BY NATHAN PAYNE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Bob Boeve doesn't know Courtney Shively. For that matter, he doesn't know Noelle Pipoly, either.
But just a few words in a letter Courtney wrote to Boeve were all the oil and gas exploration company CEO needed to know.
Her gentle urging convinced him to organize a group of business owners and donors to bid for a special pig Aug. 8 at the 4-H Youth Livestock Auction at the Northwest Michigan Fair. And bid they did, in record amounts.
About a month ago, Boeve opened the note from Courtney, 14, a member of the Carousel 4-H Club. Written on a sheet of white paper, it was a plea that asked for Boeve to bid on a pig at the Northwest Michigan 4-H youth livestock auction. The note explained that Ginger the pig had been raised by the members of the club on behalf of their friend and club member, Christa Pipoly, who died in a Feb. 17 car crash that also killed her father, Dave.
The pig was a joint project taken on by the club's 16 members to honor Christa, a friend and member of the club.
"I think they just wanted to honor Christa and Dave," said Sherise Shively, Courtney's mother.
Shively said proceeds of the pig sale would be given to Christa's sister Noelle to help pay for her college education. Noelle Pipoly was in the wrecked vehicle, too, but survived. What should have been a short trip to church that Sunday morning quickly turned tragic and left the Kingsley High School junior a daughter without a father and killed her only sibling.
During the week following the wreck, the first days of high school she had missed in three years, Noelle Pipoly buried her 13-year-old sister and her father.
Her pain resonated with Boeve.
"When I was 9 years old, my father was killed in an automobile accident," Boeve said, his voice faltering. "We had nine kids at home. A lot of people reached out to my family at that time; we had a lot of community support. Maybe that's one of the reasons that it struck a chord with me."
Boeve knows well the struggles Noelle Pipoly will face during her lifetime, continual pain that will inevitably follow her. He knows nothing could return or replace her father and sister, but he also knows she will need a community of people to help her the next few years.
She wants to go to college and become a librarian, something her truck driver father Dave Pipoly would have loved to see. He's remembered by his friend Sherise Shively as the kind of guy who always helped others, the kind of guy who would have worked hard to help his daughters reach their dreams.
Boeve spent several days before the sale talking to friends and business owners to gather donations to buy the pig that was scheduled to be the last animal sold at the auction.
When the bidding began, Boeve had his number set. It isn't unusual for a charity animal to be sold during the annual auction, but this one was different.
"There was quite a bit of emotion," Boeve said.
When the auctioneer began the bidding, two small clusters of people in the crowd began to bid back and forth.
"It just started climbing just about as fast as the auctioneer could call it out," said local attorney Dan Hubbell, who attended the auction to buy animals. "It was just awful impressive to watch them bid it up. It makes tears come to your eyes."
Bids climbed without pause, he said, and eventually settled at $71 per-pound.
That means the pig brought just more than $20,000, Boeve said.
Then, when the bidding subsided, the auctioneer began to call on other donors in the audience who pledged extra money for Noelle, Hubbell said.
One man bid $4,000 and several others gave $500. By the time the auctioneer's microphone fell silent, an additional $11,000 had been pledged.
"The pig ended up bringing in $31,998," said Darrel Robinson, president of the 4-H livestock council. "This is the highest that I've ever seen."
Altogether, 17 donors came together to help Noelle Pipoly.
"It just seemed like the right thing to do," Boeve said.
"I would hope it's a blessing. I would hope it would help lift the load."