Cattlewomen honor lifelong farmer, rancher for Father’s Day

Photo courtesy Mesa County Cattlewomen Association, Smith family—Dale Smith, left, and his son, Doug Smith, in the 1960s on their sugar beet farm. After success at farming, Dale Smith went into the dairy cow business and then the beef cattle business.

Dale Smith has seen a lot over nine and a half decades.

He remembers where the old saddle shop used to stand on Main Street. He remembers Elmer Wright’s big barn that used to be where the bus station now is located. He remembers the interurban electric train that ran from Grand Junction to Fruita, making stops in Appleton. He was one of the few people who got to see Western artist Harold Bryant paint.

You see a lot in 96 years. And if you’re Dale Smith, you don’t let 96 years slow you down.

For this reason, the Mesa County Cattlewomen Association chose Smith as the Father of the Year for its annual Beef for Father’s Day promotion.

Dale Wilder Smith was born Jan. 10, 1915, in Austin, Minn. He spent five years in the northern state before moving to western Colorado with his family. His father bought a piece of farmland in Appleton, where Dale and his sister attended school and helped their father with farm work. When young Dale wasn’t busy working or trapping prairie dogs or muskrats, he’d catch the interurban electric train to the YMCA in Grand Junction.

It was during one of these trips to the YMCA that Dale met his wife, Eda Irene Foutch. The couple loved dancing and made their way to the dance halls twice a week.

Dale and Eda had five children, but only one, Doug, still lives in the Grand Valley.

The children recall their father’s determination to produce bountiful harvests. Sometimes, they said, he would come in from the fields and sit in his chair, where he would sleep. He would start working again at dawn.

His hard work paid off one year as he and Doug hauled in a record-breaking load of pinto beans. The father-son team grew 3,645 pounds of beans per acre, a state record that stands to this day.

Dale carried his agricultural prowess over to livestock. He cared for 47 dairy cows for more than a decade before going into the beef cattle business with his neighbor. They had 200 head of cattle between the two of them.

Raising and caring for livestock provided challenges for Dale, as the cattle had minds of their own. One year, as the cowboys were driving the cattle down from the mountains in the fall, a train engineer blew the train whistle, putting the cows in a frightened panic. Another time, the men placed the cattle, along with a thousand head of sheep, in a feedlot at the Holly Sugar processing plant. Sometime during the night, a pack of dogs got into the lot and started harassing the animals. Trying to escape, the cows broke down the fence and ran into the icy river, where they drowned. The sheep didn’t fare much better as the dogs tore into their bodies, chewing off their ears.

Years later, a more personal tragedy struck. After more than 60 years of marriage, Eda died. Missing her terribly and feeling lonely, Dale ventured back to the dance halls. It was during one of these twice-a-week dances that Dale laid eyes on 91-year-old Georgia Abrames, who, like Dale, lost her spouse of more than six decades. The two have kept regular company for seven years. Twice a week,  the active couple can be found swirling and twirling around the dance floor.

It was this refusal of inactivity that caught the attention of Mesa County Cattlewomen Association member Patty Miller. After Dale was chosen as Father of the Year, she spent months visiting with the farmer and rancher as she chronicled his life. Along with the official Father of the Year title, Dale and Georgia will be treated to a beef dinner at the restaurant of their choosing, Miller said. Dale will be given a blanket Miller designed, which is emblazoned with cattle brands.

The Mesa County Cattlewomen Association started the Beef for Father’s Day promotion decades ago and it has since caught on nationwide. The event is just one the Cattlewomen, previously known as the Cowbelles, do to draw attention to their cause.

“The Cattlewomen started to help the Cattlemen promote beef,” Miller said. “The cow is the neatest thing in the world.”

Miller holds the title of Roving Cattlewoman in the Western Council, which incorporates Cattlewomen groups from around western Colorado. She has been a member of the Cattlewomen Association since the 1950s. In that time, the group’s goal hasn’t changed much, although the challenges and opposition they face have been altered drastically.

“We just try to tell people that it’s really hard right now because so many people are against ranching and a lot of people are against eating red meat,” Miller said. “We just try to tell people it’s a good, healthy food.”

The Mesa County Cattlewomen Association has 20 members and meets every fourth Monday of the month. They remain active and visible in the community, teaching residents about their lifestyle and tools of the trade. They barbecue at the Mesa County Fair and sell promotional items as fundraisers. They then donate the money they earn to agricultural groups such as the Future Farmers of America and 4-H and give scholarships to agriculturally involved students.

One of their most acclaimed promotions is the Beef for Father’s Day event. And no one embodies the Cattlewomen’s message better than Dale Smith.

“So that’s what beef does for you,” Miller said. “It keeps you dancing.”


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