There was a day when cattle roamed freely throughout the hills of Canyon Lake. The time was the 1950s and the owners of the cattle and property were Don and Elinor Martin.
In 1968, everything changed. The Martin’s sold the bulk of their land to the Corona Land Company, the cattle left and the bulldozers and earth-moving equipment moved in. Soon 2,017 acres were transformed from cattle grazing land to a modern community with pads for up to 4,000 homes.
Since that time, neither a cow nor a bull has been seen in Canyon Lake, until now.
Recently, Canyon Laker Laura Mae Bollema placed a life-size cow statue in her front yard. This cow, named Blue Eyes, required no feed, left no inappropriate droppings around her feet, did not have to be milked and made no noise.
However, the placement of the statue caused some lively discussions in recent Canyon Lake ACC meetings. Letters from the ACC/POA to Laura Mae soon followed asking her to remove the statue because of its size and complaints.
Being a self-made woman, Laura Mae contacted her lawyer and was advised to appeal the decision at the next POA Board Meeting.
Laura Mae (nee Struikmans) Bollema was a cow-lover from the very first day of her life. Her first home was on her parents’ large dairy in Artesia, California. Her father had immigrated as a teenager from Fryslan, Netherlands, and often spoke of his love of the beautiful fields in Fryslan filled with stately Friesen Holsteins.
At the time of Laura Mae’s birth, cows were a way of life for the Dutch communities surrounding Artesia, Paramount and Cypress. It is said that the “cow population” was higher than the “people population.”
Laura Mae spent her childhood, teenage years and young adult life living on a dairy. When she married the love of her life in 1961, Jake Bollema, he was employed as a milker and shared with her his love of cows. In 1965, with the help of both sets of parents, Jake and Laura Mae were able to purchase a herd of cows, begin their own dairy, and start their family. In a few short years, they were blessed with three children and the family found themselves “living the good life.”
But sometimes good things do come to an end. When Jake was only 30 years old, he learned that he had a congenital liver disease. The next 12 years were filled with several operations and treatments attempting to find a solution to his illness, but the doctors continued to be less and less optimistic regarding Jake’s future.
At the age of 42, Jake died and Laura Mae was left with the financial responsibilities of the dairy and her family. Laura Mae was devastated but continued her and Jake’s desire to establish a successful dairy that could be passed onto their sons.
Laura Mae tried to run the dairy, but within a year after Jake’s death, Laura Mae faced her financial situation head-on and realized that she and her sons could no longer continue dairying. The cows were sold and the dairy was rented. Her beloved cows no longer filled the corrals.
In 1996, Laura Mae sold the dairy property in order to help finance the purchases of cows for her two sons, Harold and Darryl. At the same time, Laura Mae helped her daughter Shelia, who was now working as a registered nurse, purchase investment property in Bellflower.
Life was good again, but a tragedy was looming just around the corner. When Darryl was 43 years old, he suffered a fatal heart attack. At that time, the dairy business was becoming less profitable and after conferring with Laura Mae, Darryl’s wife Colleen found it necessary to sell her and Darryl’s cows and find other financial support for herself and her four children. Once again, Laura Mae had to watch her beloved cows being loaded on a truck and moved to another location.
It now seemed that there was a dark cloud following the Bollema family. Months later, Harold’s wife was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer, but Laura Mae rose to the occasion giving emotional support to her son and his wife.
While Harold and Jackie were dealing with Jackie’s cancer, Laura Mae’s 43-year-old daughter Shelia was involved in an accident on the 15 freeway near the Main Street off-ramp in Lake Elsinore. She was killed instantly, leaving her seven-year-old son Kenneth Cole watching from the back seat.
Within four years, Laura Mae had lost two of her three adult children.
Once again, Laura Mae stepped to the helm of the ship and guided her family through these perilous times. She knew that her daughter had thoroughly researched schools in the Inland Empire and had chosen the Lake Elsinore Unified School District as the system that she trusted to educate her son.
Realizing that the rearing of Kenneth Cole was now her responsibility, Laura Mae purchased a home in Canyon Lake so that her grandson could continue his education in a familiar school with his friends nearby.
Only one year later, Laura Mae’s precious daughter-in-law Jackie, lost her battle with cancer, leaving Harold to care for their three children. The five long years of medical treatments took a huge financial commitment and Harold found it necessary to sell his cows.
