Cattlemen's Ball draws thousands
By Larry Dreiling
Imagine a large cow pasture on the vast Nebraska prairie.
Now imagine acres of tents big enough to hold a circus, several competing revival meetings and maybe even a private football game between Huskers and Hawkeyes rising up from that pasture.
Mix in a ranch rodeo arena with stands filled with fans cheer their favorite teams.
This incredible scene occurred June 7 and 8 as a crowd of about 4,500 joined to raise funds for cancer research at the 2013 Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska at the Hanging H Ranch between Paxton and Sutherland.
The ball is hosted by a different Nebraska ranch or feedlot every year; this 16th edition was co-hosted by the Ralph and Beverly Holzfaster family and the Neal Hansen family. The aim is to raise money for cancer research at the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center’s Eppley Cancer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.
“The way this started is the beef industry was taking a pretty good beating from some people saying beef causes cancer,” said Ralph Holzfaster, who along with his wife, are cancer survivors. “The whole idea for the Cattlemen’s Ball has been to fight cancer while promoting beef as part of a healthy diet.
“The people at Eppley are doing some cutting-edge research and it deserves our support.”
Originally established by members of the Nebraska Cattlemen and Nebraska Cattlewomen in 1998, the Cattlemen’s Ball has gone on to raise more than $7.7 million. All of the funds remain in Nebraska; 90 percent go to the Eppley Cancer Institute. The remaining funds—10 percent—go to health care organizations near that year’s host site. Last year, $1.4 million was raised. Holzfaster and the other organizers were expecting to surpass the $2 million mark this year.
“We still have a few bills to pay,” Holzfaster said a few days following the event, “but I think we’ll hit that $2 million mark. Between all the tickets we sold, the income from both the live silent auctions and proceeds from the wine tasting and art show and well as the country show; well, everything we had, like the golf tournament (held prior to the event), we should clear $2 million.”
It was imperative the ball clears $2 million as a challenge was issued from an anonymous donor pledging $250,000 to food pantries in the four counties neighboring the ball site if the goal was met.
“That makes it even important to reach that $2 million,” Holzfaster said.
Kenneth Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Buffet Cancer Center, said construction on a new complex to centralize patient care and research efforts began in May, with the expected move in 2016.
The largest project in the history of the University of Nebraska, the $323 million center will involve researchers working to unlock the mysteries of breast, brain, pancreatic, GI, prostate, lymph, blood, lung, head and neck, and women’s cancer, as well as explore cancer vaccines, drug development and pediatric cancer.
“In the new facility, we’ll have physicians and research scientists together in a collaborative environment to encourage the exchange of ideas and information,” Cowan said. “The integration of all cancer research and care on the UNMC campus in one location will be a model for cancer centers globally and will be transformative to our patient care delivery locally.”
One of the local facilities benefitting from the proceeds of the ball is the Callahan Cancer Center at Great Plains Regional Medical Center of North Platte, Neb. Todd Hlavaty, M.D., is one of the center’s oncologists. Holzfaster said Hlavaty was his physician during treatment for prostate cancer, using a satellite clinic in Ogallala to obtain most of his treatment. Hlavaty said the funds the ball raises for local efforts matters.
“The funding our cancer center receives will go to benefit further improvements in patient care by remote and direct medicine with our eight satellite clinics and in consultative effort with our colleagues in Omaha,” Hlavaty said. “We have a great partnership in which we work together to help our patients.”
Most of the tickets were sold at $75, which included a prime rib buffet dinner, a concert by the country-rock band Lonestar, followed a dance to the music of Shur Thing.
A limited number of Trail Boss tickets were sold at $350, which included a opening night social, along with a private champagne breakfast reception and Trail Boss brunch, preferred seating for the dinner and concert, special program recognition and other amenities.
An even farther limited number were offered the chance to travel by Union Pacific train to the event. These $1,500 tickets covered a ride on the railroad’s Heritage Fleet dome lounges, dome diners and private executive cars from Omaha to North Platte, two nights’ lodging in North Platte and motor coach transportation to and from the ball and back to Omaha.
Ball organizers hadn’t stopped in finding ways to separate money from donor’s wallets as some major items were up for auction and available in drawings.
The top item in the four auctions held during the weekend was a John Deere 9360R tractor, donated by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, valued at $309,000. The winning bid was $285,000 from Randy and Renae Weis of Holyoke, Colo.
A $500 a ticket raffle netted Char Weiss of Imperial, Neb., a limited edition 2013 60th anniversary Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport coupe, donated by Harchelroad Motors of Imperial and Wauneta, Neb., valued at over $75,000.
Helping raise an additional $257,000 were companies and individuals who banded together for “A Calf for a Cure” campaign, donating 120 steers that were then fed through other corporate donors, then purchased by Tyson Fresh Meats.
The 2014 edition of the Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska will be held June 6 and 7 on the Hoot Owl Ranch near Harrisburg, Neb., between Kimball and Scottbluff, with hosts Jeff and Kathy May and ranch managers Kenny and Misty Stauffer.
The learn more or to donate, visit www.cattlemensball.com.