example of how Suzanne was there for Zach every step of the way.

“I didn’t fully realize how bad it was until he passed away,” Jeremy reflects. “During his illness, I dug down deep and just kept focusing on doing everything around the farm, doing for two, wanting to keep it going for him, wanting to see our plans through, wanting to keep our dream alive, and hoping he could come back to the farm.”

With Zach gone, it was difficult for Jeremy to make that dream — their dream — his own.

The winter wore-on the way it does daily on a dairy farm. Sub-zero temperatures brought daily challenges from power outages and frozen pipes to difficulty starting equipment and the sheer effort of getting through the growing mountain of snow to tend cattle and feed calves and make a path for the milk truck to get up the hill.

Then the unexpected: The day-after-day snows and frigid temperatures took their toll at the Hershey family’s Ar-Joy Farms with the midnight collapse of the roof on their main barn housing over 500 milk cows. Thankfully, the milking employees were all at the parlor, not in the barn. Cattle were lost, but the majority of the herd survived.

The next 72 hours brought a whirlwind of moving cattle, cleaning up, and a community effort to come in with the builder to put up a new roof. A work day was organized by fellow farmers in that community and the word of it spread.

“I had so much happening here, I wasn’t going out or going anywhere,” Jeremy recalls. It was just two weeks after losing Zach when he heard from a neighbor about the Hersheys’ roof collapse. Duane had called to check in a few days before and so Jeremy returned the favor. He called to see if they needed help or equipment, but he never reached Duane by phone, so he headed to Cochranville figuring to lend a hand in the cleanup.

Had he reached Duane by phone, Duane would have emphatically told him to stay put, knowing Jeremy had enough on his plate at his own farm. But with no word from the wise to deter him Jeremy showed up and spent the day working on someone else’s problem instead of dwelling on his own.

“It felt good to be busy somewhere else,” he recalls. “Never did I imagine that day I’d meet the woman I’m going to marry.”

Jeremy and Kacie met as she brought water to her Dad and the crew. Kacie recalls thinking to herself: “Who is this guy, and why have I never seen him before?” Followed, of course, by making sure to procure another round of water for that crew.

Both were intrigued and struck up a friendship, after first looking each other up on Facebook (of course) and realizing they had friends in common. Jeremy’s best man is herd vet Nathan Kapp of Gap Vets, whose wife works with a friend of Kacie’s at Pioneer. A first date led to a second, and things took off from there.

“When I told my Dad we were dating, I just got this big smile and some comment about tractors,” Kacie laughs.

Spring came, and Kacie continued working at the home farm, then driving to Jeremy’s to help with whatever needed doing — from the cattle to the corn planting.

“What I fell in love with first is Jeremy’s faith,” Kacie recalls.

Windows of light open doors, through faith. Both Jeremy and Kacie were individually going through difficulties and seeking direction for their lives. They both had questions about their own futures, and God’s answer was an unexpected ‘chance’ meeting. “We would not have met any other way,” they agree.