There is something about an auction, no matter where or why, that evokes good memories of the energy at a community sale barn. I can almost taste the café’s homemade pie.

The Colvin Scholarship fundraiser at our CAB annual conference was no different. I was in a cocktail dress and enjoyed a fancy four-course meal, but the excitement ran as high as a South Dakota feeder calf auction.

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Mark, Justin and I weren’t dressed in our typical auction duds, but the Nashville ballroom had a familiar energy about it.

The cattlemen board members served as ring men and the audience bid on seven items to raise money for ag scholarships. (We have given out $214,000 to undergraduates and graduate students since 2002.)

The final offering? Naming rights to the 2018 Mick Colvin Scholarship Classic, the golf outing that will help partners celebrate our 40Th Anniversary in Hawaii.

The numbers climbed as the auctioneer said, “Who’ll give me 25,000?,” and, “I’ll give thirty” came in reply. The total quickly escalated. I searched my memory bank, trying to remember the previous record.

It got beyond $50,000 and the bidders started to thin out. When there were just two left, I’d say the mood had almost turned tense.

That’s even before I knew the backstory.

Sean Hyslop, president of SYSCO Atlanta, and Kip Palmer, president of Palmer Food Services, were sitting just a couple of tables apart. When the final bid of $87,000 won the sponsorship, the room was full of excitement. Sysco Corporation set a new record in the scholarship funding and returned as the title sponsor, yet Kip admittedly felt a little defeated.

“Was I impassioned about losing it? Sure, a little bit. We didn’t do it to lose. We did it to win,” Kip told me later.

The “we” meant the independent specialty meat companies, who pooled their money with the intent of purchasing that sponsorship. “The group wanted to show their support for Mick and the scholarship.”


Our founding executive director Mick Colvin and his wife Virginia pose with the 2017 graduate scholarship winner Clay Eastwood (left) and the first place undergraduate winner Sierra Jepsen.

John Stika was giving his closing remarks when Kip asked to take the mic. He had all the independent and family-owned meat companies stand up. I wondered what was coming next.

“I’m not really used to addressing crowds,” Kip said later. “At the risk of some people not believing it, I have to say I think the words came from above.”

He told about the pooling of money, the group’s original intent, and the quick decision to change directions.

You see, earlier that day, Kansas Angus breeder Mark Gardiner took the stage, sharing his family’s experience with the wildfires this spring. Producers across the country have endured hurricanes, drought and more wildfires, and he put a face on all of those tragedies for the attendees.

“I still to this day—seeing those dead cows—think I should’ve done better. I should’ve saved them,” he said, emotion clear to those in the room. “God was good to us because of the relationships—people. Now we have the greatest opportunity in our history to make things better.”


Kansas Angus breeder Mark Gardiner recounted the tense moments leading up to and during the spring wildfires that destroyed most of his family’s ranch.

There were few dry eyes in the room.

Later, the independent group causally tossed around the idea of donating the “left over” pool to the Ashland Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund.

But they never expected it would all be left over. The most the golf sponsorship had ever gone for in the past was $43,000.

Back at the auction, in a matter of minutes, they consulted at nearby tables. Kip recalled, “We all got together and said, ‘Don’t you think we should just give it to the wildfire relief fund?’ Everybody said, ‘Yes.’”

So the entire $65,000 is headed to the fund, in addition to $20,000 raised by Del Monte Meat Company, who purchased the “From the Ashes” framed print, offered specifically for this charity.

Kip’s announcement earned a standing ovation.

And then? Sean came and put an arm half around his competitor—and volunteered that Sysco would split the golf outing sponsorship. Both his company and the Independent group will have their names and logos on the pins, without the independents paying a dime toward that, because they put it all to wildfire relief.


In a few minutes, the almost tense mood gave way to overwhelming pride that we do business with such amazing people.

“It really reiterates that we’re all in this together,” Mark said when I recounted the evening to him afterward.

“The first few days, the intensity of the situation, I said, ‘In a week, we’re going to be on our own.’ But people keep coming and keep helping,” the rancher says now. “It doesn’t matter what color you are or where you come from, people are people and good people are good people.”

The needs are great: 4,100 miles of burned fences, 30 homes lost, along with buildings, stored feed, animals.

“This money will go toward helping people who still need help. It’ll go to beef cattle producers who are still struggling and need that cash to rebuild everything that they’ve lost,” Mark says. “Thank you seems so inadequate, but those are the right words.”

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,


P.S. The Independent Group that made this donation possible is composed of companies from across the United States and Canada. Maybe one of them supplies your favorite CAB-licensed restaurant? A huge thank you to the full list:

  • Neesvig’s, Inc.
  • Evans Meats Inc.
  • To-Le-Do Foodservice
  • Buzz Food Service
  • Sierra Meat & Seafood
  • Macgregors Meat & Seafood
  • Palmer Food Services
  • Blue Ribbon Meats Inc
  • Lone Star Meats
  • Quality Meats & Seafood
  • DeBragga, New York’s Butcher®
  • Provimi de Puerto Rico Inc
  • Miami Purveyors, Inc.
  • Purely Meat Company
  • Southern Foods Meat & Seafood Solutions
  • Lombardi Brothers Meats