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‘Nick was there’ Back in a flash of unexpected light

Author: Kristy

Bayley Kroupa, 18, stands with her grand champion steer during the 2013 National Western livestock show. Third man from the right is Nick Reimann, of Ree Heights, who died in a plane crash in April 2014. Reimann and Kroupa were close friends, and Reimann found her the champion steers she showed. (Submitted photo)

 

WHITE LAKE — An unexplainable flash of light and comforting gestures from unseen hands are the only proof Bayley Kroupa needs to believe an old friend accompanied her one last time as she won a national livestock show competition.

Months before her friend Nick Reimann died in a plane crash in late April, he told Kroupa, “I’m going to hang you a banner with this steer.”

The Kroupas, of White Lake, and Reimanns, of Ree Heights, have been family friends for years, 18-year-old Bayley Kroupa said, noting she can remember knowing Nick Reimann when she was “teeny tiny.” Among all the cattle Reimann helped choose for Kroupa to show, Homer — a crossbred black steer — was “the one,” he told her.

As Kroupa walked into the ring to show Homer on Oct. 27 at the American Royal Junior Premium Livestock Auction in Kansas City, Mo., she had an overwhelming feeling she was not alone.

“It was really hard walking in and showing Homer,” Kroupa said. “Nick was always there to hug me. But at that championship drive, I swear someone was rubbing my back throughout. He was there to comfort me. I will believe it to the day I die that Nick was there.”

One bit of proof of Nick’s presence for Kroupa came through a photograph taken by Heidi Anderson as the judge shook Kroupa’s hand after Homer was announced the winner.

An unexplainable flash of light appeared between the judge and Kroupa as they shook hands.

“There was no reason for that light,” Kroupa said. “And there was no one behind me.”

Photographer Heidi Anderson could find no explanation for the light. The pictures taken immediately before and after the handshake show no one behind Kroupa.

“My first thought was that I had shot into a flash directly in front of me,” Anderson wrote in an email to The Daily Republic. “However, I never noticed the flash as I was shooting (which I always take mental note of). The frame before and the frame after showed no one standing anywhere near behind (Kroupa) and a flash off of the trailer would have been at the wrong angle. We immediately thought that it could only be Nick and spent a good long while making sure it couldn’t be anything else. What a special gift.”

Kroupa has been showing livestock since she was a young girl in 4-H. In the last few years, she was embroiled in a scandal when she was accused of showing one hog during a 2011 county 4-H show that won grand champion and then showing another hog at the 2011 South Dakota State Fair.

Her father filed a federal lawsuit in early 2012 against the South Dakota 4-H office seeking punitive damages and claiming humiliation and civil rights violations. During the suit, a federal judge ruled Kroupa could continue showing livestock in 4-H. By March 2014, the suit was mutually dismissed by the Kroupas and 4-H, citing both sides needed to pay for their own attorney and other fees.

Although the lawsuit resolved itself in her favor, Kroupa said it had its impact. She said it was tough to get around the subject as nearly everyone she talked to had an opinion and brought up the lawsuit during conversations.

“But I still continued to show livestock in South Dakota even during and after the controversy,” she said. “I had to try that much harder because showing is what I love to do. Nothing was going to get in the way of that.”

She said her dad, Greg, stuck with her through the statewide controversy and continued to allow her to show cattle.

“Winning the American Royal proves that if you can stick through everything, it’s possible,” she said.

She began working with Homer — named after Homer Simpson, for his large head — training him every day.

“There’s a lot of hard work and tears,” Kroupa said about preparing livestock for shows.

A training day starts by rinsing the animal and blowing out its hair to make it poof. She works on how she will handle the animal in the ring, teaches the animal how to stand and respond to her instructions, and makes sure it walks a certain way.

“They need to walk soundly. They need to glide across the wood chips, and there’s a certain stance a calf should have when they’re stopped in place,” Kroupa said. “It’s a beauty contest, in a way.”

Homer had all these qualities, which came not only from Kroupa’s hard work, but from Reimann’s ability to choose a winning calf. Kroupa said the quality of animal counts as well, and Reimann had the ability to choose calves with top-notch muscle structure and ability for good showmanship.

In the middle of training Homer, Kroupa was devastated to learn that Reimann and three other men died in April in a plane crash near Highmore. They had been flying back from a Texas cattle sale that involved Kroupa’s father’s cattle. Although the death of her confidant, friend and second father-figure placed a sorrowful overtone to training Homer, Kroupa said she had to continue.

Kroupa’s and Homer’s hard work literally paid off on Oct. 27 when the duo won the American Royal Junior Premium Livestock Auction in Kansas City, Mo. Homer was named grand champion steer, and buyers Neal and Jeanne Patterson purchased Homer for $200,000, a record-breaking sale. The previous year also saw record-breaking sales, including $170,000 for the grand champion steer.

Kroupa said she was shocked by the sale, but happy.

The American Royal is a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships, education, awards and competitive learning to youth throughout the nation. The organization particularly focuses on youth who are interested in promoting and working in the agricultural community.

Kroupa donated 10 percent of her $200,000 prize back to the Stanley E. Stout Scholarship Fund — that’s $20,000 — as did the reserve grand champion steer and grand champion hog winners. Stout was a well-respected livestock auctioneer and heavily involved in the American Royal Livestock Show.

The rest of her winnings will go toward college tuition — she’s a freshman at South Dakota State University — and into savings.

“So, when I finish school I can start my own business or have money in savings,” she said.

Although Riemann’s physical absence left a noticeable hole in the training and support process, Kroupa credits John Choate, who also works at Reimann’s ranch, with help in training Homer.

“He stepped up and is definitely trying to do all he can for me that Nick did for me. He’s been a big supporter,” Kroupa said. “He helped me so much with Homer in Kansas City.”

Kroupa also credits her dad, Greg, for his help and support.

When Kroupa won the grand champion steer, it was difficult to let Homer go. She kissed Homer’s head before he was taken away.

“It was almost like saying goodbye to Nick in a way, letting that last piece drift away,” she said.

Homer’s fate is the kill floor, but instead of taking all the meat for themselves, the buyers chose to donate the meat to the sisters of a Catholic church in Kansas City. Homer weighed in at 1,345 pounds.

Kroupa has three more years she can show livestock. Despite her huge win with Homer, she likely will move toward showing heifers.

“I’ve shown bulls, heifers and steers, but my preference is in steers because they’re more competitive,” Kroupa said. “But after showing Homer and doing so well, I’m eventually going to hang up my banner on that one and not show steers. It doesn’t mean as much without Nick.”

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