MARBLETON — Gary Milton Espenscheid was born August 23, 1943 in Rockford, Illinois to Leona Yokers Espenscheid and Milton Espenscheid.
He had two siblings, an older brother Marvin, and younger sister Marilyn. He spent his childhood and youth on the family farm near Pecatonica, Illinois, and graduated from there. He played football, basketball, ran track, and participated in FFA.
He and his older brother Marvin actually started a herd of registered Hereford cattle through their 4-H projects while growing up. They had one cow they were especially proud of which won numerous awards in the show ring, and whose decendents are still in Marvin’s registered Wisconsin herd today!
The humid climate of Illinois created many health problems for Gary. At one point, he had even contracted polio, and though he fortunately recovered from it, he continued to suffer from various allergies and breathing problems. For vacations, late in the summers, before harvest, Gary’s family would load up and head to Wyoming, to the little Laramie River Valley and Bob Honholz’ ranch near Laramie to buy Bob’s calves to feed on their farm. This was Gary’s first introduction to Wyoming, and he loved it. Not only did Wyoming’s aesthetic beauty and wide open country appeal to Gary, so did its drier climate, alleviating the breathing problems which plagued him growing up. He decided to somehow get back there as an adult. After graduating from high school, and attending Southern Illinois University for one year, Gary found his way back to Wyoming and went to work for Bob Honholz the following summer. He worked long enough to gain Wyoming residency and later enrolled in the University of Wyoming as a proud Wyoming resident majoring and getting his degree in Animal Science.
Gary loved the mountains, loved to hunt and fish, loved the idea of being a cowboy. Wyoming and the people he met at the University opened doors to all of those passions. He met Pete Steele from Boulder, WY and made his first trip to Sublette County to hunt elk with him. He also met Frank and Jim Shepperson, and Gary Frank, among others. Through these already established Wyoming cowboys, Gary was encouraged to ride bulls, and was given the opportunity to learn how to rope. Consequently, he won his first rodeo buckle in Bull Riding at a rodeo in Guernsey, WY!
An impressionable and important part of Gary’s early adult life was spent on the Shepperson ranch in Wyoming during those summers and weekends of his college years. He stacked oil derricks for Frank and Jim’s Dad, and was bit by the rodeo bug. He got to tag along to some rodeos and team ropings with Frank and Jim, real “Rodeo Cowboys” who were already well respected in Wyoming rodeo circles. The time Gary spent with the Shepperson family was life-changing and important to him. Billie-Jean Shepperson, Frank and Jim’s mother, became Gary’s Wyoming Mom, and dear friend for life. With the help of the Sheppersons, Gary Frank, and Dick Herr, Gary actually became a member of the UW Rodeo Team.
Through his participation in the UW Rodeo Club, Gary met Nancy Budd, a ranch girl from Big Piney, WY. Joe Alexander, from Cora, Wyoming set them up on their first date, and it was history in the making from there. They later married in Big Piney February 18, 1967 in the middle of a Wyoming blizzard. Gary’s best friend, Jim Shepperson drove a stock truck all night over South Pass, which was Closed to make it to the wedding to be Gary’s best man. Shortly after their marriage, Gary was sent off to Fort Bliss, TX. for basic training in the U.S. Army.
Gary spent most of his Army years stationed in Japan. He was a food inspector for overseas US troops. Part of his job was buying fresh produce from Japanese farmers and helping to dispense them to U.S. soldiers. He was joined by his wife Nancy, and infant son Brian, who lived there with him for about a year. It was a marvelous experience, and in Nancy’s words, “because I knew I didn’t have to live there forever, I loved it!”
When Gary was discharged, he and Nancy returned to Sublette County, Wyoming. Nancy’s parents, Joe and Ruth Budd, offered Gary and Nancy an opportunity to come back to their ranch and work for a couple of years to see “if things would work out”. Gary and Nancy joined Joe and Ruth, along with John and Shirl Tanner, and became part of Budd Ranches and Budd Hereford Ranch, the registered Hereford part of the Budd Ranches operation. For 26 years, a big part of the Budd Hereford Ranch was putting on an annual Bull Sale there. It was an exciting and stimulating part of their work. People came from all over to buy those registered bulls and the party they threw after the sale became a much anticipated Community event.
Gary was barely unpacked when he pushed against conventional ranch culture and built a roping arena on the ranch. The first one was made out of light-weight portable panels which quickly proved to be way underqualified for the job. He soon built a good one, which remained for over 40 years and it became the training ground for him and his boys and their buddies. If those fences could talk…so many summer evenings were spent there—learning to rope and trying to make rope horses out of average ranch horses. Those little grey panels are like a living memorial to Gary. They still show up all over the ranch and make us all think of that first big mark Gary made on the ranch.
