By JESSIE HORTON
BRAD KEITH contributing
Wednesday, December 10, the world, the state of Texas and Erath County lost a legend — G. K. Lewallen, 95 of Stephenville, passed away.
Some of Lewallen’s many accomplishments included being a member of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, a founding director of the Erath County Livestock Association and winning the World Champion Rodeo of 1945 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He won a hand-tooled leather saddle for his bull riding success at the Garden; and that saddle went on to become the locally infamous stolen saddle.
The story goes – In February 2010, a thief broke into Lewallen’s home and took the trophy saddle, the medal given to him during his Rodeo Hall of Fame induction, buckles he’d won and more. He and the family considered all lost until a Stephenville saddle maker found the saddle at a pawn shop in Garland and contacted investigators.
When the saddle was returned to Lewallen, even though none of the buckles or the jewelry or even his medal were found, he didn’t seem to mind. He reportedly easily swung his leg over the saddle as it sat on the stand in the middle of his living room during an ensuing interview for WFAA-TV. Smiling, he kicked his legs in the stirrups.
“I’m just real proud I won it,” he said. “It’s a good saddle. I’ve had it for 65 years.”
And from what those closest to Lewallen tell, that was just the kind of man he was — proud of his accomplishments, humble and always thankful in the face of greatness. But Lewallen always said his family was his greatest accomplishment, and it’s clear, listening to his children talk about him, they’re just as proud of him.
“My daddy was even more than what he accomplished — his integrity and influence and the example he set for his family to follow,” Lewallen’s daughter, Cindra Elms, said. “I’m very proud of my daddy’s accomplishments, but I am even more proud of the attributes that made him the man he was.”
Lewallen was married to Ethel Lewallen for more than 40 years, raising their children on their ranch in Erath County. After she passed away, he married Nita Boyd Brooks-Lewallen in 1990. They lived happily for many years, splitting their time between their property here and the ranch they own in Sweetwater.
G.K. was always thinking ahead and planning for his future. So, while performing at Madison Square Garden, Lewallen started selling western wear out of a trailer to the city people coming to attend the rodeo. As the business grew, he opened a shop in Stephenville that his son-in-law, six-time NFR qualifier Chick Elms, and his wife, Cindra, now operate.
As word broke around town of G.K.’s passing, friends and family as well as complete strangers mourned the loss.
“He was loved by all,” Barbara Hampton said. “He was a great cowboy.”
Another man, tears in his eyes, just shook his head. “He was a legend, a Stephenville icon and I’ll miss him more than I can say.”
The whole community will miss G.K., but none more than his family. Cindra said there was no one like her father.
“Gentleman – that’s the word that best describes my dad,” she whispered Thursday. “He supported us no matter what we did and he always pushed us when we need it. He always knew exactly what to say and when to say it.
“We all love him so much and will miss him so,” Elms concluded. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like him. And that’s rare to say, but means so much.”
Visitation will be held at Stephenville Funeral Home from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 15. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at the First United Methodist Church in Stephenville under the direction of Stephenville Funeral Home.