BARODA, MI -- The Berrien County Youth Fair is the highlight of the summer for young livestock exhibitors but this year was extra special for one Luke Totzke of Baroda, Michigan.
At five years old Luke and his parents Brian and Shaya were looking forward to getting involved in exhibiting livestock at the Berrien County Youth Fair. It was a family tradition stemming back to when his grandfather participated in the very first fair. Market hogs and dairy cattle were in Luke’s fair debut until March 17th when they discovered Luke had an inoperable brain tumor.
After a biopsy and discovering the tumor was benign, they still had to decide on how to shrink the tumor because it was limiting Luke’s movement. The Totzke’s decided on chemotherapy and Luke had to re-learn how to walk and how to use his right arm again.
With the treatment decision made and the fair pigs already purchased, the Totzke’s wondered about Luke’s fair activities. Luke’s doctor advised that while he should be careful, he was five and should continue to do what five-year old’s do. Taking his advice, Luke continued to care for his pigs, washing and walking them and when it was time for the fair they loaded them up and headed to town.
“We got to the fair and had a really good week.” Brian commented, “The barrow placed first in its division and was reserve champion medium weight and then went back out and was reserve champion barrow overall.”
Showing hogs can be tiring for any youth but for Luke it was worse. “I was super proud of him, he was tired and exhausted and didn’t want to go out anymore but because he kept placing toward the top he had to go back out and show.” Brian continued, “My wife and I kept talking to him and we told him you have to go one more time and he said ‘okay dad, five more minutes,’”
Because he was unsteady on his feet as a result of a side effect of the chemotherapy, an older youth exhibitor was with Luke the entire time he was in the ring.
The livestock auction was emotional for the Totzkes, not because of having to sell the hogs, but because of how the sale of Luke’s hogs unfolded.
Brian was told by his friend Patrick Freehling that the community wanted to do something special but Brian had no idea how special it would be.
When Luke’s reserve champion barrow was sold the bidding stopped at $30 per pound but then the sales staff was given a list of buyers who wanted to add more money to the selling price and that long list of names was read off. But the giving didn’t end there, “About an hour into the sale, they announced a new total of $109 per pound because people had heard about it and just wanted to give,” explained Brian.
“The amount of people that came together that put in, it was overwhelming…(pause)….I just don’t have the words,” Brian commented with emotion in his voice.
“All you hear about on the news is how bad things are but yet in our community you have people who pull together, they didn’t have to think about it, they just did it.” Brian continued, “I’m very proud to live in the area that we do, I’m very proud of the Berrien County Youth Fair and I just can’t say enough good about it.”
When it came to selling the hogs Luke’s mom was more emotional about it than Luke. He told his mom, “Don’t worry mom, we’ll get some more hogs next year.”
Luke is the oldest of the three Totzke children, his younger brother Cole is four and his sister Kate is 15 months.