It was FFA member Bethany Keller’s mom who was in the crowd pushing the pound price higher and higher at the market auction on closing day at the Alachua County Youth Fair and Livestock Show last week.
And when it reached $11.50, Auctioneer Cracker Johnson hit the gavel and history was made. Other steers at auction that day were averaging between $1 and $3.
But the 1,220 pound main cross steer that Bethany, 16, named “Hokey” was representing more than a market steer that day.
Bethany had decided after the ribbons were handed out to reach out to the public, family and friends for donations toward the steer’s auction price so that she could hand over the amount to her new friend Nathan Blair, a graduate of Santa Fe High School who has been battling osteosarcoma, a rare, aggressive bone cancer found in children to young adults.
Since the October 2020 diagnosis, Blair, 19, has been in the fight of his life. According to a GoFundMe page that has helped raise more than $26,000 to offset medical bills, the deductible for treatment is $20,000.
Since losing her grandfather Gordon Keller to cancer, Bethany decided to turn her project into a fundraiser for a cancer patient. When she learned about Blair, he was her choice.
When word got out via social media about Bethany’s act of generosity, she said wasn’t seeking or expecting the spotlight to be on her.
“Neither of us wanted the fame,” Bethany said, “But it’s here on us, so we are handling it.”
Bethany said when she is out in public people come up to her and thank her for the act of kindness and shake her hand.
Bethany said the first conversation she had with Nathan was when she notified him of the steer’s hefty sales price: $14,030.
“He was really excited about that,” she said. “I told him how much we had sold it per pound, but he wasn’t sure what that meant, so I broke it down.
She remembers Nathan being very thankful when he heard the news.
“He told me, ‘You came in and you didn’t even know me and you did that for me, and I will be forever be grateful,'” Bethany recounted.
As a senior, this steer is Bethany’s final project as an FFA member. It caps her time in the program.
Her takeaway from her experience this year is learning about patience, time management and organization, she said.
But while sitting in the now empty stall where she raised Hokey, Bethany FaceTimed with her new very close friend Nathan as he was returning from his latest chemo treatment.
“I have about eight more chemo treatments left,” Nathan said. “Then comes the scans every three months.”
Nathan explained how he handles his health battle.
“You just think about the good, not the negative,” he said. “There’s going to be an end at some point, you’ve just got to go through it.”
When he is back on his feet, Nathan said he plans to go back to Santa Fe College and finish learning to become an electrician.
Bethany plans to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia to study livestock production and agribusiness with a focus on cow and calf production.
With all of the attention that Bethany has received on social media, she said a big reward of the story is that former United States Rep. Ted Yoho, also a retired large animal vet, has connected her story with Jackson Streeter, a University of Florida researcher. Streeter has patented dozens of bio technologies and serves as director of UF Innovate Ventures, which was founded to increase the number and quality of UF technology-based startup companies.
Bethany said Streeter’s research in osteosarcoma in animals might transfer over to treatment for people one day and she is looking forward to meeting Yoho and Streeter.
Bethany’s mother Kelley Keller said that the two families are now connected forever since meeting them one night when they delivered them some dinner and talked about donating the steer proceeds.
“It’s like we have known them all our lives,” she said. When Bethany came up with the idea to sell the steer for Nathan’s medical fund, Kelley said, “She came to us and said this is what she wanted to do, and it was a no brainer. We raised our children to be givers.”
To learn more about Nathan or to donate to help cover his mounting medical costs click here.