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The heart of the Westrop ranch is family

Wednesday, 14 August 2019. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

The heart of the Westrop ranch is family

The entire family gathered for a photo on Boxing Day last year. Unless otherwise noted, last names are Westrop. In front, from left, are Adrielle, Halle, Audrey, Bob, Truman, Mia, Shenoa Jessen and Ava Jessen. In middle row are Trevor, Ryann, Heidi, Siobhan, Sevedyn, Annah, Lindy Jessen and Regan Bikman. In back are Bob and Billi Lowe, Triston, Travis, Shane, Saren, Braden Jessen, Taite Jessen, Scott Jessen and Dan Bikman.
Photo by Jason Jessen

The heart of the Westrop ranch is family

By Shannon Robison

In his Grade 7 yearbook, a young Bob Westrop wrote that his dream was to be a rancher or mixed farmer. Growing up in Calgary, the city boy spent time each summer at the Buckhorn Ranch in Bragg Creek because he wanted to be a cowboy.

Audrey Hall was a rodeo queen and champion barrel racer who grew up in Taber.

Their paths crossed in 1965, on a parade float, while both were attending Utah State University. Audrey was studying home economics education and Bob was in the animal sciences program.

Bob was president of the Rodeo Club and Audrey was asked to be on the float. It was a life-changing meeting and the couple married the next spring.

Audrey was a busy gal, graduating, student teaching and riding with the rodeo team as Bob finished his final years of study and the couple began raising their children — Billi, Travis, Shane, Lindy and Regan rounded out the Westrop family.

Audrey’s parents had purchased a ranch between Pincher Station and Cowley and Audrey had bought the neighbouring property when it came up for sale in 1963. A big old Doukhobour house became the family’s summer home and then a permanent residence after Bob graduated.

The home, with no electricity or running water and a wood stove for heat, served them well until 1971 when they purchased 850 acres on the Crowsnest River.

It was a place they loved dearly and fought for in the 1980s, when it was eventually expropriated to create the Oldman River Dam. Those were difficult years.

Bob and Audrey then moved to 570 acres just east of Pincher Creek, their family home since 1988.

The ranch had hay and 12 head of purebred Hereford cattle in its first days and peaked at about 150 head in later years. Bob was a mixed farmer living on a ranch with his family and serving his community.

Being closer to town was positive in many ways. “He became a very, very devoted member of the Pincher Creek area,” Audrey says.

Bob’s life revolved around his family and this encompassed everyone he met. He mentored many through addiction recovery and gave fully of himself to anyone in need, thanks to the support he had at home.

As a family, Bob, Audrey and their children got through many tough times.

Audrey says the most challenging for them all has been the past year — Bob fought cancer and passed away in March, and grandson Saren Westrop died in June. 

She says biggest trials the family has faced also came with many blessings. “We all had to work hard together,” Audrey says, with obvious pride in the efforts of her children and grandchildren.

She is a planner who trusts her intuition. This has helped her to keep moving forward and she is grateful for things big and small that have had a positive impact on them all. The family shares a strong faith and she wants to ensure the ranch is always a place for them to gather.

Bob led by example and touched countless lives. Many knew the public man, lauded for his giving spirit and community-mindedness, but few know just how many people he helped to walk a better road.

“Bob just knew what had to be done and he wasn’t afraid to do it,” Audrey says. “It didn’t matter if he had permission or not, and in the end people really appreciated it because it put their life on a different track.”

In July, the Westrop family was honoured at the Calgary Stampede with a BMO Farm Family Award. Treated to a breakfast reception and a day at the rodeo, Audrey says it was wonderful for the family to be together in a fun environment after a difficult year.

With a table for 10 available for the family at the breakfast, organizers were quick to accommodate 22 when they learned that many family members had come without expectation of all being able to attend — they simply wanted to spend the day together afterward. The family was treated royally and also received tickets for everyone to attend the rodeo.

The MD of Pincher Creek nominates a family for the award each year.

“Although not born a rancher, Bob wholeheartedly embraced the lifestyle and all that came with it,” says Lindsey Davidson on behalf of the MD. “Bob had strong values and a desire to always lend a hand, and the agricultural service board was delighted to see Audrey and her family accept the award.”

Family is the heart of the Westrop ranch and the award is timely and fitting.

At the awards ceremony they proudly sported T-shirts with a combined photo — Bob on one side riding his horse in the Calgary Stampede in 1961, and Audrey as rodeo royalty a few years earlier. Rodeo traditions continue with Audrey running barrels in the Southern Alberta Summer Games last month and riding in the parade with family members each year.

On Saturday, their parade ride will be a tribute to Bob.

“His dream came true and it was really quite an amazing thing,” Audrey says after a time of reminiscing about their 53-year marriage.

The farming operation has been leased by a neighbour and the last of the cattle will likely be sold in the fall.

The kind-hearted man behind the microphone will be missed by our community but his legacy lives on through his wife, his children and his grandchildren, who continue to carry his dream forward on the family farm.

Bob and Audrey leading the Pincher Creek parade in 1986. It is fitting that the couple who met on a parade float have made parade participation a family tradition.
Photo courtesy of Audrey Westrop

Westrop Audrey 2015 parade

Audrey in the 2015 Pincher Creek parade.
Photo by Shannon Robison

Westrop 20160818 Bob Westrop Pincher Creek Parade 2

Bob as mobile announcer in the 2016 Pincher Creek parade.
Photo by Shannon Robison

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Westrop family riders in the 2017 Pincher Creek parade.
Photo by Jaiden Panchyshyn

Westrop 20181019 Awards of Excellence Farm Family Audrey Westrop

Audrey accepts the Farm Family Award from Lynn Lievers at the 2018 Pincher Creek Chamber of Commerce Awards of Excellence.
Photo by Shannon Robison

westrop 201206 Bob Westrop

There was never a dull moment when Bob had a microphone in his hand. He is shown here at Pincher Creek's Cowboy Poetry show in 2012.
Photo by Shannon Robison

Westrop 2011 Bob Westrop

Bob was a dedicated community volunteer who enjoyed cavorting with friends like Cecil Shenton, left, at Heritage Acres Farm Museum.
Photo by Brenda Shenton

Westrop 20140701 Bob Westrop

Bob was a patriotic man who regularly MCed the annual Canada Day ceremony at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. 
2014 photo by Shannon Robison

Westrop 20160516 Bob Westrop KBPV Auction

A book or a pie .. Bob could sell anything and was a master of encouraging community generosity at charity events such as this 2016 book launch at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.
Photo by Shannon Robison 

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Bob and Audrey at a 2018 Heritage Acres gala event held in his honour.
Photo by Shannon Robison

Westrop 20181012 Heritage Gala Westrop Family JK

Bob and Audrey surrounded by family and love at the same event.
Photo by Shannon Robison