In the mid-seventies, Gary and Nancy signed a big note and were able to purchase the portion of the ranch still owned by Nancy’s sisters and Aunt. Shortly there after, high interest rates, a plunging cattle market, decreasing popularity of Herefords and a drought became the perfect storm for economic disaster for ranches all over the country. Gary and Nancy were faced with the choice of dispersing the cows or selling the land. It was a tough decision for the whole family, but they chose to keep the land. The ranching operation soon changed from a cow/calf operation to a yearling/stocker operation. Gary embraced the principles of HRM or Holistic Resource Management, and gained a renewed perspective of the cattle business – both economically and ecologically. Budd Ranches was able to continue to thrive and flourish through these renewed ranching practices.
Living in Sublette County gave Gary the opportunity to pursue his avid love of hunting. This passion began with his boyhood friend, Randy Reeser, shooting crows on the farm in Illinois. Randy made many trips to Wyoming in the fall so he and Gary could hunt elk, deer, antelope and moose. Gary fulfilled some of his hunting dreams by going to Alaska, Canada and New Zealand to hunt. His meticulous nature was evident in his diligent efforts to load his own shells. Reloading became more than a hobby for him. He was zealous about it, as he was some other hobbies such as leather work. He built all our headstalls, breastcollars, belts and even holsters for the little boys guns after the grandkids came along.
The ranch was a perfect livelihood for him to develop the aptitude he had for animal science. He learned to do his own cesareans, much to the consternation of Bert Reinow (the local vet at the time), and studied his Merck book like it was a bible. He had a thorough working knowledge of animal pharmaceuticals and animal nutrition. Also, he and John Tanner built a meat room with a walk in cooler, bandsaw, grinder and the sharpest knives you can ever imagine. It was a source of pride for Gary and John that they could process all the beef we needed on the ranch and manage to customize each one for the specific woman who would be cooking it. Oh, and Gary and John made a lot of pretty good beer too.
Gary contributed to the community in many ways. He was a member of the Roping Club, Chuckwagon Days Committee, Green River Valley Cattlemans, Wyoming Stockgrowers, Sublette County Weed and Pest Board, Sublette County Fair Board,Wyoming Chapter of HRM, Green River Valley Land Trust to name a few. One of his greatest contributions to the Community was his role in getting the Sublette County Ag Center built. Once again his determination and his refusal to be deterred by seemingly insurmountable obstacles served him well. He just wouldn’t take no for an answer, and after years of work, the Ag Center became a reality in 2001. Grant there were many people who helped along the way, but without his continued dogged and unrelenting leadership as Chairman of the Committee, it just wouldn’t have happened.
On June 30th, 2009, Gary was in a tragic accident. While practicing team roping, he was thrown from his horse and suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed. For eight and a half years, Gary’s family hoped that his strong will and characteristic stubbornness would carry him to recovery. But countless infections and other complications caused him severe pain and irreversible damage to his already compromised body; his hopes for recovery were dashed over and over again. It was a tough haul for Gary, and heartbreaking for his family to stand by so helplessly. Still, he soldiered on, appreciating those precious moments when he was able to participate by watching a football game with one of his sons, or videos of his grandchildren roping, playing basketball, wrestling, swimming, etc. Gamely, Gary suffered through jabbed knees and elbows to the ribs, when various grandchildren crawled up onto his hospital bed, and navigated his way through logistically compromised games of cribbage. It is to his credit that he did NOT become bitter and angry, but instead grateful for kindness shown to him.
Gary’s life pattern showed dogged courage in doing things different from those around him. He ventured out into the west at an age when others around him were returning to family farms. He built his own roping arena on the ranch, when that was pretty much unheard of. Going into the yearling business was considered a crazy idea. An indoor arena at the Sublette County Fairgrounds seemed outrageous and sparked debate and protest. He did those things anyway. He lived life on his own terms.
Gary is survived by his two sons and their wives: Brian and Annie (Hittle) Espenscheid, and Chad and Gudrid (Thayer) Espenscheid, wife Nancy Budd Espenscheid, and five grandchildren – Arye, Jade, Cael, Cassidy, and Hays Espenscheid. They all continue to ranch, to rope, to play sports, and strive to live THEIR lives on their own terms. A memorial service will be held Thursday February 8th at 2:00 PM at the Marbleton Senior Center.