May 25, 1950 – January 14, 2021
Leon Gift was born May 25th, 1950 in Arnold. His dad was a mechanic and later worked for the county as a road maintenance man. His mom was a stay-at-home mom who kept him and 3 other siblings in line.
He graduated from Stapleton High School in 1968 and went to work the next day for Ken Davis, foreman at the Peter Kiewitt Cattle Company. He worked for them at various locations (East of North Platte, Hyannis and North of Maxwell). He loved this life checking large pastures horseback, breaking horses and working cattle. The winter of 1970-71, he and two other guys were responsible for the care of 5,000 calves. In 1972, he was promoted to a foreman position and put in charge of the North Ranch where he was responsible for calving 650 head of cows.
When he became engaged to a school teacher, Leon moved to Thedford and worked for Emory Daly while Emory was battling cancer. He enjoyed feeding cattle with a team of horses and doing most of the ranch work horseback as that was what he had been doing from 1968-1973 when he worked for Kieweitt Cattle Company. He also worked at the Thedford sale barn sorting and penning cattle on sale days.
Leon did ranch work for several people in the Thedford area, was self-employed as a fence contractor, day-worked and broke horses. When he worked at Pearson Livestock Equipment as an iron worker he would go to work early in order to leave early to ride colts while checking cattle at the forest for ranchers. He would get up early enough to ride horses he was breaking for people before going to another job. For 30 years, Leon has day-worked for John Warren at the Paxton Ranch.
He married Rosalea Boyer August 10, 1974 and they adopted 2 children (Ryan and Ginger). When the kids got old enough to e in 4-H, he became a 4-H leader. Leon enjoyed the horsemanship and reining classes and worked hard to teach those skills as well as horse conformation. Jo Finney and Leon hauled kids to the Carve for a horse judging event, to Mullen for a workshop by the state horse leader and several horse shows. Leon went to a couple Ray Hunt and Charlie Hill workshops, liked using their techniques and sharing them with the kids. He also worked hard teaching numerous kids how to rope competitively and handle cattle. Joe and Leon organized a snaffle bit futurity, ranch rodeos and team ropings held during the Thomas County fairs. He spent several years in leadership positions. Leon was an officer on the Thomas County Fair Board, a director of the Thedford High School Rodeo, a state director for the Nebraska High School Rodeo and helped produce the Thedford Youth Rodeo.
During Ryan and Ginger’s years in rodeo, Leon served as a state director and was always available to help a contestant settle his horse in the box, give a suggestion for improvement, or do any of the chores needed to hose a rodeo. He was often asked to watch contestants make a run and then to tell them what they could do to improve. He had ridden bulls during high school and for awhile afterwards, but really enjoyed team roping. Leon roped competitively at North Platte, Stapleton, Thedford, Burwell, Arthur, Fuch’s Arena and many other places. He was a member and officer of roping clubs and enjoyed putting on ropings. Dan Dailey and Leon joined the NSRA and roped at as many rodeos as possible for a couple of years. They made it a family event around their hectic schedules.
Leon was asked to be on a ranch rodeo team and it didn’t take long for him to get hooked. His team was composed of Bruce Switzer of Burwell, Joe Finney of Seneca and Stan Clark of Burwell. They had a lot of fun and really did well. He was more pleased when his horses received the Best Horse award than when he got the Best Cowboy award. The last year they competed, they won the right to compete at Fort Worth in the 1989 National Ranch Rodeo competition.
The Gift’s live 5 ½ miles South of Thedford and 1 5/8 miles west on their small ranch and enjoy running cattle, riding horses and spending time with their family. Leon purchased 3 young geldings in the fall of 2014 and has had a great time training and spending time developing them. He commented that he had to have these three to get the wife, 6 grandkids and himself mounted. He has a new batch of kids to help learn how to handle horses and work cattle and he couldn’t be happier.