Good men gone: Funerals make rancher wonder about the future

Good men gone: Funerals make rancher wonder about the future

Too many funerals make you wonder, who’s ready to step up and fill those shoes?

It's been a tough week. Well, it really began a couple of months ago. Last week, I could've gone to a funeral every day. Got me to think'in just a little about my own age. Boy-o-boy, we who live in “fly over country" sure lost some good men lately, friends of mine. You all know what kind of friends I mean. You see them once or twice a year at a bull sale, in Denver at the stock show, been to their place for the Angus tour, they spoke at your convention.

It got me wondering who's going to step up and fill those shoes and empty saddles once ridden by good men who cut a wide swath. But heck, we're Americans, someone has always stepped up, but I can't see them right now. I’m a little sad and my eyes are watering, must be the wind.

Pat Goggins, boy what a life, got a resume longer than the well rope where he grew up. I know the place and the word "hardscrabble " comes to mind. But Pat stepped up and filled a pair of shoes when opportunity knocked and went on to build the closest thing to an empire the West has seen in this century. It was an "American Thing." Who's going to fill those shoes? Good for us, Pat had a passel of kids and a great staff, he led by example and they've already stepped up and filled the shoes. It's an "American Thing."

I look around, whether at a cattlemen’s convention, county commissioners meeting or an elk hunting camp and I'm seeing a lot of grey hair and I wonder... where's the second string? How deep is the bench? Have we spent enough time developing the farm club?

Oh, they're out there, I know. We had a 23-year-old president for our state Angus association last year and he was a fine young leader. We've got two new members on our local cattlemen’s board of directors. I didn’t ask if they were old enough to drive. But I know their folks, they come from good stock and one is married to a young veterinarian and I know she can drive. I saw it.

Ben Houston was my neighbor, and the kind words and accomplishments spoken by family and friends take up half a page. Truth be known, that wasn't half of it. Paul Andrews, president of the National Western Stock Show, said, "We lost a legend last night." I need to dry my eyes again, wish that wind would stop...

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Bill Wailes was a fine man, easy smile, born teacher. He came to more meetings than a preacher and even though Bill was a dairyman we still let him in. Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame, Naval Flight Officer, CSU Rams Legacy Award are just a few honors received during a life well lived.

Husband, father, grandpa, coach would be the honors that meant the most to him. Big shoes to fill but I have faith. CSU has a pretty deep bench.

When I said I could've gone to a funeral every day, it was a fact. But we're calving and the canyon’s been closed from time to time, rock slide. The detour through Steamboat Springs adds three to four hours to the trip.

All of these men and their families understand though, sometimes work comes first. After checking cows this morning and pouring a cup I hear on the radio: Bernie Sanders for President, "Less work, more money." How's that working out? I can hear a young student thinking: "I've got this student loan and all these books  and he's going to make it all go away." Huh! I think I feel my wallet getting lighter.

After this election, whoever wins will be so bruised and bloody I wonder if they will survive, but I know we will. It's an American Thing. We survived Woodrow Wilson without TV, canned beer, Oprah and a shot of Old Crow. I wish Pat was around yet; another "socialist" in the White House sure makes for good "cannon fodder."

I can't help but wonder about the empty saddles, who steps up in the stirrups?

Titles like president, chairman, board member, life member add color to a life well lived; 10 years, 30 years and some 50 years add a little grey to that color. Hauling bulls to Denver, writing a column every week, Senate session in Cheyenne, Denver, Helena or D.C. They all took the time and helped pave the road so our journey might be a little smoother. WWII, Korea, Vietnam add a color to their lives I doubt was very pretty. Darn wind, can't keep my eyes from watering...

Francis Rodgers, Charlie Bartlett, Senator Jim Isgar, Vern Bixler and Representative Diane Hoppe. Yep, there are more than a few good women as well. Thank God for them but we won't talk much about 20 or 30 years and more helping men find their way. It's a girl thing. I won't mention Linda G., Bonnie Z., Mary R. Or Ginny H. in the same sentence with "years," I might get hit!

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It still begs the question; how deep is the bench? Are we doing enough to groom the next leaders? With 24/7 news (most of it negative), phones and computers hooked to their face (half of it junk), what can we do? I say lead by example and temper your words at the kitchen table. Too many years of "damn heifers," “damn weather," "damn politicians " and “damn you’s" would drive anybody to town for job at the Co-Op.

Folks, this ain't just a good life, it’s the best life. Let's do our best to honor our friends and family mentioned above and many more. It's an "American Thing."

I gotta go check the heavy cows with my new help. He's only been with me for five years, calls me Pop-Pop. Eyes watering again, wish the wind would stop.

Think about it.

Bill McKee is a rancher near Carbondale, Colo.

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