Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:09 AM
The hot July sun beat down on us as Jim Smith and I unloaded coolers of cold water designated for the contestants participating in the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo that night. Needing a short break, we sat in the shade behind the bucking chutes.
“It doesn’t get any better than this," Jim sad. The cowboys unloading the bulls and bucking horses into the holding pens could be heard behind us. Out in the arena, the tractor pulling a harrow made its final pass, making sure the ground was ready. “The cowboys are going to love the dirt. It looks perfect,” Jim said. The Ogden city parks staff under the direction of Jay Lowder worked tirelessly every year to ensure the whole facility was in top shape.
Our sponsorship director, Jeff Hales, was at the far end of the arena, hanging the last of many sponsor banners. He always took great pride in making sure the banners were straight and stretched tight. “Jeff sure does a good job. Let’s go see if he needs some help,” Jim said. No matter the job, Jim was always willing to lend a helping hand.
Another board member, Dave Wadman, had just arrived to check on the progress of the rodeo office his company was renovating. "What would we have done without all of the labor and materials Dave has donated the past years?" Jim said.
Dave Halverson and his father, Ron Halverson, who chaired the Ogden Pioneer Days Committee in the 1980s, were busy installing a new hitching rail. “You know, we are blessed to have such good people on the committee,” Jim added. He always went out of his way to make sure each member of the Ogden Pioneer Days Committee knew how much he appreciated their hard work.
In addition to volunteering with Ogden Pioneer Days and other community organizations, Jim was also president of Smith & Edwards, one of the largest retail outlets in Northern Utah consisting of more than 171,000 square feet of floor space filled to the brim with merchandise, in addition to the 60 acres of surplus out in the back of the store. The store motto, “We have anything you want if we can find it,” is true in every sense of the word. At any given time, Jim had more than 200 employees. He was devoted to his business, customers and especially his employees.
Marty Thompson, who manages the western department at Smith & Edwards and had worked for Jim for more than 22 years, spoke very highly of his employer and friend.
“As I sit back and reflect on his passing, one thing that stands out in my mind is all that I learned from Jim, including his devotion, trust, determination and hard work ethic.He also fully empowered and trusted me in the job he hired me to do, which made coming to work every day a pleasure. The determination he showed in all that he did was amazing, and he was never above any job that needed to be done. Also his love and compassion for his family was a great example to me. There was never a time that he stood up and spoke that he didn’t honor his wife, Paula.
"Whenever my own boys would come down to the store, they would make it a point to run up to Jim’s office just to say hi. He loved kids, and they all loved him. My wife and I have been blessed to have him in our lives. From the day we were married through the journey of raising our boys, he has been a huge support and a great example to me. He also had a great sense of humor and was always joking or teasing with someone.”
Vickie Maughn, an employee of 34 years, shared her own thoughts about who she referred to as “a wonderful man.”
“It is hard to know where to begin with such a large icon that so many people have looked up to for advice, comfort and support. Jim had a big heart and was always giving to others. He was the first person to ask what he could do for you and never expecting anything in return. When you looked at Jim, you saw a big, strong stature of man on the outside and a loving, kind heart on the inside.
"Jim lived life to its fullest with his family, friends and work. In the many years that I traveled with Jim for business meetings, I saw many people from all over the country gravitate toward him because of his friendship, leadership and advice. There are many lives that have been changed through personal and business associations with him. Jim was a great example of 'pay it forward.' In the years that I worked for him, I grew to respect the larger-than-life person that he represented. Jim served in many roles throughout his life, as husband, father, grandfather and friend and as a businessman. No matter the role, he loved them all. I will greatly miss Jim’s friendship, smile, laughter and support and advice."
Following graveside services on March 9, 2013, in Honeyville, Utah, the family held a celebration of his life at the Lodge in Perry. Friends and associates came by the hundreds and probably exceeded a thousand to pay their respects and spend time with his family. A large percentage of those in attendance wore western attire. Cowboy hats of every color could be seen throughout the building. I proudly wore my favorite, a Resistol 20X Black Gold that was a surprise gift from Jim when I took the reins of the Ogden Pioneer Days organization.
Speaking of hats, Jim was one who always carried on the tradition of the Old West. Whenever he was introduced to or was in the presence of a lady, he tipped or removed his hat as a show of respect.
As young boys during the 1950s, we both watched many TV Westerns, including Hopalong Cassidy, Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers, Texas Rangers, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger. These cowboys were our heroes. Most, if not all of them, had a Cowboy Club, which included a Code of Conduct or Honor Code that as young kids we were supposed to follow. The following honor code of Gene Autry reminds me of Jim.
1. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage -- even of an enemy.
2. A cowboy never betrays a trust. He never goes back on his word.
3. A cowboy always tells the truth.
4. A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks and animals.
5. A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.
6. A cowboy is always helpful when someone is in trouble.
7. A cowboy is always a good worker.
8. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation’s laws.
9. A cowboy is clean about his person in thought, word and deed.
10. A cowboy is a patriot.
Wouldn’t it be a blessing to have heroes and role models today with similar Codes of Honor for our youth to follow?
Through his own actions and deeds, Jim has left his own legacy and “Cowboy Code of Honor” that we would all do well to follow. These included a strong work ethic and fairness and honesty in all he did. His generosity was unparalleled, and he was a great example of “pay it forward.” He had a special place in his heart for the young cowboys and cowgirls. He loved them, and they loved him. He led by example. He believed that, in order to have good friends, a man must be one. He loved rodeo, ranching and the western way of life where he found the most enjoyment.
Jim lost a valiant battle with cancer and, in true cowboy fashion, was strong and determined to the end. Standing at his bedside at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital just a few days before his passing, I struggled to hold back the tears. Never opening his eyes, he inquired who was in the room. Paula replied, “It is your friend Wynn.” After a short pause, he asked his son Dustin to give him something to throw at me. Though too weak to lift his arm, he just flipped his wrist and asked, “Did I get him?” As sick as he was, we still joked with each other though his words were few. As I placed my hand on his head, I had a strong feeling come over me that it was the last time I would see my friend. The thought of losing him broke my heart, but I found solace in knowing that, after years of fighting the battle, he would finally be at rest.
Jim loved his family, especially his grandchildren Brock, Trey, Tate, Kwade, Kolt, Kwincee and Ari. He was respected and loved by all who knew him. As time goes by, we will realize even more so how much he meant to us and the significant impact he had on our lives. In the words of Roy Rogers, “Happy Trails to You, Jim, Until We Meet Again.”
Wynn R. Covieo is past chairman of the Ogden Pioneer Days Committee and the Ogden Pioneer Heritage Foundation.
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