Bonnie Huffstetler Awarded 2024 Betty Kunesh Legacy Award

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Betty Kunesh was not only the matriarch of her family, but also the true inspiration behind Art of the Cowgirl. As the grandmother of Tammy Pate, Betty instilled a love of horses, art, and the Western way of life in Tammy from a young age.

Betty grew up on horseback. She helped her father break horses to ride and drive from a young age, and learned the duties of keeping the house and caring for her family. Her attitude as a horsewoman was matched by her appreciation of the world around her, and her ability to convey that in art. She became a talented artist, her main subjects being the animals and natural world of her beloved prairie.

In her 100 years, Betty influenced the lives of so many, from teaching all of her girls to cook, sew, paint, and appreciate good horses, to doing the same for neighbors and friends, to spend countless days cooking for the community, and being a confidant to the ones she holds close to her heart. In honor of Grandma Betty Art of the Cowgirl created the Betty Kunesh Legacy Award .

This award is to be given to a woman who has been nominated by someone they have influenced. This award is to honor those special women who are not always in the limelight; the women who work hard their whole lives, leading by example, embracing fellowship and community. The past recipients include Norma Hapgood (2022) and Judy Elam (2023).

We would like to congratulate the 2024 Recipient of this award, Bonnie Huffstetler.

Bonnie is a lifelong cowgirl. Born in 1928 to James and Louise Parker, Bonnie was the daughter of a farmer and sharecropper who came to Texas from Tennessee in the early 1900s. A small community called Ridgeway, in rural northeast Texas, was home to little Bonnie and her family. Her first experience with horses was riding the plow horses while her daddy worked in the fields. Later she began riding the plow horses bareback when her dad’s plowing was finished. She spent her childhood exploring the countryside, while riding bareback, which she loved .

Bonnie is a true pioneer woman and kindles the Cowgirl Spirit wherever she goes. At age 95, Betty should be recognized and honored for her lifetime of hard work and contribution to the Western lifestyle. From an early age and throughout her life, she has been well acquainted with livestock , feeding, and caring for stock, pastures, and land.

As a young adult, Bonnie married Jack Huffstetler and moved to a neighboring town in Hopkins County, Sulphur Springs. Their family grew as they raise two daughters and one son. In the early 1970s, when the dairy business was at its height in northeast Texas, the couple began operating a small business of raising and selling dairy calves as replacement heifers.

Upon being widowed in 1987, knowing she needed to provide for herself going forward, Bonnie, at age 58, began to grow the cattle operation on her own. She spent hours in the offices of local veterinarians, asking questions and gaining knowledge about how to recognize an illness and the best treatments. She built relationships with local ranchers.

One of the highlights of her cowgirl days was the summer she spent working on a ranch with 14 cross-fenced pastures. She loved every minute of bringing in the cattle on horseback, through the chutes, and into the corral for working.

For over 25 years by herself, Betty raised, sold, and traded cattle on her own property. On the edge of her circle drive, she would meet buyers under the eave of a small barn, where they would pick out calves and negotiate prices.

Bonnie also rose to the occasion in the sale barn. However, her first attempt at backing her gooseneck trailer up to the loading chute was a disaster. The onlookers (locals of the opposite sex) gave her a tough time. She told herself, and them, “This won’t happen again.” On the next trip, she backed up perfectly! Enough said. When her cattle entered the sale barn ring, the auctioneer often announced, “These are Bonnie’s cattle.” Bonnie was known for raising the best cattle, and had a reputation for holding her own. The price immediately went up!

Serving as a mentor, Bonnie made sure her children worked alongside her learning everything they could about cattle, horses, and growing food for the family. Leading by example, showing a strong work ethic and the fun of fellowship. She not only passed on her character and her love and knowledge of cattle and farming to her three children, but to her seven grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. Every single member of her family was present and attended her 95th birthday party held in her honor.

For Bonnie’s 95th birthday, she had a couple of requests. She wanted to have a party and have every grandchild and great grandchild dance with her. That would be 22 dances – and she danced every one! Her second request, at 95, was to ride a horse. Now, that sounds like a cowgirl.

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