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A friendship without borders

Elisa (from left) and Pablo Platero relax with Terry and Jerry Perkins at the Perkins’ home across from Lake Okabena Saturday. Pablo is the son of an Uruguayan agricultural exchange student the Perkins family hosted in 1976. Gordy Moore/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Decades, oceans and generations conspire to divide this longtime friendship, but these confounding factors were not enough to end it.

In 1976, Horacio Platero, a native of Uruguay, lived and worked with Worthington residents Terry and Jerry Perkins through the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee program (MAST).

This past weekend, Platero’s son, Pablo Platero, accompanied by his wife, Elisa, visited Worthington to meet for the first time the family with whom his late father had developed a strong relationship.

“My father and mother died in a car accident when I was 20, as I was about to start my third year of college,” explained Pablo.

“I had an uncle who managed the ranch for two or three years until I finished my college career, and then I took over.”

Before the recent series of events that led to the younger Plateros’ journey to Minnesota was a decades-old combination of happenstance and experience.

“We had worked in South America, in Chile and Bolivia, and we were looking for a way to maintain some international contact,” said Jerry Perkins.

“There were two families who had been involved with the MAST program before, so we applied and were fortunate to get Horacio,” said Jerry. “It was fate that he ended up here — I’m not even sure what we put in our application, we probably put South America.”

Over the years, the Perkinses have hosted agricultural students from Germany, Denmark, Finland, Ghana, Bolivia and Russia, in addition to Horacio.

As they are both fluent in Spanish and have a strong interest in South America, the Perkinses hoped to have a Spanish-speaking student.

However, when Horacio arrived at their rural Worthington farmstead, he had something else in mind.

“We were excited to have somebody that spoke Spanish, but when Horacio showed up, he would only speak English, not Spanish. He wanted to learn our language,” Jerry said. “Even when we had phone conversations afterwards, we would speak in English at the start.”

The Perkins family and Horacio got along famously, and formed the nucleus of a decades-long friendhip.

“From March until November, he worked and lived on the farm with us,” Jerry explained. “MAST is a work-study program, and consequently, many of the students from MAST go to Florida for a month and work in the citrus industry. Horatio wanted to stay in Worthington, and elected to work at Campbell Soup for part of November and December.”

In January and February, the MAST students took a short course at the U of M, and after a year in the States, Horatio left for Uruguay. In 1979 and 1980, the Perkinses worked in Bolivia, where Horacio visited them.

And in 1981, Jerry went to Uruguay to visit Horacio.

When Horacio returned to Uruguay, he finished his fourth and fifth years of college, earned a degree in agronomy and took charge of the Platero family ranch, La Tucura (“The Grasshopper”).

“We are from a small city, Trinidad, in the center of Uruguay,” shared Pablo. “My father was the third-generation owner of our ranch, where we raise cattle and sheep.

“The ranch was from his grandmother, my own grandfather was in charge and I am the fourth generation. We hope that there will be a fifth generation.

“After earning his degree, my father met my mother, married, and worked on the family ranch,” Pablo continued. “Uruguay is a beef country, we say, especially in those years. In this area, it is still the most important for farm production.”

In 1983, Horacio began working as a consultant at an institution specializing in sheep production. Along the way, Pablo and his siblings came into the picture.

“I am also an agronomist, and I have three sisters,” detailed Pablo. “My third sister is also an agronomist with me, and we run the ranch together.

“Our ranch is a small one for Uruguay, so both my sister and I work as consultants, and I work at an agricultural co-op 90 miles from where we live, Monday to Friday, advising famers and monitoring their production systems, and every weekend, I work at the ranch,” said Pablo.

Throughout Pablo’s childhood, his father kept in frequent, amiable contact with the Perkins family.

“Since we were very little, we heard my father’s stories about being here, farming and working,” noted Pablo. “It was very familiar for us to hear the Perkinses mentioned. Every time since he came back, they were in touch by phone and email. Sometimes when he was taking to Terry and Jerry, we would hear them.”

Clearly, the Perkins family held an important place in Horacio’s heart.

“For my father, it was something very special. He had very nice memories from here,” said Pablo.

Unfortunately, the untimely passing of Pablo’s parents created a gap in the relationship.

“After my parents died, we were not in contact with them anymore — we lost their number and email address,” described Pablo.

Terry explained, “In the beginning, a mutual friend contacted us about the death, and we responded to him, but never were able to respond directly to them.”

This past winter, Pablo harnessed the Internet’s powers to track down Terry and Jerry.

“I started searching the web, and I found an article by Julie Buntjer that talked about a prize they had won, and I thought there were too many coincidences,” exclaimed Pablo.

Soon after, Pablo contacted Buntjer and asked if she could provide him with the Perkins’ email address.

“We received the email when we were in the Southwest for the winter,” said Jerry.

“It was such a pleasant surprise for us,” added Terry. “After contact was made, we heard from all of Horacio’s children,” offered Jerry.

It was not originally planned or certain that the Plateros would be able to visit Worthington this May, but events converged to create a happy meeting.

“I have an aunt that lives in Washington, D.C., and we were going to visit her,” said Pablo. “When we decided to come to the States, our first-ever trip here, I wanted to go to Minnesota to meet the Perkinses.

“I had to do it,” said Pablo of the visit. “There was something inside that told me to visit, and I would like very much to come again. There was an emotional connection between us and them.”

Due to the Plateros’ East Coast plans, Jerry said, “We didn’t know if they would be able to get here. The fact that it worked out has been really delightful — they worked hard to adjust their schedule.”

While in Worthington, Pablo and Elisa visited multiple area cattle farms due to Pablo’s job, experience and background. Pablo commented on the main differences between Uruguayan and American cattle production methods.

“Our livestock production is mostly grass-fed, and feedlots are a far smaller portion of the production,” he observed. “Only for the last 90 to 100 days of fattening do our cattle go to a feedlot. We do use the same breeds, Hereford and Angus.”

The Plateros are currently in New York after saying goodbye to the Perkinses on Saturday, and they will also visit Boston and Miami.

Joked Jerry with a hearty laugh, “They say they’re country kids, but I don’t know! We tell them the American West is best — maybe next time.”

Whatever their travel inclinations, Pablo said, smiling, “I would really like to come back; there are a lot of things to see and learn — and we have great hosts.

“It’s been a great experience for me to come here and share a couple of days with the Perkins family.”