Ramona Ross

(Pictured above: The Montana prairie scene outside Ramona’s hometown of Culbertson)

Paying the unexpected gifts forward

By Jess Hoffert

Ramona Ross was enjoying time with her granddaughter when a life-changing surprise arrived at her small home on the plains of eastern Montana. It came in the form of two men and a truck on an October day last year.

“I never let strangers in,” she says. “But I walked outside to see what they wanted.”

These two men, working for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company, were on a mission to close private railroad crossings in the area. Too many accidents were happening at these private crossings, especially with the increase in rail and road traffic due to the area’s oil boom. Ramona happened to have one of those crossings on her property. Closing that crossing would mean getting a big check from the railroad company.

It was a pretty easy sell for Ramona. As she filled out the legal forms, the two men asked her granddaughter what she thought grandma might do with her new wealth. “Do you think she’ll go on a cruise?” one asked. “I’m sure my grandma won’t do that,” she replied.

As the two men said their goodbyes and headed out the door, Ramona grabbed the Heifer Gift Catalog that was sitting on the counter. It had just arrived yesterday. “Wait!” she shouted. “This is what I’m going to do with the money. I’m going to buy an ark.”

“You’re going to do what?” they asked with befuddled faces. Ramona told them about Heifer Project, an organization that was near and dear to her heart. Her mother knew Dan West, the Brethren founder of the non-profit that sends animals overseas and trains locals how to utilize them for both financial and nutritional sustenance. Ramona’s purchase of an ark would provide two of every Heifer animal—cows, sheep, oxen, donkeys, honeybees and more—to those in need.

The men left, perhaps wondering why a 68-year-old woman, who had just got promised a substantial amount of money, would give a large portion of that to some people she didn’t even know. Why not a cruise? “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on a cruise,” Ramona says.

It’s true. A cruise would be too uneventful for Ramona. She fills her winter days by converting t-shirts into diapers for needy children. Her original goal was to create 450 diapers. But thanks to her tireless hands, and boxes full of donated shirts from the community, her diaper total tops 1,800—and she’s on track to finish 1,000 more before the spring farming season starts. “It sure beats dusting,” she says with a smile.

The $5,000 gift to Heifer Project, which she sent to Panther Creek Church of the Brethren in honor of dear family friend and District pillar Ruth Clark, wasn’t the first time Ramona’s given away unexpected income. An oil company paid her $800 to seismograph the land a few years ago. “I’m going to see what I can do with $50 of that,” she thought.

Ramona went out and bought a $50 gift certificate to the local grocery store, sending the gift to a random person in the community. “This is neat,” she thought, so she bought some more gift certificates until she eventually spent the $800. “If I get some more unexpected money, I’m going to do something that I normally don’t do,” she decided. The surprise visit from those two men allowed her to do exactly that.

Ramona’s selfless action has turned unexpected sources of income into a bounty of blessings for hundreds around the world. “I don’t even think about it as serving others,” she says. “It’s just something I can do.”

Well done, good and faithful servant.