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Cow Bingo: A tradition returns to Sanborn

Jeff Haseley decided it was finally time to bring back cow bingo to the 2.63-square-mile farming hamlet of Sanborn, where the fragrance of manure wafts in and out with the breeze.

There were two good, obvious reasons.

For one thing, bingo had the potential to put the West Street Elementary School annual spring basket auction and chicken barbecue a few thousand dollars deeper into the black.

For another, there is something about spray-painting a grid next to the school soccer field, selling tickets, borrowing a cow, waiting around for a “pie” to drop and giving $500 to the person with the number matching the spot where it falls, that helps a hamlet like this celebrate itself.

In a way, he said, cow bingo – to be held Friday – is a tribute to farm culture that people hold dear even as small families give up the business and big local farms carry on with modern operations.

“From a community standpoint, I’m proud that I live in Sanborn,” said Haseley, co-president of the elementary school parent group. “I’m proud of where I came from. It’s created a huge buzz. People are really excited.”

So is Timothy, his 6-year-old.

“My son goes bazooka for cows,” Hasley said. “The whole farm thing, he loves.”

Even before he put up all the cow bingo road signs and posted fliers, people started calling him. In a place like this, population 1,645, his number is out there.

“People know how to get a hold of me,” said Haseley, a salesman for a local beer distributor who donates prizes for fundraisers of all kinds.

For a $5 ticket, he suggests calling his cell, 609-4061. Earlier this week, sales of $5 tickets at the school, Hoover Restaurant and Wegner’s Markets had risen to a healthy 303, more than enough to cover teacher needs like the recent purchase of new tables for the art room.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve done it,” he said. “It’s like a nostalgia thing.”

He revived cow bingo because of his memories of how it financed trips to band competitions when he was a trumpeter in the Niagara Wheatfield High School band.

He grew up working the family farm and was sorry to give up the trade. As one of two sons, they weren’t enough to supply the manpower needed to take over the land, now leased to other farmers.

“I wish I could be in it still. I loved it,” said Haseley. “I love working outdoors, working with the animals. It’s just a good living. Hard work.”

On a recent afternoon after school, Haseley stopped to check on things at West Street School. Then he climbed in his truck to go to the Milleville dairy farm, usually the supplier of the bingo cow.

Even without a farm to work, the friendly intimacy of Sanborn’s ordinary ways sticks to those who live here.

A few minutes later, Haseley pulled into a dirt drive and walked inside the milk house, a long right angle of interconnected one-story buildings.

The cows, who supply the milk for Bison French Onion chip dip and Upstate Farms milk, bellowed.

It was about 15 minutes before milking time. A docile black cow with a white triangle on her forehead walked from a dark barn to her stall and peered from the rail. Tags with the number she has for a name poked out of her ears like big plastic earrings. She is to be the belle of cow bingo.

Matt Milleville, one of three sons in the family business started by his grandfather, picked No. 919 because she, like her mother, wasn’t scared of people. She let out a calm moo.

After a winter inside eating hay, she would probably be glad for the chance to go outside and eat grass again.

“Once they eat that fresh grass, it helps ’em go,” Milleville smiled. “Fresh grass promotes fast exit.”

Milleville said it’s hard to know how things will “go” Friday.

To get a good view, he advised getting to the field behind the school around 4 p.m.

At 5 p.m., No. 919 makes her entrance and the game of chance and good fellowship begins.

“As soon as the cow gets into the fenced area,” said Haseley, “anything can happen.”