Papa was an incredible man. He loved his family more than anything. He always had time for us and he always put us first. Whether it was working with cows, debating about politics, playing cards, or going for a swim—Papa always made sure that we felt like we were important and what we said and did really mattered.
I remember on one of Papa and Grandma’s visits when we were living in Mexico, I was sitting in the upstairs guest room playing progressive rummy—just, him, Grandma, and me. Part way through the game he and grandma offered me the opportunity to come to New York that summer, stay with them, and show my very own calf—which we named Daisy May. Little did I know that that decision to go would change my life forever.
I was nine years old the first summer I remember going. I was so excited to be at the farm and with Grandma and Papa. I didn’t really know all that taking care of cows would entail, but I was excited to get to spend time with them and do something that the Wigstens had been doing for generations.
My calf, Daisy May, was a handful. I remember Papa was so patient in trying to help me figure out how to handle her and what to do when she would freak out and start pulling me down lane where I was trying to walk with her. Once I was a little bit more advanced, he would stand in the middle of our “show ring” and pretend to be the judge so I could get some practice of how to look at the judge, the cow’s position and footing, and make sure everything was the best that it could be. He would have me go around and around and he never seemed to get tired of helping me get better.
When we were at the Dutchess County Fair that year, it was so exciting to be a Wigsten. I had never really understood how respected Papa was in the community until the fair. Everyone knew him and everyone respected him. He was that kind of person—genuinely friends with everyone. And because he had showed cows himself, and been a judge for so many years, he was a core of the holstein world in Dutchess County. It was so fun to be a part of that legacy.
That week at the fair was crazy—late nights, early mornings, washing the cows, sitting with the cows, playing cards, drinking the 4-H milkshakes (which were Papa’s particular favorite and we could always convince him it was a good idea to go get), and of course, the actual showing of the cows. By the end of the week I had won some ribbons—but that was not the best part of the summer. The best part was getting to spend time with Papa and getting a glimpse of the Wigsten world of cows, a part of me that I was just discovering. For the next ten years, every summer I would go up to Pleasant Valley for the summer to stay with Papa and Grandma and show cows.
Through my time with him, Papa taught me so much. He taught me about responsibility. Even though I wouldn’t necessarily feel like getting up early to go muck out the stalls before breakfast, if you have a cow, he would say, that’s what you do—so by golly you have to do it. It has been a great lesson that has helped me a lot over the years.
He also taught me about loyalty. Papa was one of the most loyal men that I ever knew. He would stick up for anyone—even people who did stupid things, because that is what friends and family do.
However, one of the best lessons I learned was the importance of fun and ice cream. Papa was always up for a game of cards and Stewarts ice cream. I remember that whenever we would make a run to the feed store in the truck, we could always convince Papa that it would be a good idea to stop at Stewarts and get a scoop (or two) of ice cream before heading home.
Papa was an incredible man, and I am so blessed that I was able to know him and learn from him these past 24 years. I will miss him so much. But his memory and legacy will live on.