Stalwart rancher dead at age of 88
The patriarch of one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s last ranching families died last weekend at the age of 88, three months after seeing his cows through calving season.
Bob Perry had lived in the valley since 1941, and owned the Mt. Sopris Hereford Ranch just south of Carbondale for 65 years. Perry and his wife, Ruth “Ditty” Perry, raised seven children in Carbondale, as well as registered Hereford cattle and quarter horses.
“He ranched up until about three months ago – he waited until the cows finished calving,” said his daughter, Ruth Richardson of Salida. “He couldn’t carry a shovel, but he’d drive through the cows and keep track of how they were all doing, and call up to say which cow needs help.”
Ruth Perry said her husband loved being at home, and after this spring’s calving season decided he’d rather be there than in hospice or a hospital bed.
“He liked things just as they were,” she said.
Bob Perry was born in Denver and met his future wife when they were young. They married in 1940, and spent a year in Steamboat Springs before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley. Ruth Perry is a member of the Brown family, one of Aspen’s pioneer families, and sister to D.R.C. Brown, who ran the Aspen Skiing Co. for many years.
Bob had visited Aspen to ski during college in the 1930s, and paid around $5 for a week’s stay at the Hotel Jerome. The tab covered three meals per day in addition to the room. When they moved to the valley, Ruth said they spent a fair amount of time skiing in Aspen. Bob considered becoming a professional ski racer – he was an U.S. Olympic Ski Team alternate – before deciding to throw himself wholeheartedly into ranching.
Carbondale resident Lew Ron Thompson grew up with Bob and Ruth Perry’s children on an adjoining ranch where River Valley Ranch now stands.
“I’ve known Bob almost 64 years,” he said. “He’s a very honest, straightforward guy, and when he told someone he would do something, he’d do it. His word was his contract. He was very involved in the community as we grew up, from the ’40s and ’50s to now.”
Thompson said Perry had a quiet way of getting involved with the community. Before the local school district was consolidated, he said the schools had a difficult time paying teachers, and he remembers his father and Perry co-signing a note at the bank to ensure pay for the teachers.
Ruthie Richardson said her dad put all seven of his children on horseback when they were 3 or 4 years old, and encouraged them to compete in rodeos. Ruthie and her younger sister Nancy competed in barrel racing, and their dad would practice calf roping with the girls.
“Ranching was a very big part of him,” Richardson said. “When you’re a rancher, you’re tied to the land, so he’d occasionally go on fishing expeditions, or to Steamboat on a weekend camp trip.”
But as skiing became big business upvalley and land prices rose, the ranching climate changed drastically around the Roaring Fork Valley. Sixty years ago there were 93,135 total acres of agricultural land in the valley; by 2004, that figure dropped to 44,450 acres of officially classified agricultural land, including working operations, horse properties and “hobby ranches.”
In an interview last year, Bob said small farms used to fill the valley, more so than large cattle ranches.
“Every farm was more or less an independent unit,” he said. “Where there is one ranch today, there were probably five farms then. The numbers (of farms and ranches) are practically zilch compared to 50 years ago.”
Perry added to his land holdings over the years, buying land for as low as $20 per acre, and raising as many as 400 cattle per year. He said the disappearance of farms and ranches has been a steady, gradual loss.
Perry sold a portion of his property to the Hines development company when River Valley Ranch was being developed. The neighboring Thompson Ranch was also sold for the project.
“I think he realized that things were changing,” Lew Ron Thompson said. “Things always change, and he had a good attitude toward that. He enjoyed the open space, and the way (River Valley Ranch) was laid out. He certainly got upset and mad about some things, but he moved forward and accepted those things.”
Richardson said her dad rediscovered his faith later in life, reading the Bible out loud and praying every day, while avoiding being “preachy” about his faith. Her father also had a good sense of humor and loved a good party, she said.
“There aren’t enough good words to describe him,” said Paul Nieslanik, a fellow rancher in the valley who used to run cattle and raise corn together with Perry. “Him and Ditty were the marquee people of the valley, and I’m terribly sorry to see him go.”
Carbondale resident Pat Fender said she and her husband, Bill, were also ranchers in the town when all of the ranchers knew one another, and got to know the Perry family well.
“This is an enormous personal loss for us, but it’s also a loss to the whole valley when you lose someone who’s been a help to many people,” said Fender. The Fenders recently sold their ranch in Emma.
“He was a very thoughtful and kindhearted person, and not one to rush into judging people,” she said. “I don’t know any class of people who didn’t like Bob.”