UPDATE: There will not be a hospice celebration on March 25, 2020, due to coronavirus concerns. La Junta Livestock Calf Auction is still accepting donations, however, and those can be mailed to: La Junta Livestock PO BOX 69 La Junta, Colo., 81050. For more information please call La Junta Livestock at 719-384-7781.

Spring is creeping closer and cattlemen throughout the valley and across the state know what that means: La Junta Livestock's celebrated anniversary auction is upcoming.

The auction serves as a local economic booster, drawing cattlemen from across the state and as far as Nebraska and northern New Mexico. It also hosts the Arkansas Valley Calf Auction during the anniversary sale.

This year will mark La Junta Livestock's 65th Anniversary Sale. The auction is scheduled to take place March 25 at the sale barn at 24026 County Rd 30.25 in La Junta.

President and General Manager Jace Honey said the anniversary event is known as the last big hoorah of the season for the valley cattle industry because summer is in queue and that's when the least cattle are sold. Buyers use the anniversary auction as the last chance to obtain cattle in time to place them in the pastures for grazing through the summer.

But over the years, the anniversary auction has become known for another event it hosts in the sale barn on the same day, and that's the Annual Arkansas Valley Hospice Calf Auction. Honey's sister, Cassie Elder, is the director at Arkansas Valley Hospice, and for more than three decades the siblings have collaborated to host the calf auction, a fundraiser that helps raise money for hospice care.

Arkansas Valley Hospice soon will celebrate its own 34th anniversary, with this year being the calf auction's 33rd.

"Back in the '80s before Arkansas Valley Hospice was established ... my grandma was actually on hospice," said Elder. "Her name was Margaret Honey. My grandpa saw that they were in need of financial support and he decided to start doing the calf auction. That's how it got started."

The calf auction has come a long way since then, too. Honey and Elder said the event has grown every year.

Elder pointed to a La Junta Tribune-Democrat edition from April 2004, kept behind glass atop a desk in the La Junta Livestock offices. According to the newspaper, the calf auction raised $5,400 that year. In 2019, the calf auction raised around $23,000.

The funds aid Arkansas Valley Hospice in providing care to their patients. To the Honey family, who have been through near end of life trials with several members of their family (Margaret Honey, Don Honey and Tom Walter), the calf auction is a way to address a somber subject with lighter spirits.

"It doesn't have to be just cattle people," said Jace Honey. "The townspeople can be a part of it; anyone can be a part of the deal. We just try to make it a little fun as we sell the ear, the tail, the shadow, the spot or the hoof or whatever. So somebody will say, 'I bought the hoof this year for X amount of dollars,' or whatever. It's something that's important to everybody, but it's important to our family."

The calf is usually sold three or four times, Honey said, and people are just happy to participate and contribute to the fundraiser.

Death is a difficult subject for many to grapple with, but it is someone that everyone will have to confront at some point. Elder said that hospice provides a safe place to go through that process, not just for the patient, but for their loved ones.

"You're never prepared," said Honey, thinking about his father. "It's still a tragic day, the day of death. But we were more prepared and eased through it, and Dad was eased through it ... it's something that, it's not only for the patient. It's for the family."

In addition to physical care, the hospice helps with emotional balance, too. It offers a spiritual consult who will talk to patients about pretty much anything they desire. Elder said they are called spiritual because they won't talk about specific religious beliefs unless the patient wants to. The point is engaging with the patients and helping them work through things they might feel are unresolved.

The spiritual consult also is there to provide support to caregivers, Elder said.

The hospice even will help reunite estranged families, assuming both parties are willing.

The calf auction gives the hospice a timely opportunity to educate the public on how they help their patients. A certain stigma is attached to hospice care, said Elder, and that often prevents families from seeking care as early as they could.

"People who are on hospice tend to live longer than those who are not with the same disease process. So I guess the other thing is, people need to know they have choices. If they go somewhere and somebody makes a choice for them, they are entitled and should know that they can make those decisions to go with who they decide, and not allow the doctor to make those choices. That's a big thing that we're running into right now. That and the timeliness of when we get patients."

"(Hospice) is a good thing," Honey added. "Not only for death, but maybe for living. On both sides, the caretaker and them. Everybody celebrates birth, gets excited. But everybody's miserable in death. And it doesn't have to be that way, but most of the time it is. Especially because you have to go through those grieving processes."

Honey said that if people cannot make it to the anniversary calf auction at noon on March 25 but would like to submit a donation, they can call La Junta Livestock's sale barn at (719) 384-7781.

Elder said those interested in donating or getting more information can contact Arkansas Valley Hospice at (719) 384-8827. But, she said, they prefer that donations go through the sale barn so that all the funds are gathered together.

Free donuts and coffee are to be provided at the 65th Anniversary Sale and 33rd Anniversary Calf Auction.

cburney@ljtdmail.com