June 19, 1930 – January 4, 1993
Leonard L. “Buzz” DeNaeyer was born on June 19, 1930 on the family ranch near Valentine in Cherry County, Nebraska. He was the firstborn of Henry R. and Margaret J. Lewis DeNaeyer. Brothers Bob and Dick followed. Buzz’s paternal grandparents, Bernard and Adele DeNaeyer had emigrated to the U.S. from Belgium around 1880. They settled in Cherry County, Nebraska after stops in Iowa and Missouri, raised their family and made agriculture their way of life.
Buzz attended Valentine High School and graduated with the class of 1948. He was active in football, boxing, V-Club and student leadership. He also showed cattle in his youth. After graduation, he worked on the family ranch south of Valentine. In 1949 he married Marian Keech and they had two daughters, Dianne and Cindy.
In 1952, Buzz enlisted in the U.s. Navy during the Korean War. He was stationed in Hawaii and served on the USS Elkhorn. He stayed active in boxing during this time and twice won the heavyweight boxing champion of the Pacific title in 1954 and 1956.
Upon honorable discharge from the Navy, Buzz moved his family to Chadron and enrolled in Chadron State College, where he was on the rodeo team. He was the Nebraska State Rodeo Association Steer Wrestling champion in both 1959 and 1961.
In 1959 Buzz enrolled in the University of Nebraska college of Dentistry in Lincoln. He graduation in 1963 and set up practice in Ogallala.
Buzz’s second wife was Mary Kay O’Dey. Their two children are Mike and Michelle (Missy). Buzz and Mary Kay lived in Grand for awhile before returning to Valentine in the late ‘60s. Buzz ranched a bit and also continued his dental practice, while Mary Kay was a teacher. During this stretch, Buzz continued to coach Golden Gloves boxing and coach young men in steer wrestling. Young people could be found many a night and weekend at the arena out on the DeNaeyer place.
In the early ‘70s, Buzz became heavily involved with the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association. His daughter, Cindy, won the state girls cutting championship in 1973. He served as Nebraska’s National Director for 15 years and ultimately served as the President of the National High School Rodeo Association in 1987-88. He was rodeo coordinator for NHSRA National Finals for several years in Rapid City, South Dakota and Pueblo, Colorado. He was also featured for a number of years alongside his good friend rodeo announcer Hadley Barrett, in NETV’s broadcast of the Nebraska State High School Rodeo Finals. These broadcasts showcased Western heritage and the sport of rodeo to folks all across Nebraska.
Buzz married Dianne Haynes in 1975 and they shared two daughters, Chrystall and Renee. Besides being active in high school rodeo during the ‘70s and ‘80s, Buzz also served as a PRCA rodeo judge and spent many summer weekends packing up the family to travel to rodeos in Nebraska and South Dakota where Buzz would serve as judge and wife Dianne would serve as rodeo secretary. He was also an ardent supporter of his kid’s activities whether that is sports, music or academics.
Buzz loved rodeo and boxing and he was pretty darn good at both! He was the 1954 and 1956 heavyweight boxing champion of the Pacific while in the U.S. Navy. He won the 1959 and 1961 Nebraska State Rodeo Association Steer Wrestling titles. Buzz served as National Director for the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association for 15 years and was President of the National High School Rodeo Association in 1987-88. In 1986 he was honored by the NHSRA with the Man of the Year buckle. He was a Gold Card member of the PRCA. His biggest honor was working with young people, coaching and mentoring them in the sports he loved.
Buzz passed away on January 4, 1993 at the age of 62. His legacy today includes his six children, 18 grandchildren. He would be so proud of all their talents and contributions to society…there are teachers, first responders and those working in agriculture; a West Point graduate; multi-sport athletes, including a nationally-ranked high school cross country runner; musicians, including an aspiring country music singer recently featured on the television show The Voice; a UNL Regents Scholar and all-in-all good, kind, hard-working folks.