- Morning Lessons – Painting by Phil Beck
Five honorees garner prestigious 2012 Cowboy Keeper Award recognition
Each year since 2006, the National Day of the Cowboy 501(c)3 has selected individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to the preservation of pioneer heritage and cowboy culture, to receive its Cowboy Keeper Award. The award was conceived in support of the NDOC’s mission to increase awareness for and celebration of the National Day of the Cowboy. The esteemed recipients of the 2012 Cowboy Keeper Award are; Chris LeDoux, Cowgirls Historical Foundation, J.R. Sanders, Susan Thomas, and the Will James Society.
Idolized by rodeo fans, writing timeless songs that captured the essence and spirit of rodeo and cowboys, forever immortalized in Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young to Feel this Damn Old,” legendary on stage for a wildly soaring energy level, legendary cowboy Chris LeDoux excelled at everything he tried. He received a horse as a boy and made up his mind to be a ridin’, ropin’ cowboy. He soon began rodeoing, winning championships early on and continuing to rodeo in high school and college, achieving fame as a rodeo rider, including 1976 World Champion Bareback Rider. When his musical star began to rise, he went toNashvilleto try his luck, where he was told “his music wouldn’t sell.” With true cowboy grit, Chris started his own record label, selling his music everywhere he could. Thirty-six albums and millions of sales later he showed the world a man who stuck with his dreams. He eventually achieved success at every level of rodeo and International acclaim as a singer/songwriter, but Chris wanted to be known best for being “a good husband and family man.”
A Gold Record recipient, member of the Pro Rodeo and Rodeo Halls of Fame, Wyoming’s Chris LeDoux was the epitome of the cowboy little buckaroos want to grow up to be. He looked you in the eye with a broad warm smile and spoke to you cowboy to cowboy. Respected for his modesty, humbleness, friendliness, and kindness, he lived to exemplify what he believed a good cowboy should be. On the road with LeDoux for years, Mark Sissell of TKO Entertainment sums Chris up, “Working with Chris was like getting up every morning and going down the road with John Wayne. The only difference was, there was no on-screen/off-screen; Chris was the same extraordinary person every day, all the time. Anyone who ever associated with Chris LeDoux ended up the better for it.”
California’s Western author, JR. Sanders, is the tireless catalyst behind the groundbreaking national Read Em Cowboy project which he developed and initiated in 2011 in support of the quest for a National Day of the Cowboy. As a result of his work, there will be at least eight Read Em Cowboy events nationwide in 2012; all focused on encouraging young people to read and write western literature and cowboy poetry while learning about pioneer history. Sanders’ deep interest in old west history is reflected in his literary articles and his books, such as “The Littlest Wrangler,’ as well as in his work as a living historian in which he regularly portrays cowboys, lawmen, and Gold Rush prospectors in creative historically correct presentations to schools, colleges, and historical societies throughout Southern California. He has worked both on-camera and behind the scenes on A&E/History Channel’s documentary series Dangerous Missions. J.R. Sanders is also an active member of the Western Writers of America, the National Day of the Cowboy, and the Wild West History Association.
Arizona’s beloved ambassadors of western heritage, the Cowgirls Historical Foundation is a non-profit organization, faithfully “Saddled Up for Service.” These young women work continuously to increase public awareness around the importance of the preservation of western heritage and equestrian life style. Their initiatives are met through excellent educational programs including workshops they conduct; teaching poise, horsemanship, and public speaking skills. You may find these talented young ladies performing precision equestrian drill team demonstrations or acting in their children’s play, “Keeping Our Western Past Alive,” or you may be lucky enough to attend one of their electrifying cowboy couture fashion shows featuring collectible rhinestone studded vintage western wear from Hollywood’s glitterati age. These Cowgirls also spotlight Western Heritage by riding on beautiful vintage parade saddles; paying tribute to the past while honoring the future. They have won many awards for their parade participation, including appearances in the legendary Tournament of Roses Parade. The Cowgirls participate faithfully in numerous local, state, and national events and they lend a gracious volunteer hand at as many charity fundraising events as time and funds allow, cheerfully doing whatever needs to be done, performing hundreds of hours of community service annually.
Nevada’s Will James Society nonprofit organization promotes the legacy, literature, and art of the great cowboy and author of the American West, Will James, through the giving of full sets of his inspiring and captivating western books to public and school libraries, as well as to hospitals and members of the military, throughout the world. Will James Society members are dedicated to preserving the works and memory of James, a renowned western author and artist who won the Newbury Prize for Literature in 1927 for his most famous book, Smoky the Cowhorse. For twenty years they have faithfully hosted the annual “Will James Gather,” educating, entertaining, honouring, and fundraising through the sharing of music, western literature, cowboy poetry and story telling. They steadfastly recreate a campfire atmosphere and invite the best of story tellers and cowboy singers and writers to participate in the Gather.
The Will James Gifting Program is the Society’s way of bringing stories, written and illustrated by Will James, to communities everywhere, so young and old alike, can read about and enjoy Will’s cowboy experiences. James wrote about horses, rodeos, ranching and the cowboy way of life, as only a true cowboy can. The Will James Society has given away over 1,700 Will James books in the past five years.
Raised on a ranch inWyoming, Susan Thomas inspires and encourages young people to strive to be all that they can be through her own life work as an educator. As a cowgirl of unlimited compassion she has spent nearly four decades advocating for the rights of children with special needs. She has served and continues to serve on the Boards of numerous community organizations, including the Board of Reach for a Star Riding Academy, the Natrona County Fair Board, the Raising Readers Board and the Advisory Council, Grand Teton National Park Foundation.
Riding beside her husband, Craig, in the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade, carrying the National Day of the Cowboy flag, Susan Thomas exemplified the extraordinary cowgirl that she is. Her dedicated work as an NDOC volunteer inWyomingresulted in passage of the National Day of the Cowboy resolution intoWyominglaw onMarch 13, 2012, makingWyomingthe first state to pass the resolution in perpetuity. With this action, she graciously brought the work of her late husband, U.S. Senator Thomas, full-circle as the original sponsor of the Day of the Cowboy in 2005. As the resolution was signed by Governor Matt Mead, Susan spoke these words, “I want to thank the Legislature for their votes, their belief in the Great West and most importantly, their belief in the National Day of the Cowboy, as sponsored by Craig, and subsequently passed under his leadership in the U. S. Senate in 2005 and 2006. Your action ensures that Craig Thomas’s cowboy legacy will live on forever.” Susan Thomas has honoredWyoming, Craig’s memory, and her country through her 36 years of excellence in teaching and through her persistent efforts on behalf of establishing the National Day of the Cowboy for her fellow citizens.
The artist image selected for use in the 2012 Cowboy Keeper Award is the heartwarming painting, “Morning Lessons,” the work of Phil Beck, a renowned and gifted western artist from Arizona. Chris LeDoux, the Cowgirls Historical Foundation, J.R. Sanders, Susan Thomas, and the Will James Society, the five outstanding recipients of the 2012 Cowboy Keeper Award, have all demonstrated a powerful commitment to the preservation of pioneer heritage and cowboy culture. The National Day of the Cowboy lifts its hat high to each of these tremendously deserving honorees.