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Lehi’s original cowboy left legacy of rodeo greatness

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In 2007, Lehi lost a lifelong resident and cowboy extraordinaire. Gary Lamont Cooper, also called “High Noon” or “Coop,” was a legend in Utah rodeo competitions for over 50 years. Gary was born in Lehi in 1930 and was raised during the difficult days of the Depression. Early in life, he learned the value of hard work. He served in the army in the late 40s and was the Fort Ord middle-weight boxing champion. He worked at Geneva Steel for 37 years, following in the footsteps of his mother, Josephine Cooper. “Jo,” as she was called, worked in the steel mill while raising four boys, Eugene, J.B., Gary and Richard. Gary’s father, Howard Quayle Cooper, was killed in World War II and left Jo as a single parent, raising three boys.

Gary is best known for his contributions to the world of rodeo. He was a bareback horse-riding champion in the Rocky Mountain Rodeo Association (RMRA) during its heyday in the 60s and 70s. He was the director of the organization for five years. He was also an RMRA bull-riding champion in 1956. He served as the Utah State High School Rodeo Director for six years and the rodeo coach for UVSC (UVU) in Orem, Utah. He was always eager to pass on his expertise to anyone participating in rodeo activities.

Gary was also a rodeo clown and bullfighter. He judged the rough stock events at many rodeos around the state and was known for his competitive nature and toughness in and out of the arena. In 2006, he was honored by the Ogden Pioneer Heritage Foundation and the Ogden Pioneer Days Committee at the “Day of the Cowboy.” It is the only award of its kind given in Utah. Those who received it have made outstanding contributions to the Western heritage lifestyle and the preservation of Utah’s Western and cowboy culture.

Gary’s youngest daughter, Desiree, was chosen Miss Rodeo Lehi and Miss Rodeo Utah. She continued her devotion to the world of rodeo as Director of the Miss Rodeo Utah Executive Board and a member of the Miss Rodeo American Foundation Board. She will be inducted into the Miss Rodeo America Hall of Fame this December. His granddaughter Cammie was Lehi’s rodeo queen and an attendant to Miss Rodeo Utah twice. Gary’s granddaughter, Loni Johnston Ekins, was the 1995 National High School Rodeo Queen. His grandson Cody is a professional team roper and horse trainer. Gary and Desiree are the only father and daughter to be in the Utah Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Gary A. Cooper, Gary’s son, said, “Dad built his own rodeo arena near our home, so he could help anyone who wanted to learn any skills needed to be a rodeo contestant. For years, Dad could be found in the arena helping young people who loved rodeo and wanted to be successful in the sport.

Gary’s devoted wife, Bonnie, always supported him in all his adventures. She was his nurse when the injuries were serious. He wasn’t inclined to seek medical help and felt he and Bonnie could patch up any wound, and there were many.

Gary was a one-of-a-kind individual. He loved his family and enjoyed watching them compete in rodeo or sports. He left a legacy of grit and determination that has continued in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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