From Tragedy to Triumph

by Paige Crawford

Writer’s note: Although the accident happened more than three years ago, it has hurt too much for the family to talk about until now. I feel like the Bedwell family’s story needs to be shared.

 

2012 was supposed to be the year Bedwell Cattle Co., exhibited the champion Shorthorn heifer at the Oklahoma Youth Expo. It was not. Jennifer Bedwell placed second in her class, and the title was given to someone else. Instead, 2012 was the year her world turned upside down.

Bedwell Cattle Co., a family-owned cattle operation in Isabella, Oklahoma, is home to about 25 head of purebred cattle.

Jeff Bedwell is a seasoned cattle judge. He and his wife, Diane, raised their three children – Jared, Justin and Jennifer – in the livestock industry.

“From being a young girl and watching my brothers succeed so much as they grew up, I knew it was an industry I wanted to be a part of forever,” Jennifer Bedwell said. “It is all I have ever really known, and I would not have it any other way.”

Jared and Justin were both active members of the Fairview FFA Chapter. Jared had a love for club cattle, while Justin took a different approach and found his passion in horticulture, Jennifer said.

Jared received his associate’s degree from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla., and his bachelor’s degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., in 2009. Upon graduation, Jared moved to Clarion, Iowa, and began working for Cyclone Trace Cattle Co.

“Jared put himself through college by buying and selling cattle,” Jennifer said. “He was dang good at what he did. I think he could sell a goat turd to someone.”

Justin attended college at Connors State College in Warner, Okla., where he was a member of the livestock judging team in 2009. After one semester, Justin entered the workforce and began a job at Farmers Elevator Co., in Ames, Okla.

“School just wasn’t Justin’s thing, but he had this personality, which made everyone he came into contact with feel special,” Jennifer said.

On October 5, 2012, Jennifer was preparing to exhibit her Shorthorn heifer at the Tulsa State Fair. Jeff and Diane had taxied Jennifer to Tulsa, while Jared was en route to Oklahoma with a trailer full of cattle and a truck full of cattle jocks to help his baby sister.

Justin was just getting off work at his new job as an agronomist and fertilizer rig operator at the Great Plains Co-Op in Lahoma, Okla., and was planning his trip to Tulsa to help and watch Jennifer show.

The Bedwell Family was eating dinner when Diane’s boss called saying the fire department had contacted her and the family had cattle in the road, Jennifer said.

They began calling Justin because it was his responsibility to tend the cattle to avoid that situation.

“We were sitting there like ‘dang you, Justin,’” Jennifer said. “So, we started calling him and the sheriff’s department.”

At the time, the family did not realize Diane’s phone had been tracked and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department was sending someone to deliver them life-altering news.

Jennifer looked up and saw her agricultural education instructor and an Oklahoma Highway Patrolman walking through the door.

“I did not think anything of it,” Jennifer said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I did not know y’all were staying here.’

“That was when my agricultural education instructor took me to the side and told me what happened, while the patrolman told my parents,” she said.

On October 5, 2012, Justin Bedwell was killed on impact in a car accident near Ringwood, Okla., when a negligent driver ran a stop sign and struck his vehicle.

The following days after Justin’s passing were a blur, Jennifer said. Two days after the accident, Jennifer mustered up the courage to return to Tulsa with her brother, agricultural education instructor, Vince McGolden, and best friend, Lindsay Pembrook, to show her heifer.

“I knew she was good enough, and I did not want someone else to show her,” Jennifer said.

“We hid out in the truck until it was time to show,” she said. “I showed the heifer, won reserve division champion, took a picture, handed her off, broke her down, and left the show barn.”

Jennifer rode back to Fairview with her brother while Vince and Lindsay took a separate vehicle.

“To this day, I am so glad we did that,” Jennifer said. “I have never had that good of a conversation with my older brother as I did that day, and I consider it one of my best memories with him.

“Jared had always looked out for me, but it was a little sister and big brother relationship,” Jennifer said. “After Justin’s accident, he wasn’t just my brother, but he became my best friend.”

Whenever the family had tension, all Justin wanted was for everyone to get along, Jennifer said. After his passing, the family realized how much they meant to each other and if they always sweat the small stuff, the big moments would not mean as much, she said.

The Bedwells did not have long to adjust to the new family dynamics.

On December 27, 2012, Jared Bedwell was killed in a single-vehicle accident after he hit a patch of ice and lost control. This tragedy struck the family less than three months after Justin’s passing.

