Fifty years ago, on Sept. 2, 1962, the Kenneth Bleck family hosted Gilbert Rojas, a 19-year-old man from Costa Rica as a part of the 4-H International Farm Youth Exchange Program. It was always Gilbert’s dream to return on the 50th anniversary of his first visit with the Blecks, and that reunion became a reality from July 5-9.
When he first came to New London as a young man, Gilbert spent 20 days learning the farming industry and diligently studying the English language. He worked with Ken, Tom and Jerry Bleck during the September harvest and dairy season.
Gilbert had visited several other locations in Wisconsin prior to and after his stay in New London, but his New London family bonded instantly. On Sept. 20, 1962, Gilbert and the Bleck family had to say their goodbyes. This was a very difficult day for both parties.
After visiting the Bleck farm, Gilbert had hopes of introducing pig farming to his country. After several years and much “red tape” and permits, two pigs were crated and accompanied by a New London reporter on their journey to the foreign country of Costa Rica.
Since 1962, the Blecks have kept in touch with Gilbert. Not a Christmas or birthday has passed without a phone call between the two families. Gilbert has returned eight times since 1962, often bringing friends or members of his family.
Tom Bleck and his family visited the Rojas family in 1976, and Papa and Mama Bleck visited in 1989. As Gilbert married and had two daughters, they too enjoyed visits on the New London farm. During the week of July 9, Gilbert’s entire family-his wife, two daughters and one son-in-law-arrived for a five day visit to New London. Mama (Jean) Bleck, age 95, was a gracious host.
The visit was filled with horse and wagon rides through the woods, experiencing how farming has changed in 50 years, and time spent wandering the farm lands that Gilbert grew to love 50 years ago. Some English and some Spanish were spoken, and smiles, hugs and love filled the Township of Lebanon during this happy reunion.