By Travis Naughton

The flames of the largest wildfire in Kansas history had barely been extinguished when Southern Boone native Courtney Collins started putting a plan together to get help to the people whose lives and livelihoods had just been destroyed by the firestorm that ravaged large parts of Kansas and Oklahoma.

Courtney had seen the same haunting images of dead cattle, scorched earth, and leveled homes broadcast on television that I had, but unlike me and a lot of other folks who were horrified by what we were seeing on the news and online following the inferno that burned an area twice the size of Oklahoma City, Courtney decided, without hesitation, to act.

There is no such thing as a heroic thought. An idea, in and of itself, cannot be called heroic. Only actions can be labeled so, and only those people who are willing to perform courageous or noble acts, often at great personal sacrifice, can be called heroes. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many grateful farmers in Kansas and Oklahoma, Courtney Collins is a hero.

A hero is defined by as a person who has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model. Courtney Collins fits that description, friends. Blessed with two wonderful, agriculture-minded parents, Jeff and Crystal Branch—who are great role models themselves—Courtney learned early in life the value of hard work and the importance of helping others. When Courtney saw how her brothers and sisters in farming were suffering as a result of the fires, she knew immediately what she had to do.

Spearheading a campaign to gather donated hay, animal feed, trucks, trailers, fuel, food, fencing, and volunteers, Courtney managed to rally dozens of people from the area to her cause in a very short amount of time. Knowing the livestock that managed to survive the flames had nothing to eat, Courtney and her band of volunteers, including her husband Jake, had to act fast. In just a few short days, the group assembled a fleet of fourteen trucks and trailers that delivered hundreds of large and small bales of hay—often at their own peril. (So many bales have been donated by charitable mid-Missouri farmers that additional trips will be necessary to deliver them all.)

During the long drive from Ashland, Missouri to Ashland, Kansas the convoy endured seven blown tires, one or two wrong turns, and some thirteen hours on the road. Sacrificing a great deal of time that she could have been spending with her three young children, Courtney is not only a hero to the people she has helped, but a role model to her two daughters. Her son is still far too young to realize how lucky he is to have a mother as selfless and generous as his, but Courtney’s daughters are old enough now to witness and learn from their mother’s example.

I have had the pleasure of teaching both girls in school, and I have no doubt that they will grow up to be strong, independent, and heroic women themselves. Today, while the people of Ashland, Kansas are rebuilding their lives—thanks in no small part to the actions of Courtney Collins and everyone else who donated time, labor, supplies, and money—the people of Ashland, Missouri are celebrating the fact that the daughters, mothers, sons, and fathers who answered the call to lend a hand to those in need choose to call our corner of the world “Home.” On behalf of everyone in Southern Boone County, thank you, Courtney and friends, for going above and beyond to help those affected by the wildfires. And thank you for being positive role models not only for your children, but also for ours.

We are all tremendously proud of you.