“We did not bounce back quite so fast after Jared’s accident,” Jennifer said. “Mom and Dad did not return to work, and I did not return to school for a while.”

After Jared’s passing, Jennifer realized how deep his love was for his baby sister.

Jared wanted Jennifer to be successful and live her life to the fullest, and he did not agree with her choice to attend a junior college after she graduated high school, Jennifer said. He wanted her to attend Oklahoma State University from the start, but he knew funds were not available to put her through four years there, Jennifer said.

Before his accident, Jared set up a bank account to help pay for Jennifer’s schooling. After he passed, the vast majority of his life insurance policy went into it, Jennifer said.

“We were blessed with three of the most amazing human beings as children,” Diane said, “even if just for a short time.”

The Bedwell Family traveled to its first show without Justin and Jared a month after Jared’s passing in an attempt to honor their memory and regain any chance of normalcy, Jennifer said.

“Being there sucked,” Jennifer said, “but we were fortunate because my brother’s friends have become our family.”

One of Jared’s best friends, Jacob Hudlow, has not missed a show, graduation, birthday, or family event, Jennifer said.

“The crew at Cyclone Trace Cattle Co., did everything they could to support us after we lost the boys,” Jennifer said. “If we would not have had them, there is no way I would have shown cattle my senior year, and there is no way we would be as successful as we are right now.”

The Bedwells received support from friends and family all over the country, even some people they did not know, and the prayers of those people still help them to continue, Diane said.

After the passing of Justin and Jared, Jeff Bedwell emerged back on the radar as a popular cattle judge across the United States, Jennifer said.

His schedule became full, and Jennifer said she began to see the passion he had for the cattle industry come alive again.

“I do not think my dad would have the opportunities he has been given if it were not for my brothers passing,” Jennifer said. “I have so much respect for him for doing that. It is hard to get back into it and allow yourself to be that happy again.”

During Jennifer’s senior year of high school, Diane returned to work. She eventually opened an embroidery shop in Fairview.

“I have not seen my mom this happy in a long, long time,” Jennifer said.

Diane said she never thought she would survive the loss of a child, much less two.

“But by the grace of God, I am still here, and I am a better person,” Diane said.

If Jennifer sat around and felt sorry for herself, which she said she does sometimes, and let the opportunity to attend OSU go by, it would be a dishonor to her brothers’ memory and what they wanted for her, she said.

“The hardest part is the passage of time and knowing that life goes on without the people you care about,” Jennifer said. “But at the same time, you have to think about what those people would want for you.

“Our biggest fear is 10 years from now, nobody is going to remember Justin and Jared Bedwell,” Jennifer said. “That is why we talk about them, I write my blog, and we present the memorial scholarships.”

The Fairview FFA Chapter, American Junior Shorthorn Association and Oklahoma Junior Cattlemen’s Association all have separate scholarships or contests in memory of Jared and Justin.

Jacki Herrel, a family friend to the Bedwells, said Jeff, Diane and their children have always been a staple in her family’s life when it came to weddings, birthdays, and the birth of her children. Holidays have since been added to the list.

“My family aids as a distraction for Jeff and Diane,” Jacki said. “We love them so much and consider them our family.

“The livestock industry loves the Bedwells and loved on them when tragedy stuck,” Jacki said. “The Bedwell Family is the salt of the earth.”

With the support the Bedwells have received throughout the past three years, new opportunities arose to them.

Jennifer received the honors of Reserve Grand Champion Female at the 2016 National Western Stock Show in Denver, and exhibited the Grand Champion Female at the 2016 Fort Worth Stock Show in Fort Worth.

“It was a bittersweet win,” Jennifer said. “I wanted my brothers there badly, but so did everyone else around me. Being able to achieve a goal without them there was hard, but it was comforting to be surrounded by the people who love my family.”

Diane said although she and Jeff miss the boys so much it “actually hurts,” they look forward to their future and cannot wait to see what Jennifer does with her life.

Jennifer said the number of people her brothers impacted and the legacies they left behind make it difficult for sadness to overcome her.

“I am 20 years old now, and at 21, Justin meant the world to so many people, Jennifer said. “At 25, Jared had made his mark on the cattle industry and continues to do so,” she said. “If I can accomplish that much by the time I am their age, I will be pretty happy with the legacy I left behind.

“So, no, my brothers did not leave wives or children behind, but they left so much more – legacies we will remember forever,” Jennifer said. “I want to live a life in a way that, if I were to pass, I will have a packed church on the day of my funeral like they did.”

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