February 24, 1939
Vernon was born to Frank and Tina Van Epps on February 24, 1939 in Winner, SD. He grew up with older brother Eugene and younger sisters Madalin and Sharon in Todd County, SD. Frank passed away when Vernon was a sophomore in high school. At that point the family moved to Winner, SD where he completed high school.
As a very young boy he worked on the Ray Carr ranch in Todd County helping him check pastures and care for cattle. When the family moved to Winner he began working for the Key Sinclair station.
Vernon was able to get back to ranch life working for Bill Chauncey, Jr. near Carter, SD. He was training horses, roping and taking care of livestock. An added benefit was meeting his future bride Jean Chauncey. Jean and Vernon will celebrate 60 years of marriage on June 1, 2021.
In 1964, the Van Epps moved to Nebraska and began working as a ranch manager for Lloyd Blomstrom near Springview. They later purchased this ranch from the heirs. Vernon and Jean began building their own operation which consisted of quarter and appaloosa horses and a quality herd of black angus cattle.
Hard work and long day still left room for helping youth and giving back. The Van Epps were horse project leaders of a 4-H club in SD and carried that on when they moved to Nebraska. He also saw a need for good horses for the kids to rid and gathered some mares and purchased his first of many stallions.
Many friendships were made as they stood these stallions to people from all over who wanted the bloodlines of quality working ranch and rope horses. They also were instrumental in trail rides and ropings at their ranch.
Vernon was a gifted horse trainer and had the opportunity to train many rope horses both for himself and for other people. During the 70’s through the 90’s he was successful at showing appaloosa horses all over SD, NE and KS, as well as the World Shows in OK and TX, where he always placed among the top competitors. He roped on several different horses over the years. Vernon continues to be well respected by his peers. The last World Show he attended was in 1992, where he roped in the Will Rodgers Coliseum in Fort Worth, TX.
Although they didn’t have children of their own, they believed helping youth become better horsemen and people was their calling to honor God through serving. Their Christian testimony was never hidden. The Van Epps practice arena was a common gathering place for all generations to learn and practice skills and provide a listening ear that went beyond the rope. Many of these cowboys and cowgirls were successful steer and calf roping contestants.
While Vernon was raising horses, many were sold to kids who needed a mount at far less than the going price. And some of his best rope horses were sent to college on loan to kids who didn’t have a good enough horse to compete at the collegiate level. He always said that while neither Jean nor him had a college degree, they had several horses who had been to college. If a kid didn’t have a good rope, he had a whole box they could choose from at no cost.
The Van Epps home is full of trophies and buckles showing the success that Vernon has had in his own career. He will admit his biggest achievement is watching others he has taught and roped with go on to be successful both in and out of the arena.
Brandings at the Van Epps ranch continue to bring friends from several states and generations. Many of the people whose lives they touched come back to help for this annual event.
They still sponsor awards for the local 4-H shows to keep the program alive and encourage young horsemen to be interested in the sport. The couple has helped build and support the local arena and continue to donate and help every year for the Springview Roping Club Kids Fun Day.
At 81 years old, Vernon is still active in their ranching business, owning ranch ground, cattle, horses and skilled cattle dogs. Although a couple of back surgeries have kept him off of a horse he still enjoys attending roping club practices and helping with the youth play day. Both Vernon and Jean enjoy seeing the tradition continue and new enthusiasts become part of the sport.
While his love for the ranch lifestyle continues to be important to him, he will admit his top two priorities are his faith and love for his wife. If you have ever roped with Vernon, you will not forget that million-dollar grin as a reward for a fast and solid run and it just doesn’t get any better than that.