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On a mission

Slideshow: Three Wisconsin dairy farmers help the poor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Lyle Ott, Dan Natzke and Jim Fitzgerald have several things in common. They are all successful dairy farmers, they all live and farm in northeastern Wisconsin, they are all in their late 60s, they are all Wisconsin Master Agriculturists, and they all do mission work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

All three gentlemen say they are grateful for the success they enjoy in life and are motivated to give back.

Making a difference
Jim Fitzgerald, a 2015 Master Agriculturist, with his wife, Sandie, and four of their five children, owns and operates Soaring Eagle Dairy, an 1,100-cow operation near Newton in Manitowoc County. Fitzgerald has been volunteering in Haiti since 2011.

In the falls of 2016 and 2017, along with help from volunteers in his church, Fitzgerald collected enough supplies and donations for poor people in Haiti to fill a shipping container. The containers were shipped to the Dominican Republic in October.

“Ninety percent of the container ends up in Haiti,” Fitzgerald explains. “The last two years, I went to Haiti in December. I spent two weeks there, including two days to unload the shipping container.”

He returned to Haiti again in March. “Altogether I spend about a month there,” he says.

“We have about 40 to 50 people going there from the Green Bay Catholic Diocese,” Fitzgerald says. “Half go to the Dominican Republic; half go to Haiti. I work in Haiti.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Residents there are in need of just about everything, Fitzgerald says.

“They need hygiene supplies, dental and medical care, schools, desks, school supplies, disposable diapers, medical supplies, stackable chairs, ladders, hardware, building supplies, hand and power tools, over-the-counter medicines, bath towels, baby bottles, formula, and help from people who want to make a difference,” he says.

In 2016, Fitzgerald shipped a 20-year-old, 50-horsepower Ford tractor from Wisconsin to Haiti.

“We shipped a two-row potato planter last fall,” he says. “Now I bought a potato harvester. We’re going to have a challenge getting the potato harvester in the shipping container because it is wider than the container.”

The shipping container filled with supplies that arrived in Haiti in December held 39,800 pounds of needed items. Since 2011, Fitzgerald has made 10 trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to help. In addition to unloading the shipping containers he sends each year, he has helped set up dental clinics with dentists who volunteer their time and talents, helped build schools and an agricultural center, and planted vegetables.

“In December, we set up a dental clinic in the ag center building that was completed in 2017,” Fitzgerald says. “Two dentists were there for seven days, and extracted 560 teeth and put in countless fillings. Each morning there were 60 people waiting to see them when they got there.”

Giving back
Dan Natzke, his wife, Barb, two of their three children and a nephew milk 2,000 cows near Greenleaf in Brown County. Natzke is a 2018 Master Agriculturist. 2018 marks the 13th year Natzke has led an 11-member mission trip to Azua, Dominican Republic.

Natzke survived prostate cancer in 2005. “During recovery, I felt the good Lord telling me, ‘You can do more,’” he says.

Every year since then, he has led the Azua mission team to the Dominican Republic. “Barb and I go in November to see how all the projects we are working on are going, and we assess the needs in the villages to make preparations for the 11-day mission trip in February,” Natzke explains. “The mission team goes to the poorest villages in Dominican Republic, and most of those are Haitian. The Azua mission team ministers to the blind, handicapped and also men and women’s prisons. Each year we provide food for 300 needy families and distribute over 2,000 kid and adult Bibles.

“This year, we bought walking sticks for the blind,” he says. “Over the last few years we have provided 150 wheelchairs for the handicapped.”

Natzke also helps coordinate and fund the building of churches and other community needs.

The mission team works with 10 different area pastors. “We do mostly evangelical work,” Natzke says. “We show the story of Jesus in the streets at night in Spanish. They hear the music, and they come. Through our ministry, we’re able to touch the lives of many people through God’s love.”

Natzke receives donations through his church, a local Lions Club and many business associates who want to help.

1st trip
Lyle Ott, a 2018 Master Agriculturist, milks 266 registered Holstein cows near Brillion in Calumet County with his wife, Sharon, and their three sons. In January, Ott went on his first mission trip to Haiti. He was recruited by Gordy Gasch, a retired ag teacher from Brillion, to help build two chicken coops for laying hens.

“They have a lot of chickens in Haiti,” Ott says. “Everyone eats eggs and chicken. Eggs are a cheap protein source.”

Ott stayed 10 days in Haiti. He plans to go back next year, but he says, “I might go with Dan [Natzke] this next time.”

Ott says he was surprised at how happy the Haitian people are. “They don’t have much money, but they are nice people and very grateful.”

More work to do
Fitzgerald says he has a wish for the people he helps in Haiti. “I usually tell them my hope for them is someday they all will have clean water, schools, two meals per day with a protein source and health care,” he says. “They don’t have doctors or dentists.”

The gentlemen use interpreters in Haiti and Dominican Republic to help them communicate with the people. “The Haitians speak Creole, and the Dominicans speak Spanish,” Natzke says.

Natzke, Fitzgerald and Ott caution volunteers that traveling to Haiti and the Dominican Republic is not for everyone.

“It’s a five-hour flight,” Fitzgerald says. “And it’s a five- to six-hour ride in a pickup truck or small bus to get to where we work. It’s also quite hot in Haiti. My wife doesn’t go to Haiti. It’s too hot.”

The temperature in the winter months is in the upper 80s and 90s, they say.

“They have to decide if it is for them,” Natzke says. “You have got to want to go. I really enjoy it. My 96-year-old mom said on my first trip, ‘You go give blessings to those people, and they will bless you.’ And it’s so true.”

For more information about going on a mission trip to Haiti or the Dominican Republic, or making a donation, email Fitzgerald at [email protected] or Natzke at [email protected].

To see pictures from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, click through the slideshow below.

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