By Derek M. Otto
If you don’t know LJ Grand Livery Stables, the big red barn with longhorn cattle on the entrance into Springville, nestled between the Fire hall and Gentner’s auction, then you haven’t experienced one of the more interesting business ventures in Springville. Early in the 2010s, Lauralee Sibiga and Jay Andrews bought the old Frank Watson farm with the hopes of giving back to Springville. In a few short years, they have given us holiday cheer during the Christmas season with carriage rides in the village, making seniors, prom-goers and a 100-year resident feel like a princess with their horses and carriage. They have been with us in our sadder moments too, taking our beloved to their final resting place.
LJ Grand Livery has given a unique flair and even curiosity-with long horn cattle, horses and excitement when they get loose to our community. Recently, Andrews and Sibiga asked me to visit their ranch during a photo session. It was an odd request to cover a photo session; nonetheless, Lauralee knew I would like the story. Inviting me to the session really had me curious.
When I got there, I learned the session was with Kasie Howard-Stockwell, her family, and photographer Mike Hartung of Headstone Photography. It was then I learned why I was invited, as Kasie has a very interesting story of hope and horses.
Kasie tells her story: “I grew up like a lot of kids around here, somehow involved in agriculture. For me, it was my grandpa, Dan Blesy. He was the guy who taught me what road apples are. If you don’t know—it’s what comes from the back end of a house. Grandpa had big Percheron/Belgian cross draft horses. As I was growing up, he would hook them to a wagon and as a family, we would go on rides with the Collins, Draft Horse, Ox & Pony club. A long line of wagons and outriders on a beautiful day-it was an awesome sight for any kid. What I remember most about those rides, besides the awesome food that always followed, was the smile on my grandpa’s face. He always had a smile, a big one. There were three things that made him smile: One, his family. He was always proud of us and he made it a point to be at every major event; Two, grilled hotdogs with ice cream for dessert. His favorite ice cream was vanilla with butterscotch; Three, farm projects. He was always puttering around welding this, building that, tinkering like crazy. Through this, my grandpa loved sharing his love for horses. Horses were in his blood. Besides wagon rides with the club, he always supported community events. Every year he’d hitch up and do the Ride for Roswell, the WNY Dairy/Ag Fest parade and always the plow fest held in Collins! At 75, my grandpa started to feel tired, lethargic-just not like his normal self. After a broad band of tests, they diagnosed him with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, AML for short on March 13, 2014. He dove in head first and started to fight! I mean, he had to get better because he was giving me away at my wedding in September 2014. He fought his battle from March 13, 2014 until May 13, 2014. He passed away four months to the day he was to give me away. It was also my niece’s 17th birthday. It was hard on our family, hit us all in a different way.”
Kasie goes on to tell that it was Lauralee’s draft horses, Doc and Dan, that were the team that carried him to his final resting place in the cemetery. “They looked so regal and elegant; it was the perfect matched team to carry him. After we lost my grandpa, the farm was sold along with all his animals…but he is always with us, although he never owned Doc and Dan, I drive by them often and I smile…it’s like him saying, ‘Hi!’”
Kasie feels that being around Doc and Dan brings back so many happy memories from her childhood, “Back when life was simple and easy. Back when my grandpa was around to turn to for solid advice, or just to talk with when you were having a bad day.” She furthers this by saying that, “It amazes me how much feeling these brutes can muster from a person, having a connection like that with horses is something special.”
She recalled the first time she drove by and saw the horses: “I made my husband stop his truck, right on Main Street so I could just drink in their sight. I was so surprised to see those magnificent boys standing in a pasture just down the road from me! I have Lauralee and Jay to thank for that!”
Kasie continues her story: “This past May, right around the 3-year mark of losing him, I started to feel tired and lethargic, started getting headaches just like him, but I’m young, I chalked it up to two jobs! I let it go and just kept working.” Kasie said that by August of this year, “I went to Mercy hospital for leg swelling and redness” She jokes, “After my husband put his foot down—he was sick of me complaining-haha.”
“At Mercy Hospital, they came in and told me that I had Leukemia. They weren’t sure what kind or how aggressive, but they told me I wasn’t going home, rather I was going by ambulance to Roswell. There I met Dr. Elizabeth Griffiths, she is one of the Leukemia specialists. She threw a lot of basic information at me really fast , yet she helped calm my jittery nerves.” As Kasie tells it, Dr. Griffiths was the one who confirmed her worst nightmare— it was AML.
“I wasn’t supposed to have this cancer! It’s an “older person’s cancer,” she said.
The next day, Kasie had her first bone marrow biopsy. The results came back that her cancer was caused from a glitch on her 16 chromosome, called inversion 16. “This was actually good news! It showed I had ‘favorable’ Leukemia! It meant that it should respond well to chemo! Yay! With all that good news, of course, the other shoe had to drop, and it dropped in two ways: the first was that my anniversary was a month away. I want kids some day.” The doctors told her that if she waited to freeze eggs, Kasie wouldn’t live through the hormone treatment. She explained, “My cancer was too advanced and we needed to start treatment.”
The second way she added, “Due to the headaches I experienced, the doctor had me do a lumbar puncture test to test if the cancer was in my CNS, central nervous system, meaning my brain and spine.” That also came back positive. With a solid week of chemotherapy, she also received lumbar punctures. The lumbar punctures would continue until there were two negative readings.
“That Wednesday night, they hooked me up to my first bag of chemo, I’d have a bag a day for seven days. The first three days, I also received a small bag that lasted 30 minutes, of a drug they affectionately call ‘napalm. It kills everything your body. It made my hair fall out, it was bright red.”
Kasie explained, “That first week I felt fine, I didn’t have the nausea or lack of appetite they talked about. The second week is when it started. I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to see anyone, I felt like death. Little did I know, it would get worse during week three. Week three is called ‘hell week’ and for good reason. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t eat, I had mouth sores the size of nickels—all I wanted was to die.” She explained that the love of her unwavering family, and the amazing staff at Roswell, she got through it. “I survived hell week and came out smiling. Week four is when you start to feel like your old self again though the nausea lingers. Food starts to sound okay again and the mouth sores heal.”
Explaining the emotions you go through, Kasie said, “When the days during hell week got really bad, I started looking for someone to blame, someone or something I could point at and ask, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why right now with everything going on?’ Kasie explained that she and her husband, Steve, were finally going to take a honeymoon at the end of October to Disney World. A honeymoon after three years. She still asks, “So why did it have to be me?”
Kasie has come to some conclusions,” It had to be me. I’m the one in my family that’s strong enough to go through all of this, the poking, the prodding, the feeling like death, the losing my hair and having to redefine who I was as a person…I’m the only one that can handle this burden, fight it and come out with a smile on my face.” She still has a long road ahead of her. As Kasie put it, “On the day they give me the all clear I’m going to go to grandpa’s headstone and proudly tell him ‘I beat our cancer!’ To do what he, the strongest man I’d ever known, wasn’t able to accomplish.”
Kasie has two big hopes: that no one else in her family gets cancer and that others fighting cancer know that they are not fighting this alone.
With horses, who can be alone? I know that everyone will think of Kasie and her fight as they drive by LJ Grand Livery Stables. As Kasie told her story, it was great that Doc and Dan, the LJ horses, have been able to remind Kasie of her grandpa’s fight, but also be comforting to her as she fights the same cancer . As Lauralee and Jay have maintained, the purpose for LJ Grand Livery is to give back to the community and in some ways it has been a “Make-A-Wish” for many people young and old in the Springville community.
For information on the stables and horses, the ranch can reached at 359-2227.