A fun-lovin’, back-slapping crowd of farmers and ranchers gathered Saturday evening at the Cortez Elks Club for the annual Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association awards celebration.
More than 300 folks packed the hall to share stories, receive hundreds of door prizes donated from local businesses, and enjoy live music from Vanishing Breed.
But before the serious boot-scoochin’ on the dance floor could commence, the traditional Cowbelle and Stockman of the year awards were announced to much fanfare and rowdy applause. The Distinguished Service Award was introduced at the event for the first time as well.
Sidney Snyder, a stalwart of the local ranching community, was recognized as Stockman of the Year for 2014. Snyder’s familiar face does not seem to age, and his knowledge and experience of the industry is well known, whether in a public meeting, at a 4H event with his family, or out on the range with his cattle.
Raised on dryland farms in Southeast, Utah, Snyder went on to earn a degree in business administration from Fort Lewis College in 1968. He started in the cattle business at an early age, running herds in the forests above Pagosa Springs. In 1971, he moved to his current home in Lewis, which he shares with his wife of 47 years, Phyllis.
They raised four children, and have 11 grandchildren who are carrying on the farm and ranch lifestyle.
Snyder’s unflinching dedication to all things agriculture symbolizes the hard-working, independent traditions of the rural West. His son James, president of the SW Colorado Livestock Association, introduced him, noting that his dad “was raised to believe in a strong work ethic, being involved in the community, and promoting agriculture, all while raising his family to believe in and live those values as well.”
Sid has been active on farm and livestock boards his whole life. He also served on the RE-1 school board from 1983-1991, and on the Montezuma Valley Irrigation board from 1993-2002.
Today, he continues to help his family run the cattle operation, and is steadfast in his dedication in protecting grazing rights and multiple use values on public lands.
“My most proud moments are when my family is involved,” Snyder said. “We keep on going and doing well, and will continue into the future.”
Distinguished Service Award
Not to be outdone by her hardworking husband, Phyllis Snyder, also a resolute defender and promoter of the ranching lifestyle, was awarded the Distinguished Service Award. Phyllis was raised on a dryland farm in Dove Creek, farming pinto beans and wheat. She has supported and participated in local water and ag festivals in Montezuma and La Plata counties for more than 20 years. She has participated in the Four States Ag Expo for more than 30 years and promoted many farm safety presentations.
Her son James, the emcee of the evening, introduced his mother, noting “she understands that our agricultural way of life is misunderstood and under attack every day. She is tireless in her dedication to educate children, legislators, teachers and our city neighbors the value of our agricultural heritage.”
Accepting the award, Phyllis remarked, “When people say I have done good, I just want to work harder. I have a passion for agriculture promotion and will keep doing this for as long as I can.”
Cowbelle of the Year
The Southwestern Cowbelles recognized a community pillar of virtue and strength when they named Joylene Higgins the Southwestern Cowbelle of the Year for 2014.
Higgins sets a high standard for hard work, resilience, dedication to family and elegance. Raised in Montezuma County, she suffered terrible loss in her childhood, but rebounded to live a full and productive agricultural life that is still going strong.
In 1948, she married a cowboy rancher and raised six boys. Once the kids were in school, Higgins worked in the school kitchen for 25 years, eventually becoming head cook. After the boys fled the coop and started their own families, she worked another 17 years as a night janitor for a medical center.
Throughout it all, Higgins ran a 250 cow-calf herd and 40 horses, pasturing them in the summer on Stoner Point and Twin Springs in the Stoner and Groundhog area.
“She helped in every aspect of ranching, from fencing, feeding, and riding the range to check the herd,” said Paula Neal, president of the Southwestern Cowbelles. “She always involved her family in a positive way with range operations.”
Higgins and her husband of 65 years were the founders of the Mesa Verde Paint Horse Club in the area and are still active in the organization, traveling to numerous horse shows throughout the Midwest.
Forever on the go, she has served on many committees including Adopt a Highway, Ag Expo, county fair, and the Home and Garden expo. In 2009 she was honored as a Life Member of the Southwestern Cowbelles.
“I am proud to award Joylene this honor,” Neal said. “She is an excellent wife, mother, grandmother, homemaker, chef, seamstress, friend and all around great member.”
Comfortably surrounded by family, Higgins was pleasantly surprised by the honor. And her thoughts are never far from her true home on the range.
“I don’t ride like I used to, but I just love being out in the mountains and around animals,” she said. “I especially love riding with my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”