Back When They Bucked with Deb Copenhaver
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Deb Copenhaver grew up in a ranch family in Wilbur, Wash. “I worked for a lot of different ranches riding colts,” said the 89-year-old World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider. Born January 21, 1925, Deb is considered one of the greatest bronc riders to come out of the Pacific Northwest He lived through the Depression and at 17, enlisted in the Navy during World War II. “I was in the construction battalion of the Navy, the Seabees. I had always liked construction work as a kid, so that was my reason for joining the Seabees. It was a branch of the Navy put together during WWII – the Seabees kid the Marines that they came in on the road the Seabees built.” Deb spent two years in North Africa running a bull dozer for $70 a month.
“When I got out, I made up my mind I was going to rodeo and I started going to a few rodeos close to home.” The first year, 1946, he went to Calgary and won day money in the bull riding. “I was riding broncs and barebacks, but I got a little sore and kept to bronc riding. I had a good beginning -God gave me the ability to win right off the bat. I was fortunate to win Calgary three times, New York (Madison Square Garden) twice; Denver, Ft. Worth, Houston, Phoenix, Pendleton, Cheyenne, and Salinas.”
In the 1950s, Deb teamed up with Paul Templeton, and Bill Linderman and went airborne in Paul’s 180 Cessna. “We were all over the country for rodeo—Calgary, Elko, Omaha, Kalispell, Butte. We did them all.” Dedication paid off and Deb came in second in the world in 1951, ’53, and ‘54 to his good friend, South Dakota roughstock rider, Casey Tibbs. He won it the next two years.
Deb was elected to the RCA Board of Directors in 1958. “While on that Board I had a vote in having the first National Finals Rodeo. It was held in Dallas, Texas, in 1959.”
He took his earnings from rodeo and invested in land near Creston, Wash., where he bred and raised quality quarter horses and operated Deb’s Cafe in town. “This little restaurant had belonged to my dad and was in the town that I was born in,” said Deb, who had made the last ride of his career in Pendleton in 1974 and was looking for a source of income for his family. “At that time it was a small restaurant and gas station. We bought a big building, 40 x 80, and moved it across the road and tied it into the existing building and had enough floor space for nice consequences.” The decision paid off; Deb and Cheryl built the restaurant into the heyday of Deb’s Cafe, decorated in true western style, and his ‘Steak Nights” were a hit with the town’s people as well as the country bands that he’d bring in to play on Saturday nights. Hank Thompson, Bonnie Guitar, and Earnest Tubb, and other country music greats all played at “Deb’s”.
Cheryl was not as excited about the purchase of the restaurant. “It was open 7 days a week from 5 am until the last dog went home. We did that for 16 years and raised three kids in the midst of it.” Deb’s daughter Debra is a former Miss Rodeo Washington and a respected bronze sculptor (see Art of Rodeo, page 42). His son Jeff was ’75 World Champion Calf Roper and founding pastor of the store of the New Frontier Cowboy Church in Texas (see Christian Corner, page 7). Deb is proud of his boys Matt and Guy, who are in the construction business, and his daughter Kelly, who is a Florida businesswoman and mom to three.
It was Jeff that led Deb and Cheryl to the Lord in 1979. It wasn’t long after that they sold the restaurant. “If we are going to serve God, we are not going to serve booze,” Deb had said. “And that was the end of the restaurant. In two months time we had it sold, so our lives went on – we run cattle and quarter horses. If you are doing something that is not in God’s good will, if you pray about it, He will take you out of it.” After that, Deb and Cheryl sold the restaurant and settled into raising quarter horses and spreading the Gospel. “The most important thing that I could add is our Love for God – that’s more important now than anything you might write about us.”
Today, Deb and Cheryl Copenhaver keep busy with their quarter horses, and Deb spends time in the log chapel he built down the road from his house. Deb says proudly. “I want to be remembered for serving
Story also available in the December 2014 issue.