BY LETHBRIDGE HERALD ON FEBRUARY 9, 2016.
‘Good Sport’ column by Dylan Purcell
Duane Kesler’s hands aren’t as large as the steer-stoppers his dad possessed.
How could they be?
Greg Kesler, the rodeo legend who built a stock empire from his wife’s piano lessons, passion and hard work, was celebrated on Monday in the West Pavilion of the Lethbridge Exhibition. Greg died on Feb. 1. He was 70 years old and since 1974 had built first Kesler Rodeo and then his father’s card, Kesler Championship Rodeo, into an enterprise which boasted 10 world champion horses and thousands more that excelled at challenging some of the best athletes in the world.
Duane said just four days ago, he could hear his dad’s voice calling to him on the farm.
“Bring that old mare.”
“Bring me those geldings.”
“Just bring me Firecracker, that’ll be fine.”
“You can’t put them in the back.”
They were echoes of a loving father for Duane. No different than any other son who’s crouched over a car engine, it doesn’t matter how much you know, father knows best.
“Dad,” Duane said, looking up at the ceiling.
“I been loading these trucks with you for 45 years and you still don’t think I know which horses can’t go in the back.”
Greg was a larger-than-life figure, as explained by the hundreds who turned out for his funeral.
Host Wayne Brooks — a two-time PRCA announcer of the year and NFR staple — said that when the family was starting out, Greg’s wife Judy taught piano lessons for a dollar a kid.
Soon she had 80 kids a week and the Keslers had grocery money.
Greg managed the Magrath grain elevator, competed in rodeo and dreamed.
Being who he was, said Brooks, he didn’t dream for long before assembling 200 head of horses and turning out rodeo stock. He fed pigs, too. He and Judy bought a dream near Magrath, made it a reality with son Duane and daughter Berva.
Duane got into the rodeo business the day he was born. His sons, wife and daughter did the same. Now, they’re doing it themselves.
Four-time world bareback champion Bobby Mote said he can’t think of anyone better to take over the family business.
Mote said he saw the gruff, grumbly Greg that everyone else did, but he also heard the voice of experience guiding him, teaching him. That same guiding light extended to his family.
“He spent his 70 years building up what you see here today,” said Mote.
“He’s obviously spent this time setting you guys up to take the torch.”
The crowd was full of belt buckles that were earned, paid for in aches and broken bones. There were NFR, CFR and Indian rodeo champions throughout the seats.
They won their accolades on Kesler stock, because in the rodeo world, you don’t trust easy. If the bronco don’t buck, the cowboy don’t dance.
Stories about Greg included his broken bones as footnotes, something to mention in passing. A broken leg from a horse in Saskatoon that allowed him to step harder on the gas pedal or bruised ribs that hardly affected picking up horses. There was a bull that got him down once, but didn’t keep him down. He had a broken arm but it never stopped his ham fists from stopping a steer cold.
He was a Canadian Paul Bunyan, except his big blue ox was a bucking bronco.
Mote, the four-time bareback champ, offered the most intimate, and tragic loss of the day.
Mote said he’d often see Greg at a diner or a cafeteria before rodeos. There was Greg, sitting in a booth, said Mote.
Right beside him? Judy, his wife.
“Like a couple of 16-year-olds in love,” said Mote, the last person to get up and speak. Mote, the bareback rider who spoke with reverence about a guy who built animals to throw cowboys in the dirt.
At the end of a funeral which focused on the man’s great legacy in rodeo and his greater legacy as a father, there was Judy, shaking hands with people lined up to offer their love, help and condolences.
She stood alone, her grandsons and granddaughter and daughter and son swept away in the tide.
Greg Kesler was a 10-time world champion stock contractor. He drove endless hours in trucks followed by, then following, his son. He drove hard and long into nights. He held court among rodeo greats with stories that only seemed to good to be true.
He built, from humble roots and from a ranch near Magrath, a business that has no peer. His children and grandchildren are ready to accept the handshakes that Greg valued so dearly.
Greg’s pallbearers — Mote, Shawn Davis, Cody DeMoss, Dan Mortensen and Butch Kirby — possess 20 world rodeo championships among them.
Memories of Greg’s singular, spectacular life may comfort grandsons Kurtis and Chase. The many stories about Greg’s adventures and misadventures among his horses and bulls will bring a smile to many faces.
Brooks, in summation, said the Keslers were spiritual more than religious. He said there was no doubt Greg Kesler was watching from up above. Hopefully, when the times comes, he still takes that seat beside Judy.