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Have you Herd? Reflections with Madison

Note: White Violet Center for Eco-Justice Director Mary Riley contributed to this piece.

Our animals create connections for us at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (WVC). Sure we take care of our soil, we grow food for our community, we teach others about how to improve our care for the land and all living things that rely on what the Earth provides.

And, that is super important. It is our mission. But, there is a special interconnection that can be shared while spending time with animals and can spark more conversation and reflections on what all we are doing at White Violet Center.

Up close and personal!

All the Memories

As an example, after the passing of one of our oldest members of the alpaca herd, Madison, connections and memories were shared by so many that knew him.

And because he lived to be 22, that led to a lot of reflection on what all has occurred on this farm and in the world in the twenty plus years he was with us.

He was born on a Tuesday in May in 2002, and despite the unusually sullen weather that day, people remember his fiber shone like the sun from the beginning with lots of curls.

Madison was doted on from his very first moments and had a larger than life personality. He was the first son of Providence Brittany, who was herself the first baby born at White Violet, and he was almost exactly like his mother in both looks and personality.

Playful and ‘Smirking’

Every person that has ever spent time with our alpacas from the past has a story about Brittany and Madison. Both alpacas were the first to greet you when you arrived, sauntering up to you like you were their best friend. Just when you would get comfortable, sometimes they would spit (playfully?) and walk away smirking. Yes, smirking.

Sometimes you would get a friendly nibble to the shoulder, or a pull on your shirt, maybe even a kiss on the cheek … but if you had the audacity to administer any sort of care like a dewormer shot or trimming of toenails, you would be subjected to the most vile, targeted kind of spitting alpacas are capable of. Even so, the moments of affection were always incredibly magical even if you knew what might happen next. While this might have worried some interns or volunteers, it had the opposite effect on Donna Gilmore, a longtime volunteer with White Violet. As Donna notes: 

“Providence Madison was the most beautiful, social, endearing and ornery alpaca there ever was. I’m afraid the orneriness by far overshadowed all the rest of those attributes and that is why he was loved by so many. When I used to visit him, he would gallop to the fence and abruptly stop. I never knew whether he was coming to give me a kiss or a spit. Both were welcome.“

Cooling off

There was a time when White Violet Center would have partnerships with other farms to educate and help them get started caring for this specialized livestock. We would sell alpacas to those farms once they (and we) felt they were comfortable.

Upon learning that Madison might go to another farm, Donna stepped in right away and purchased Madison so she could have him live right where he was at WVC so whenever she came to volunteer she would always have her alpaca buddy to interact with. She was able to do this for a very long time in alpaca years as an alpaca’s average life span is between 15-20.

A Long and Happy Life

Madison took after his mother Brittany in that respect, as well. Both living long and happy lives on the farm. It is never easy losing the animals that we spend so much of our time caring for. Their absence hangs heavy, our routines shift just enough, and to put it simply, we just miss them … even, or perhaps especially, the mischievous ones with attitude. 

Reflecting on all the connections Madison has had since 2002 with staff, interns, volunteers, students and visitors — it’s overwhelming to consider the impact on so many lives. Not to mention how much the world has changed since then.

On May 28th, 2002, George W. Bush had been president of the United States for one year. Our country was still reeling from the effects of 9/11 the previous September, and had just recently hosted the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Google had only been around for four years. The first iPod had not been on the market for a full year yet, so CDs were still the dominant form of music consumption. Pope John Paul II was still the head of the Catholic Church.

Original Vision


White Violet was in its sixth year and alpacas had only been on the farm for four. It would still be two more years before the main alpaca barn, located next to St. Mary’s Senior Living, would be built. Sister Ann Sullivan’s original vision for the White Violet Center was just starting to take shape with programs beginning that included alpaca care and breeding shows and workshops, fiber processing to go along with organic gardening and adding community outreach, and educational programming like field trips and summer camps.

When asked by HOPE Magazine in the Winter of 2020 what led her to create the White Violet Center, Sister Ann remembers that “originally it wasn’t really a dream of (hers), rather, there was a seed in each Sister of Providence which had been planted long ago, by Mother Theodore herself. Foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin had a love for all the natural world and a desire to treasure and protect it.”

Feeling this call for environmental ministry, Sister Ann developed a proposal for the White Violet Center which passed nearly unanimously at the Sisters of Providence International Assembly in 1995 and this small education ministry began in earnest in 1996.

Creating Connections

Though Madison’s lifetime has seen much growth and many changes for the White Violet Center, the original mission and core values remain alive as we continue to care for all creation and try to educate others in many different ways about the importance of doing the same. 

Whether is it is through our robust internship program, through field trips, workshops, programs, events, or stopping to talk to the members of the community that are here to walk with friends, family, or their dog we are able to help guide their thoughts to the importance of the land not just for us but for all the creatures big and small that share it with us.

And, when one of our animal family passes on, we can use that time to reflect on the memories of them and their journey and pass that along to others to create the connection that we all share.

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Tara Elmore

Tara Elmore

Tara grew up in Seymour, Indiana, but has lived in Terre Haute for many years. She graduated from Indiana State University with a degree in Communications. In 2014 Tara did a year-long internship at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. She then spent the next few years living in the Pacific Northwest working on farms with her husband John-Michael. In 2018, they customized a 2012 Seattle Times delivery van and spent the year visiting all 50 states, volunteering with at least one organization in each state. In December of 2019 she joined the staff of White Violet Center where she currently works as the Ministry Outreach and Animal Care Manager. In addition to taking care of our alpaca herd and chicken flock, Tara shares her passion for all of creation with visitors when she leads tours and field trips. She also is a published author having co-written the children's book, "Herbert the Edgy Hedgie."

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  1. Avatar Deb Griffey on May 15, 2024 at 8:32 am

    They all leave a mark on us, and remind us we are part of something much bigger and encompassing, as are they. Thank you for this beautiful reflection on Madison.

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