From cattle to camels: How four camels came to Shamrock Farm

Algiers and Siwa on the Shamrock Farm outside of Manhattan, Kan. on Oct. 18, 2017. (Photo by Rylee Bergh | Courtsey photo)

At first glance, Shamrock Farm looks no different from any other small Kansas farm — until you look closer and see the four camels behind the house.

Shamrock Farm, located about 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, is also home to June Crenshaw, who has lived there ever since she and her late husband, George Crenshaw, bought the land.

Their granddaughter, Valeri Crenshaw, went to graduate school at Kansas State and is responsible for the farm’s four camels: Siwa, Algiers, Dhafra and Ani.

Most visitors are baffled by the four camels that managed to show up on a little farm in Kansas. George and June felt similarly when Valeri expressed interest in keeping camels on the farm.

“George said, ‘What in the world are we going to do with camels on this beef farm?’” June said. “I told him it was because he had a granddaughter that he wouldn’t say no to.”

Roy Crenshaw, son of George and June, took his daughter, Valeri, on a month-long trip to Egypt during her senior year of high school. After Valeri spotted camels in Egypt, it was love at first sight.

“As we were driving near the Libyan border, I said, ‘Look, Dad, I think those are camels!’” Valeri said. “‘No, those are oil derricks,’ he said. About the time he said no, they put their heads up and we both started laughing.”

“That’s what got her started on camels,” Roy said.

Together, Roy and Valeri have visited over 30 countries, stopping by camel festivals in all parts of the globe. Their most recent journey was to Mongolia, where Valeri helped to train a string of ten camels for an expedition.

A love of animals runs deep in the Crenshaw family, which has worked with the K-State agriculture department for decades. In 1993, George and June became the first couple to be inducted into the Stockman Hall of Fame for their contributions to the university.

George was hired by K-State in 1946 as the purebred beef herdsman. His duties included managing the beef barn and getting the cattle ready for K-State’s first beef shows after World War II ended.

However, it wasn’t just George who handled the cattle. June became one of the first women to enter the show circuit, and she encouraged other women to do the same.

“Several people told George that it really wasn’t very good of me,” June said. “Well, I helped get the cattle ready, and I did my chores. After I was out there for a while, the guys tried to keep their swearing down a little. Then, women started going with their husbands.”

June, who turns 92 in about a week, has seen many things in her lifetime. In 1934, at the age of nine, she was pronounced dead after receiving a kick in the head from a mule.

“They thought I had died, and I probably should have because my jaw was broken,” June said. “They figured I had died, but I just wouldn’t do it. It was even in the paper.”

June was raised on a farm eight miles outside of Attica, Kansas, where she attended school with George at a one-room schoolhouse.

Once she graduated from high school, June attended college in Alba, Oklahoma. When June returned to Attica, she and George married on June’s family farm in 1945. The ceremony was modest due to wartime rationing.

With money from June’s father and the prize money garnered by one of George’s champion steers, the two bought Shamrock Farm and built a house on the land.

Inside the house sits a taxidermied bobcat with a purple ribbon around its neck, the Crenshaws’ own personal Wildcat.

“We always went to all the K-State football games, whether they were here or someplace else, and [the bobcat] rode in the back window,” June said. “You’d be surprised by how many times people would honk and wave at us. He’s been all over the country.”

June and George would later meet Bill Snyder and the K-State football team when they paid a visit to Shamrock Farm on an invitation from George.

Visitors have always been welcome at Shamrock Farm, and homemade Halloween donut parties were a popular tradition among June’s neighbors, including Tim Keane, professor of landscape architecture at K-State and friend of the Crenshaws for over 30 years.

“Everybody went over there for homemade donuts and weak coffee,” Keane said. “All the neighbors got together to converse and try and solve the problems of the world.”

Other visitors to the farm include the K-State Muslim Students Association for an Eid al-Fitr meal at the end of the holy month of Ramadan this year. Valeri, who comes to the farm almost every weekend, has helped coordinate events with the Muslim Students Association due to the camels and their special connection to the Middle East.

Lowla Alfoudari, vice president of the Muslim Students Association, was in attendance for the Eid al-Fitr meal.

“Roy told us that when he was abroad in the Middle East, the people there comforted him, so he wanted to do the same for us,” Alfoudari said.

Alfoudari said she was surprised that an Islamic religious group could feel so welcome at a small farm in Kansas. She was even more surprised about the camels.

At the end of the meal, June and a Kuwaiti student played a piano duet for the group.

There are always unscheduled visitors who stop by after getting a glimpse of the camels or after visiting the Shamrock Café, a sitting area and geocache uphill from the farm with an excellent view of the sunset.

June said she has never minded the stream of visitors or the commotion caused by the camels, even in her old age.

“I’ve got probably the best rest home you’ve ever seen,” June said. “I can sit here and watch the camels and see all the pretty flowers, and I don’t even have to pay any rent.”