Young love. Hard work. Sweet success. And rodeo.
This is the love story of Leroy and Velma Tucker, life-long ranchers. They have been married 69 years and held ranches in five states, and the adventure all started, and now ends up, on a peaceful 30 acres near Pinto Creek.
“I remember every raindrop that fell since we moved here,” says Leroy Tucker, 90, marveling at how they ended up with “the best ranch in the state,” Bar 11.
He was born in 1928 on Greenback Mountain. He can still see its peak from his kitchen window. The family ranch was small and tough, and the move closer to town was a good one for Leroy, then 16. It opened him up to rodeo, and through rodeo, to Velma.
“Oh yes, so much, so much better,” Leroy laughs as he remembers the time.
He first noticed Velma, a young towhead, walking the long mile and a half to school near Roosevelt Lake. Driving by, running cattle, he stopped to offer a ride in his truck. Mother had always told her not to ride with strangers, so she declined.
He wasn’t a complete stranger. Their families were ranching friends. But they didn’t really get acquainted until the Snowflake rodeo in 1948.
Leroy claims Velma was stood up by her steady, but Velma laughs and says she was there with her mother, who had a racehorse in competition.
“You know, it seemed we got more rain then,” she recalls. “It rained all day long.”
“We got in my car out of the weather, so to speak,” Leroy says, “and just one little thing led to another and uh…”
Velma went to the dance with Leroy that night. They didn’t dance much.
“She was quite a companion,” Leroy recalls, “and … extra friendly.”
And what about him?
“I was a big, tall, good-looking cowboy,” Leroy says.
“Yeah, he was,” Velma agrees. “I was thrilled to death that he paid attention to me. You know, for a long time, I never thought I was good enough for him.”
Seven decades of togetherness dispels any notion of that.
Leroy extols Velma’s attributes. “She is very, very intelligent. She has such a good sense of humor … and she’s a beautiful person.”
“Thank you,” Velma says quietly.
Leroy claims not to compliment her much, but Velma knows how he feels.
“It’s pretty easy to tell,” says Velma. “We could just look at each other and know.”
“Yup,” says Leroy.
Velma attended Globe High School, and during the week she stayed with her cousin in Icehouse Canyon. On Fridays, Leroy would come by, take her to a picture show, then drive her home, on dirt roads, to Roosevelt.
One evening, Leroy showed up to find that Velma had a date with someone else.
“I was going steady,” he begins the story.
“Were we?” questions Velma with a smile.
She drove off with her date, and Leroy was left behind. From the house radio, they both heard the strands of the Tennessee Waltz.
Now, whenever they hear that song, they get up and dance.
“In a sense it kind of got us together,” Velma reflects. “I realized right away that who I was with (that night) was not who I needed to be with.”
“It brings back memories, but overall, the memories was good.” Leroy breaks into song, “I was waltzing, with my darling…”
In May 1949, Velma Lucille Stewart completed her sophomore year of high school, turned 16, and married Leroy Tucker.
“A young bride,” Velma laughs.
Her mother gave consent. An old aunt advised against it. She thought Leroy had too little money.
Velma was lovely in a three-quarter-length dress and white hat. She sported a big diamond ring and a wedding band. The set cost $30.
Leroy’s family welcomed Velma.
“She was an easy keeper,” he says.
As newlyweds, they lived in the Honeymoon Shack, an outside storeroom on his parents’ ranch.
“We didn’t have a stove or anything,” Leroy says. “It was quite primitive.”
For a young bride, living close to the in-laws had its challenges.
“His mother had her way of doing things, and I wasn’t really welcome to do these things,” Velma explains. Instead of household chores, Velma ranched with the men. That wasn’t easy, either.
“When riding, we worked cattle,” Velma recalls. “Oh and it really bugged me. If I did something wrong, he would start whistling.”
Leroy and Velma started building the house they live in today. In 1951, they moved in. By the summer of 1954, they had three children.
Velma had trepidation about taking on household duties.
“I was scared to cook for him,” she remembers. “I didn’t ever think I could ever fix things right for him.”
Velma took on the culinary tasks, and in 1979 she was featured in The Phoenix Gazette for her roundup cooking: Frito pie, son-of-a-gun stew, rocky mountain oysters, and chile relleno pie.
It was the food that would fuel their adventures.
In 1961, they moved to northern California, lured to a ranch with white picket fences and sprinklers on green grass. When they arrived at Easter, the grass was covered with snow.
In the seventies, anxious to be back in Arizona, they bought 5-Slash, a big ranch 20 miles east on highway 60, southwest of the Salt River.
It was a lot of hard work, Velma remembers. The evergreens made it difficult; the bluffs made it dangerous. Interest rates were at 17%.
Aside from a little rodeoing, and some fun country dances, Leroy says, “Everything was just work, work, work.”
Velma agrees. She’s kept a daybook of their activities since year one.
“Just reading it would tire you out,” Leroy says.
Through a series of sales of trades, the Tuckers reacquired the Bar 11.
