The Cortez Elks lodge was a full house Saturday night for the 75th anniversary and annual meeting of the Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association and the selection of the Stockman and Cowbelle of the Year.
Volunteers were prepared for the crowds, with the grill out back cooking up 350 10-ounce ribeye steaks provided by the P&D Grocery in Mancos. An auction raised nearly $4,000 for Livestock Association’s scholarship fund, and a 70th anniversary quilt, featuring all the local cattle brands of the association’s members, was given away in a raffle. Between attendees and volunteers, nearly 400 people were in attendance.
Cortez rancher and dryland farmer Leroy Oliver was awarded Stockman of the Year, while Lanea Donahoo was crowned Cowbelle of the Year, both to a warm round of standing applause from the audience.
“(Donahoo’s) ability to problem solve while maintaining a positive attitude has served her well and she has experienced great success in a niche market that is serving a need,” the presenter read. “Not only in our community, but in our state and other states as well.”
In addition to these annual awards, the night marked a special occasion to present an award for Distinguished Service, which was given to Lynelle Brumley. SCLA board member Drew Gordanier presented the award, only given once every few years, he says, “if someone’s work truly stands out.”
Brumley is the secretary for SCLA, 1978 Cowbelle of the Year, and has been a member of the Southwestern Cowbelle’s since the 1970s, having worked on almost all committees. She was also the first woman to serve on the Empire Electric Board of Directors. “If anyone knows her, you know she does everything organized, efficient, and goes the extra mile,” Gordanier read. “We could not survive without her. She is so much appreciated for all her hard work and dedication.”
Oliver was born in Cortez in 1953, the middle child of five boys. He grew up in Delta, Colorado, where his father worked a small grazing allotment.
According to a news release from Lynelle Brumley, Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child was riding his Shetland gelding.
As a child, he loved to collect different things and carry them around in his pockets, the news release from aid. His mother would tell the story of how she found baby mice in his pocket while doing laundry, “which she hated more than anything.”
Oliver dislikes snakes with a passion after being bitten on the leg by a rattlesnake at 8 years old. He still bears the fang scars to prove the story.
In 1968 at 15 years old, Oliver ran away from school with his oldest brother and two friends to Montana, the news release said. During an intense rainstorm, a local sheriff offered them a dry bed in the local jail as opposed to sleeping in the cab of their truck.
After finding out they were runaways, he gave them a reference to work for a local rancher, and “they were hired on the spot.”
That summer, according to the story, they put up 24,998 small hay bales by hand, a number that is “well remembered and quite accurate.”
“There were some slightly intoxicated evenings spent riding the hay bales on the elevator to the top of the stack. They helped run 11,000 head of cattle on 240,000 acres, working 15 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Their monthly wage was $200,” the news release said.
After his brother was drafted in 1968, Oliver and the other two friends working at the Montana ranch moved to Grande, Arizona, where they worked approximately 1,000 head of cattle each day.
Once he returned to Colorado, he worked for his uncles and future father-in-law farming in the summers and working at a saw mill in Oregon during the winter months.
In June 1974, “he married his first love who he knew since grade school,” and they had three children – a daughter in 1975, son in 1977 and a daughter in 1978.
In 1977, his father-in-law helped them purchase 25 head of Hereford cattle and their first property in Pleasant View.
They farmed dryland beans and wheat before pivoting to irrigated alfalfa.
“He is always willing to help out friends and family, whether it’s packing out elk from hunting camp or helping his brother in law get a wild cow that got out and ran up the snow covered mountain,” they said.
In 2009, he lost his wife of 35 years to complications from an open-heart surgery. He later remarried his current wife.
At 70 years old, he now runs 200 head of Wagyu cross cattle with his son. He still enjoys farming several hundred acres of dry land while the center pivot does all of the irrigating on the grass alfalfa field. He loves having any of his three children or eight grandchildren over to help work the cattle herd.
Donahoo grew up in the Cortez area in Arriola and attending Montezuma County schools and graduating from MCHS in 1989.
Following graduation, she attended the University of Arizona where she majored in agriculture.
Following her college career, she returned to the Four Corners area, teaching in Aztec, New Mexico, and raising her four children.
“As an educator with a strong belief in the importance of education, she has taken advantage of being a part of the Western Colorado Cattlewomen Council, learning from other strong Cattlewomen here on the Western Slope. She regularly reports on what she’s learned at these many conferences at our monthly meetings,” the Cowbelles said in a news release.
As a child, she received the nickname “Podunk” from her grandfather, a cherished nickname that she now uses as her trademark for the successful VRBO she runs in her childhood home.
There, guests can relax in the country and learn about cattle ranching at “Podunk’s Ranch.”
After many hours of online instruction, she has started her own successful marketing company called “Podunk’s Beef,” which sells high quality grass-fed beef that she raises.
According to the Cattlewomen, she started with one steer she was able to salvage from her father’s small herd after his passing and was able to purchase a handful more.
She went from selling seven head in her first year to 50 processed steers this past year in 2023.
“Her ability to problem solve while maintaining a positive attitude has served her well and she has experienced great success in a niche market that is serving a need, not only in our community, but in our state and other states as well,” they shared.
Donahoo joined the SWC/C organization a few years ago and “jumped in with both feet.”
“Nothing slowed her drive to get involved with every aspect of our organization and her enthusiasm is contagious,” the Cowbelles said.
She took on the creation of the cattle brand napkins for events and even developed a new item, the cattle brand shipping bag.
She took on one of the major projects of our organization – the creation of cattle brand napkins. She also helped create a new item, the cattle brand shopping bag.
“Her ability to successfully network with various organizations has allowed our message, ‘Eat Beef!’ to be heard loud and clear and we thank her for that,” the news release said.