Editor’s note: Don Aylsworth passed away May 10, just shy of his 83rd birthday. Like many Holstein Canada classifiers, he was well-known on dairy farms across the country. Mel O’Shea’s family’s farm was one of the farms he visited.
We always enjoyed classification day, but Don Aylsworth’s last trip to Frontenac County as a Holstein Canada classifier was especially exciting for my family’s herd, Sunny Plains Farms. Little did we know that events soon to come would put Don with our family on one of its toughest days, and that he would continue to help me succeed as a 4-H member.
At our farm, Classification Day meant a day off school and spent showing off our breeding program. It was always a treat when you knew Don was coming to classify. This particular trip made for a memorable day for our Curtis family. Sunny Plains Pudding, my Dad, Morley Curtis’ favourite cow, was eligible to go Excellent.
I will always remember Dad saying “she’s been waiting for you Don” when it was Pudding’s turn to be evaluated. My first 4-H calf, Sunny Plains Becky also went EX that day. As this was Don’s retirement tour, I think these two ended up being his last EX cows. It was a great day for my sister Tracey Werry as well because one of her favourites and former 4-H projects Sunny Plains Pecan went VG-87 as a two-year-old.
After his retirement we always enjoyed visits from Don as an AI company sales rep. He and Dad would often chat ringside at our 4H shows. The two of them were sticklers for animals with good legs and breaking an animal down piece by piece even as a young heifer.
After having had a successful conformation year in 4-H the previous year, Dad asked Don to help find me a project for 2006. While touring for consignments for the annual Eastern Ontario Western Quebec 4-H sale, we bumped into Don who told Dad he had a couple leads and would stop in the next day to discuss the options.
Instead of talking about my 4-H project the next day, Don would find himself driving our family behind the ambulance taking Dad to the hospital where he later passed away. I remember being in the family room at the hospital and Don was there hugging Tracey and I and offering comfort to my Mom Lucy Curtis – it was an awful day for all of us.
Not long after, Don called me and asked me if I was still looking for a calf. I said I still wanted to show, and he said “well I’m gonna get you the best damn calf I can find.”
Don had gone to P.E.I. for the Opportunity East Sale in the spring of 2006. Don called and he said “congratulations you and I are part owners in the sale topper from today’s sale.” I still didn’t believe it until I saw my name in print in the Holstein Journal the next month.
The calf was Gleneil Dundee Bo Lucky. Never has there been a more appropriately named 4-H project, as both of us were pretty darn lucky that year winning several showmanship awards, 4-H shows and three Junior Champion county shows titles. She was my first (and only) All-Ontario 4-H nominated project.
Don’s determination to help me graduate 4-H continued with our partnership’s next (and last) purchase. In 2007 at the Eastern Ontario Western Quebec 4-H Sale, Don walked with me and just like he did in his classifier days, we evaluated our top pick animals carefully. I told him the animal I had my eye on and with a price in mind, we placed our bid. Our purchase came from Hendercroft Holsteins – Hendercroft Chapter Sunyside.
For my final year of 4-H in 2008, I was very fortunate to be offered my pick between two September calves from my neighbours Sunrest Farms – Glen and Sandy Thomson. Don met with us when I came to choose between the two heifers. It isn’t often when you have two great animals to choose from. I remember Don saying, “whatever you think Mel, you can’t go wrong here.”
In the end I chose Sunrest Carisma LeeAnn, who in April 2020 was awarded Ontario Holstein’s “Heart of the Herd” award for Frontenac County.
Don was not only a partner in my animal purchases, but he did his best to be at every show, coaching and talking me through our feeding and management plan as Dad would have done. Don would ask me questions, and – something that I valued the most as a young person – HE LISTENED to my answers. Don was a well of knowledge and he loved to share it, but he also always made me feel like my opinion mattered.
My partnership with him was exactly that – a partnership. He would offer support and advice when I needed, but he always asked me for my opinion. I am so thankful that these animals brought us together and I got to learn from one of the best! Don was dedicated and passionate and drove a lot of miles and gave a lot of time to the industry and we are so lucky that his wife Sharon and their family shared so much of Don with us.
It took a village so I could show after Dad was gone – but I definitely couldn’t have done it without Don as my friend and mentor. I look back and can’t help but think that losing Dad was tough for both of us, and so that heifer was a nice project for the two of us to focus on that summer.
My most recent visits with Don were limited to the Frontenac County show in September, where he would come and visit and we, along with Carolin Turner and the Thomsons, would do what we did best – laugh and evaluate cattle. I will miss those visits greatly, but I know Dad will be excited to talk cows with him again – he’s been waiting for you Don!