Vern Lonsberry, the ‘cowboy’s cowboy’ and Stampede poster star, dies at 60

CALGARY — Vern Lonsberry, the “cowboy’s cowboy” who inspired next year’s Calgary Stampede poster, died Saturday at the High River Hospital after a battle with cancer. 

He was 60 years old.

Born in Saskatchewan and raised on a farm, Lonsberry began riding horses when he was about three years old.

His father Lyle had sold the family combine for a truckload of horses, and that’s when his passion for the animals began, said his daughter Lindy, the youngest of eight children.

“He taught me all about horses, to appreciate horses, to treat them like a friend, not like a slave,” said Lindy, adding she remembers growing up with 25 to 40 horses at home.

Lonsberry’s first cowboy job was at the Q Ranch near Medicine Hat, where he tended to 1,500 cattle.

Skilled and dependable, he worked as a hand on other ranches.

He participated in some legendary cattle drives, including the one in 1996 across the 3,000-square-kilometre British Block at CFB Suffield.

He was also a former rodeo competitor with the medical history to prove it: two ankle breaks and three knee surgeries.

He walked with a limp.

For nearly 30 years, he worked at Western Feedlots, surrounding himself with horses all day. Later in life, he ran an at-home business ranching and selling horses, said Lindy.

“I’ve been working on taking over the business,” she said.

“I have some big shoes to fill.”

Earlier this month, the Calgary Stampede unveiled its event poster for next year.

The black, white and grey oil painting depicts a single cowboy ready to lasso an animal. Artist Duke Beardsley said at the unveiling that the image was based on Lonsberry.

“I hope that I managed a good representation of the 100,000 other cowboys,” Lonsberry said at the time.

The Calgary Stampede’s incoming president and incoming board chairman Bob Thompson said he chose Lonsberry as the subject of the Stampede’s 2013 poster because he was “the best of the best.”

“He cowboyed all of his life and to witness how Vern moved stock through the hills and mountains of Alberta and witness his skills was remarkable and noted by many,” said Thompson, who met Lonsberry two decades ago.

He understood animals very well and mentored younger cowboys, passing his skills on to the next generation, Thompson said.

Lonsberry was not only handy with horses. At the end of the day, he’d pull out his guitar and “sing more songs than you could imagine would come out of his brain,” Thompson said.

Over the years, Lonsberry could be seen at the Stampede, ensuring horses and their riders were safe. He considered horses to be the “ultimate animal.”

In an interview with the Herald in early July, Lonsberry spoke of cowboys becoming a vanishing breed with ATVs replacing the horse and rider as a way of moving livestock.

“I know they say it’s faster, but the world doesn’t have to be built on speed,” he said.

“I think (the cowboy) will survive. God, I hope so.”

He leaves behind his wife Nancy, sons Acey, Lonny, Locky and Travis, daughters Jodie, Virginia, April and Lindy, and 20 grandchildren.

A funeral will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Highwood Memorial Centre in High River.

Source: The Calgary Herald

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