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...'til the cow comes home

November 4, 2011

Photo submitted - The big cow, pictured above, which used to stand on the grounds of the Ayrshire Dairy in Kersey before moving to Reedsville, Pa., is the subject of a Facebook page on which members discuss why they want the beloved bovine back and possible ways in which to get it returned.

A grassroots movement is taking place in Elk County and beyond. No, the campaign has nothing to do with occupying Wall Street, but rather aims to "bring the cow home." The cow being referred to is a 15-foot tall, fiberglass cow that stood for many years in front of the Ayrshire Dairy on the Old Kersey Road in Kersey. The cow, now in Reedsville, Pa., became a local landmark and roadside attraction. It was commonly used as a photo op for families and tourists who posed for pictures with it when visiting the dairy. It was a tradition passed down through the generations until the cow was sold in 2002.
As with all modern-day movements, the campaign to reclaim the "big cow" has gone viral, taking shape on the internet with a Facebook page titled "Bring back the big cow" dedicated to the cause. The page provides a forum for area residents past and present to offer remembrances and photos of the "big cow" and plot the beast's reclamation.
Jim Arnold, originally of St. Marys and now a resident of Marietta, Ga., asked if anyone has "checked to see how much money it would take to buy the cow?" in a post on the page.
"I'm pretty sure we could get donations to pay for it. If I was not 800 miles away, I would take the lead on this. I would gladly contribute, though. Bring the cow home!" he said.
Others have suggested making the cow an official landmark and tourist attraction like the "worlds' biggest ball of yarn." The cow, which weighs in at 1,200 pounds, stands over 15 feet tall, 20 feet long, and five feet wide, and is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the second largest of its kind in the world, right behind another bovine sculpture named "Salem Sue" in New Salem, N.D.
Gertrude Hippchen, who owned Ayrshire Dairy with her brothers, Charles, Jim, and Tom Uhl, said it was a sad day when the cow was finally sold to an Ayrshire Breeder in Reedsville.
"She had been standing there for so long, she looked so great where she was standing with the background of the farm and the barn and then when I went to see her down in Reedsville, she just looked forlorn," Hippchen said.
Hippchen said the cow arrived at the Ayrshire Dairy in 1968 after she submitted a picture of one of her favorite dairy cows to a sculptor in Wisconsin, who in turn provided the oversized rendering. She said that the cow was actually the second of its kind destined for Kersey, the first having been replaced after being damaged in a hailstorm during transport.
Asked why the cow has such a hold on the hearts and minds of locals, Hippchen said it is because she was a fixture that became a part of people's lives, routines, and special occasions.
"School groups would come and see her, tourists, people after they were married had their picture taken standing under the cow," she said.
She added that families, in going to the dairy to get ice cream, would often walk around the "queen of the herd," as Hippchen calls her.
Often referred to by locals as the "big cow" or "Kersey cow," Hippchens "queen of the herd" was inscribed on the cow's leg by local artist Pete Winklbauer. She said the name came about when one day the dairy's cows got out of their enclosure and were ultimately found milling around beneath the sculpture.
Hippchens said they decided to sell the cow due in large part to the increasing frequency with which it was being vandalized.
"She would not have left if we wouldn't have had so many problems with her. People were shooting arrows into her, spray-painting her, trying to upset her. We hired Pete Winklbauer to paint her, and she was beautiful and after he was done the vandalism started all over again," Hippchens said.
Hippchens said they became concerned that with "people trying to climb on top of her at night" that someone could get hurt and there could be a liability. She said, although reluctantly, they decided to sell the cow when approached by Ayrshire Breeder in Reedsville, who wanted it for display in their store parking lot. She admits it was an emotional goodbye, but is grateful to have had the experience of having owned the big cow for so long.
"I said to myself, 'You've been here such a long time, and why do things have to change so drastically that you have to get rid of something that you want to keep?' It was a nice journey, we met a lot of wonderful people over the years," Hippchen said.
When asked what she thinks of the online campaign to restore the cow to the area, Hippchens in turn asked, "Where do they think they would put it?" Told that the webpage's polls reflect most members feel it should go back to its original location on Old Kersey Road, Hippchens said, "That's where she should be. She should come back to Old Kersey."
The "bring the cow home" webpage was inspired by online discussion on other Elk County-related webpages where members were expressing how "they sorely missed their bovine buddy" and brainstorming on how to regain it. As membership grows, the webpage will continue to provide a platform to those who wish to see the cow return and who will likely keep at it 'til the cow comes home.

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