WHEELER — Nancy Cao discovered it’s a small world.
The Chicago resident visited the homestead of a Jasper County friend earlier this month.
Little did she know the visit would reunite her with the farming family she visited 12 years ago during a class trip.
The reunion was prompted by a discussion during dinner one night at the home of Tyler Holsapple, who she befriended while attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
“I told his mom I had been to a dairy farm in fifth grade,” said Cao. “She told me about a nearby farm that hosted school trips but couldn’t think of the name. I told them I visited the Bierman farm, and she said ‘that’s it.’”
The next morning, Holsapple and Cao drove to the Bierman farm to see the place Cao had visited as a fifth-grader at Robert Healey Elementary School in Chicago.
The reunion put to rest a curiosity Denise and Roger Bierman had about at least one of the students after they left the farm.
“We always wondered what happened to these kids,” said Denise.
Cao also wondered about the Biermans but was unable to contact them because she did not know the address.
The Biermans began inviting school kids in 1991 to their farm after seeing a Farm Bureau notice asking farm families to adopt a classroom. The couple were connected with Robert Healey Elementary, located near White Sox stadium. Every spring, fifth-graders from the school would visit the farm and were treated to a homemade lunch of pork and hamburgers, pickles, cookies and a goodie bag.
Like others, Cao had never set foot on a farm before. So, her memories of the trip remained vivid, especially one.
That day on the farm something caught Cao’s eye. She saw the horse she was afraid to ride during her first trip to the farm.
Cao has since overcome her fear and rode the horse around the farm.
“It was exciting,” she said.
The visit triggered more memories for Cao, including of hats the kids were given.
“As she stood here, she remembered more stuff,” said Denise.
“It was so nice catching up with them,” said Cao.
A photo of the reunion Cao posted on Facebook sparked reaction from former classmates she still is friends with via the social network.
The reaction prompted another reunion. Cao is planning to gather the fifth-grade class she hasn’t seen since eighth grade and have them meet with the Biermans, this time in Chicago.
“They seem very excited,” she said.
The group is planning to meet in December.
Denise said they also hope to meet with teacher Barbara Sisto, who facilitated the trips.
Cao is not the only one in her family to visit the Biermans’ farm. Her sister and brother also visited the homestead, and Cao hopes the three can coordinate a another visit to the farm before the December reunion.
Although the Biermans no longer host the trips, the visits have left a lasting impression on not only the students but them as well. Denise has kept the letters all the students have written thanking them for the visits and found the letters written by Cao and her siblings.
In sifting through the letters, the Biermans have made another connection.
“My son mentors a med student who also visited the farm,” she said.
Denise continues to sort through the letters in the hopes of finding another name she might recognize.
“Shows how small the world is,” she said.
Cao said not only has the experience reminded her of the same notion, it has rekindled her love of farm life.
“When I went back, I told Tyler ‘I’m in love with farm life and want to move down there,’” said the recent college graduate. “I would absolutely move down there if I had the opportunity.”