Critique Group Queen: Sharing Great Stories

Posted: January 14, 2012 in Uncategorized
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One of the benefits of being in a critique group is you get to hear some cool stories.

Such is the case in my experience with Doneva Shepard. She was in one of my earlier critique groups and she used to spin yarns that were hardly believable. But in her case they were true.

Doneva was 16 when she sewed this cowgirl outfit. It is the one she wore when she was crowned Queen of the 1952 Molalla Buckaroo Rodeo.

She is one of those people things seem to always happen to. It started when she was young, during the VanPort flood. She was 11-years-old when it hit in 1948. Her family owned a farm along the Columbia River, and her father left her alone to round up all of the family’s farm animals and get them to higher ground as the Columbia River overflowed onto her property. Her dad left her in charge while he went to help his friends. She did so all by herself.

Now it should be noted she was a cowgirl. Four years after the VanPort flood she was named Queen of the 1952 Buckaroo Rodeo in Molalla. This modest title rocketed her to national fame.

She and some other Rodeo queens around the nation were invited to Madison Square Garden to do a series of rodeo shows. She was on television, in newspapers and met many famous people. I’ll let her tell it in her own words:

I was lucky enough to have travelled with the Rodeo as a Rodeo Queen in the 1950's...representing Oregon. I was Queen of the Molalla Buckeroo, 1952, then travelled with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and the Cicsco Kid and Pancho that year, representing rodeo as (don't laugh) "Rose of the Rodeo" (pre-Miss Rodeo America). I appeared at the Madison Square Garden rodeo (the old one) and Boston Garden pro rodeo. Hy Peskin, the famous sports photographer did a news story on me for the insert in the Sunday Paper, it was called "This Week" back then, now it's called "Parade". The title of the story was "Queen of the Oregon Trail" because I lived right on the Oregon Trail in Troutdale, OR.

"Happy Trails to you" brings tears to my eyes...Dale Evans wrote that song and we sang it in the arena of the old Madison Square Garden arena, with the Sons of the Pioneer, every performance of the rodeo in 1952. The last night of the rodeo as they dimmed the lights and the light shone on the big mirrored ball...sending sparkle-dust everywhere...I realized it would be that last time in this lifetime I would be together with these wonderful people and I could hardly sing..tears were rolling down my cheeks. Roy and Dale were everything they portrayed, the finest inspirational, wise, loving people I ever knew! I was with them the year their baby, Robin died. Dale was writing her book "Angels Unaware." I was 16 yrs old at the time.

Doneva told about being with Dale Evans during the evenings at home as she wept over her child’s death, and they prayed. I felt privileged to hear all of her tales, and she has scores of them that left me shaking my head. For example.

She had a producer from Hollywood trying to sign her to act in a movie. “We have someone in mind, but she can’t play a piano,” she told Doneva. “You would be great in this movie and you can play the piano.”

Doneva was young and beautiful, but she had suffered fame in New York City for a month and felt the crush of adoring fans when she traveled with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Cisco and Pancho, and she didn’t want to live that kind of life. The Hollywood movie producer chased after Doneva for months, dangling an attractive movie contract. Doneva remained steadfast: she did not want to be famous. She had had her time in the spotlight.

The producer finally relented and signed the other person to the contract, even though she couldn’t play the piano.  Grace Kelly became famous beyond belief and married the Prince of Monico.

We all cajoled Doneva. She must get her memoir finished. These stories needed to be shared.

I went to visit her in the hospital this week. She has been fighting cancer for the past year and a half. The disease finally got the upper hand against this 75-year-old woman who always dealt with the world on her terms.

She was upbeat as always and has come to terms with the inevitable. Although seeing her, I don’t think she will go quickly or quietly.

I just wish her story were finished so the rest of the world could laugh and shake their heads at her tall but true tales. I count myself lucky to have heard them, as do the other members of my former critique group.

We all have stories to tell. In the back of my mind, I hope I get mine told in my lifetime. This urgency drives me to work harder, but knowing I did my best,  I will be happy with the result no matter what it is.

In the meantime, I continue to write and enjoy the stories I hear in my critique group.

And I am grateful for having friends like Doneva.

Doneva had hundreds of pictures taken of her during her trip to New York as a Rodeo Queen. Here is one taken for an ad. A Life magazine photographer became enamored with her and took pictures of her in Oregon and New York for the magazine and other publications. 
  1. kelly says:

    A nice tribute to a grand lady

  2. Cindy Hiday says:

    So many times I’ve been distressed over the wonderful stories people have to tell that don’t get written. At least Doneva shared some of her life with you and others, that her stories will live on. Thank you, Don, for a heartfelt, and heartwarming, post.

  3. Helen Wand says:

    I was fortunate to be a member of Don and Doneva’s writing group and can attest to Doneva’s wonderful and sometimes tragic stories. Thank you Don for such a beautifully written tribute. Doneva is an inspiration to many of us and I’m so glad you used your many talents to tell some of her stories.

  4. Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing, Helen. I was ten in 1952 and remember hearing about Robin Rogers, and later reading Angel Unaware.

  5. Barb says:

    What a wonderful mentor, and how blessed you are to get to sit with a great story teller and just soak it in. Thanks for sharing the tribute.

  6. Mindy says:

    Thank you for this. Doneva is absolutely adored …. As it should be….

  7. Laurie Cowan says:

    Thanks for the memories Don, I am lucky enough to have heard these stories first hand in my childhood as my mother Richie and Doneva were best friends. Truly a beautiful Lady.

    • Glenda Morgansen Franich says:

      Hello, Don, and all of you who know and admire Doneva. I met this remarkable woman when I was 17 years young and just getting to know the world of “rodeo royalty.” Doneva had a western appearal shop in Gresham and invited the Molalla Buckeroo Court to her shop. The following year the invitation was again extended and I visited Doneva at her shop, this time coming away with a wonderful working cowgirl wardrobe as Buckeroo Queen. Doneva showed grace, knowledge and a genuine caring for those around her. She was, and continues to be, a spirited woman and inspiration to all who know her. I am humbled by her accomplishments in life, especially the encouragement she gives to others. Glenda

  8. alice grassl says:

    so proud to call this woman a friend and “family” member. I love you Doneva!

  9. says:

    Wow, such a wonderful thing to stumble upon… This has brought tears to my eyes and I am excited to go see my mother and tell her what i found.
    My mom is in a nursing home now on hospice. I am truly so proud of her and how strong she is.
    Thank you for all the nice words. Tami

  10. valarie vine says:

    Doneva is my “Harbaugh” cousin and has shared with me treasured stories and information about our shared ancestry for almost 15 years. We “met” on the internet although we have never been face to face. I cherish her for her spunk, her humor, her stories, her forthrightness, and most of all her heart. She has struggled with many things in her life, but always conveys optimism, and fascination with the world around her. For Mr. Weston, next time you see her, give her a hug from me. (Valarie Vine)

  11. Kayla kuretich says:

    This was wonderful to read. I thought you should know she passed away this Friday, Feb 24th. For those who wish to give their respects, a service will be held at Smith Memorial Church in Fairview on Friday, march 2nd at 11:00 am.

  12. Tami Shannon says:

    Don. I have her writings, her book, its alittle here and alittle there, i need help putting it together and if you want to get a hold of me so we can share her stories, i would be grateful..
    and Thanks to everyone for ALL the kind words about my mother, i miss her sooooo bad. She was truly an amazing friend, mother, writer, cowgirl ,truckdriver, tole painter, model, and grandmother. Tami Shannon

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