“We did a good job. Had good weather,” he says. “One little thing happens, and that’s your life.”
For the young Leroy, money was very scarce, and he got involved in rodeo to earn some extra cash. He became a champion roper, winning $300 for team roping in Show Low in 1947. He retired a couple of years ago at age 88.
Rodeo remains a primary source of enjoyment and community for the Tuckers.
“It’s not so much what you made money-wise, it’s the people you got acquainted with,” Leroy says, noting that it’s where he and Velma got acquainted. “It’s so true, it opens up such a vast area that once you know all those people, they never forget you, and vice versa. Otherwise, you’re, you know, all locked up in one little ranch or something.”
“They’re just sincere people,” Velma adds. “You compete against each other, but if anyone needed something like a horse or a rope, you lend it.”
The Tuckers have owned ranches in Arizona, California, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas, where they still have a ranch, with their son, Roy Dale.
“We have a little corporation,” Leroy explains. “He owns all the cattle and takes care of it. He takes care of us, and we take care of him.”
Velma remarks how smart Leroy is, “not only about ranching, but so many things. He’s so good with numbers.”
“Well, one thing about ranching, boy, common sense, you use it,” Leroy says. “You learn something new every day.”
Leroy acknowledges Velma’s efforts. During their ranching life, Velma helped form the Gila County Cowbelles and the junior rodeo. She was appointed by three governors to the board of the Arizona Beef Council, and served many other positions.
“She was motivated and did such a hell of a job,” says Leroy proudly. “I was chairman of the first mule races they had in Globe, for what’s it’s worth.”
“Those were such fun races,” Velma recalls.
It was Velma’s work that took them traveling to annual conventions. Once in Chicago, just back from a walk about the city, Leroy entered the auditorium, amazed to see his wife at the podium, addressing a huge audience.
“Brains and brawn, is pretty much what it amounted to,” Leroy says of their partnership. Thinking back on their biggest challenges, he adds, “You can’t pay off a mortgage without a lot of support from your spouse.”
“Well, that’s true in all of life,” Velma adds. “We’ve always said, you have to work together.”
“I have a temper, and Velma holds her cool,” Leroy admits. “That makes a lot of difference.”
“He also has a sense of humor,” Velma says, “and you know, most of the time we’re pretty good together. Pretty good.”
To what do they credit the longevity of their love?
“Living out on a ranch is quite a bit lonelier than living in town,” Leroy says, “so I think it’s a little easier to get close to each other.”
“Yeah, it is,” Velma agrees.
The Tuckers remain close to their family. Their daughter, Lee Ann, lives down the road, and their daughter Tenna lives in Tucson. In addition to their three children, they have five grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Two of them live in Globe.
“Your children see you, the way you live and your lifestyle, and they pick it up and appreciate,” ponders Leroy. “But the grandkids, they don’t pay much attention to old people.”
“No they don’t,” Velma agrees.
As for dreams for the future, their focus is close to home.
“But if he’s able,” Velma says, “maybe next year for our 70th, we’ll take a cruise on up through New York.”
“Basically, we’ve been real healthy,” Leroy says. “We’ve worked through the aches and pains. That has made us pretty healthy.”
At 90, Leroy is facing a daunting challenge. He has stage four prostate cancer that has metastasized into his bones. Recommended treatment costs $10,000 per month and is not covered by his insurance. Subsidy requests have been denied. Leroy is taking another treatment. The message he wants to pass on:
“Tell any of your relations or your friends over 65, they need a blood test every year.”
THEIR LATEST PROJECT
With many of his ranching responsibilities behind him, Leroy’s focus has shifted to water, the lifeblood of ranching life. He has concerns about rising temperatures and disappearing grass, and studies the flow of water through rock.
“The old-timers, they thought you got water along the creek, and that’s true for about 20 yards out,” Leroy explains. “Most of the good water is up here on the edge of the mountain.”
Leroy’s latest project is finding a new well for the A-Cross ranch. Once again, Velma is his workmate.
“He had me witching,” Velma says, referring to the use of metal rods to detect underground water. “It was hot. And I’m climbing under this fence thinking, ‘What in the hell am I doing?’”
“Velma helped me,” Leroy says with enthusiasm. “We got four or five faults running into one.”
“It’s going to be damn sure exciting,” says Leroy, and notes, “You can witch a dry fault, but if there’s water in the country, it’ll be in the fault.”
On October 5, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Leroy will present his expertise at the Bullion Plaza Cultural Center and Museum in Miami, as part of a First Friday program on dowsing.
“I don’t make much money,” Leroy says, in summary of his work in ranching and witching.
On his 90th birthday, though, Leroy surprised Velma with the greatest of gifts: a renewal of their wedding vows.
“After 69 years,” Velma says. “That was something. I couldn’t believe it.”
Their great granddaughter carried the bouquet; a great grandson, a new wedding band.
To replace the rings she’d been taking off.
“I was afraid of wearing them out,” she explains.
“Oh, the work she has done,” Leroy murmurs with deep respect.