With this decision came the realization that Laura Mae and her family would no longer have a direct link to the industry that helped form her family’s security and values for so many generations. The cows were gone.
Even though Laura Mae had no access to a dairy, she continued her love for cows. Being the positive person that she is, Laura Mae would travel through the side roads of Chino to enjoy seeing cows and recalling the peace and joy that they had brought to her family. She knew that she would never again own a cow, but just seeing them at a distance brought a sense of tranquility into her life.
Little did she know that a trip to Hemet would change all of that, not in the way that she imagined, but in a better way. While browsing through the town, she found a full-sized statue of a cow. She fell in love instantly, purchased the cow and had it delivered to her home in Canyon Lake.
She always said that she would dance in the street if she ever owned a cow again and she did! The day that the cow was delivered, Laura Mae danced in her front yard and on Continental Drive in Canyon Lake.
There was only one problem. The cow was silver which was not even close to the black and white markings of her beloved Friesian Holsteins. The always-resourceful Laura Mae soon solved the issue. She asked the creator of the cow to repaint the bovine so that it resembled “my cows exactly.” He did just that right down to the pink udder.
Laura Mae knew that cows’ eyes are usually a deep brown, but she wanted to call her cow “Blue Eyes.” She solved the problem and demonstrated her ability to “think outside the box” by painting the cow’s eyes blue. Thus, the name “Blue Eyes” became appropriate.
Every day as Laura Mae walks past her statuary cow, she acknowledges her with a tap and a greeting of “Hello, Blue Eyes.” The cow had now become a valuable part of Laura Mae and Kenneth Cole’s day.
Blue Eyes is also an important part of many Canyon Laker’s days. Often, parents walking past Laura Mae’s house will point out the cow, much to the delight of their children. She shares that it isn’t unusual for her doorbell to ring at which time she will find someone asking if they can take a picture of themselves with Blue Eyes.
When a post appeared on the Canyon Lake Community Facebook page regarding Laura Mae’s cow and the ACC questioning the placement of the statue, Evelyn Pirolo wrote, “I love that cow! It always makes me smile.” Tina Owens posted, “My 6-year-old son and I drive by the house just to look at the cow all the time.” Ellen Dyer questioned the ACC decision by asking, “What is wrong with the cow?” Teresa Sando chimed in with her statement of “Cute cow and no smell.” Over 100 Canyon Lake Community Facebook friends replied in support of Blue Eyes standing watch next to Laura Mae’s front door.
On Aug. 6, Laura Mae appeared at the POA meeting to appeal the ACC’s decision to deny her application for the placement of a figurine in her front yard. She came fully prepared with seven pages of notes, lists of other houses in Canyon Lake with figurines in the front yard and photos of Blue Eyes; but at the last moment, she remembered the advice of her dear friend Jenny DeBoer who told her so many years ago, “Just speak from your heart. Let the audience know how important the issue is to you.”
Laura Mae did exactly that. She threw her notes to the side and poured out her heart for the allotted time. Despite all her efforts, she expected the previous decision to be upheld.
While waiting for the board to come to a decision, Laura Mae was asked what she was going to do if the POA did not decide in her favor. She stated her feeling clearly by sharing, “I’m hanging onto the words of my Lord, ‘In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.’ I’m fine with whatever the Lord allows to happen.” (Proverbs 3:5)
A few moments later, Laura Mae was pleasantly surprised when the votes were counted and the results were in her favor. She could keep Blue Eyes in her front yard for everyone in the community to enjoy. Laura Mae was overjoyed and declared loudly, “Thank You, Lord!” Once again, she had a cow on the forefront of her life.
Many Canyon Lakers have used this opportunity to practice their creativity. Steve Wilcox expressed his thoughts by posting, “I feel like the resident was probably seen but not herd. Everything the homeowner said went in one ear and out the udder.”
Larry Lewis expressed his thought regarding the issue simply, but effectively when he posted, “It is udderly ridiculous to deny them!”
How does Laura Mae now feel about the entire situation? In her usual positive way of looking at only the good in a difficult situation, when asked Laura Mae responds with a twinkle in her eye, “I’m thrilled. I may only own one cow that isn’t even real, but my Heavenly Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Through Him, I am rich!” (Psalm 50:10)