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MEEKER I Denise Pearce knows her stuff.
She should. She learned from one of the best.
Pearce followed in the footsteps of her late father, Tom, and operates the family’s cattle ranch.
“He was a teacher,” she said.
Neighbor Sam Stranathan agreed.
“He’s the best neighbor I ever had,” Stranathan said. “He taught me everything I know. If I asked him a question, he could come up with an answer.”
Tom Pearce died in 2007.
“I came home from a chemo treatment and found him,” Denise Pearce said. “He’d come in. He’d got the gate shut. He’d got the tractor put away and he was right there laying by his pickup. I knew something was bad. The funny thing was those ol’ cows, they just made a line, like they were telling him good-bye.”
As she goes about the business of running the cow-calf and yearling operation north of the Mesa, Denise thinks of her father often.
“I wish he was here, because there are days I’d like to pick his brain,” Denise Pearce said. “I wish I had paid attention more.”
She must have been listening, because her father’s smarts — and work ethic — sure rubbed off.
Besides running the ranch after her father died, Denise has always worked other jobs to supplement her income.
“I work at the motel (White River Inn). That’s my only paying job,” Denise joked. “I quit tending bar. After 25 years of tending bar (16 of those years were at Sleepy Cat), I decided it’s a helluva lot easier to look at some cow’s behind rather than some horse’s behind across the bar.”
Some of the questions she’d get during her bar-tending days still make her laugh, like this one from some out-of-state hunter, “What elevation or how old are deer when they turn into elk?”
Playing right along, Pearce would answer, “‘Five years or 10,000 feet.’ Hell, I wasn’t going to bust their bubble.”
She also used to be a certified vet technician at The Vet Clinic, working with veterinarians like Bert White, Allan Jones, Don Hamilton and Gary Rupp.
Not only is Denise a hard worker, but she’s a battler. She beat breast cancer.
“I know it sounds weird, but that’s been good for me,” she said. “That’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but I wouldn’t trade it. They keep saying it’s going to get me, but s…, the devil’s afraid I’ll take over and God isn’t ready.”
Denise’s father started ranching in the White River Valley in 1961.
“My dad never had an hourly job,” she said.
Since her father died, Pearce has been taking care of her 85-year-old mother, Ruth.
“I’ve got my mom, and I’m damn lucky to have her,” Pearce said. “She’s doing pretty good. She keeps me on my toes.”
Pearce, who admits to being a bit on the stubborn side, said she inherited that trait from both sides of the family.
“I’ve got a really rock-hard head, I know that, and I always blamed it on dad. He had a really hard head,” Pearce said. “But he can’t hold a candle to that little woman. So I’ve got a double dose of hard head. But that’s good, because that keeps her (mom) going. We’re lucky to have each other.”
The family ranch has been home for Denise Pearce her entire life.
“This is the only place I know,” she said. “They’d better bury me here, and without a damn subdivision. Subdivision and land developer are some of the nastiest words I know, and I know all of the bad ones. I’m a professional cusser.”
Pearce is one of three children, but the only one who works on the ranch. A sister Chris lives in California, while her brother Hal lives in Meeker and works for the U.S. Forest Service.
“I laughed at dad, who used to say (Hal) went to work for the Forest Service and forgot everything I ever taught him,” Denise said. “Well, turns out he’s the smart one of the bunch. That’s for damn sure. He’s got that nice steady government job with paid days off.”
Pearce finished with calving season about two weeks ago. That period of time in the cycle of ranching can be both exhilarating and downright miserable.
“Calving season … no sleep, the weather is s…, Mother Nature hates cowboys,” Pearce said.
But she loves it. She can’t help it. Ranching is in her blood.
“I like cows,” she said. “There’s just hardly anything better than a cow.”