Morrill, Neb., cowgirl versatile, knows how to work
MORRILL, Neb. — Taylor Whetham always knows what will be in her stocking on Christmas morning.
It’ll be leather work gloves, a gift from her dad, to be used for fixing fence in the summer on their ranch.
It’s a sign of the hard work the Morrill, Neb., cowgirl is known for.
Whetham, a graduate of Morrill High School last month, spends her summers with her brothers on the fence fixing rig. Each morning, they are at work by 7 a.m. on the family ranch north of Morrill, fixing fence five days a week, unless they can talk dad into a day at the lake, which is rare.
Hard work is no stranger to Whetham.
The 17-year-old, a member of the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association, worked hard in high school, graduating as salutatorian of her high school class and as a recipient of an R-HOP (Rural Health Opportunities Program) scholarship, which pays for her tuition at Chadron (Neb.) State College, and guarantees her a spot at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She’ll study to be a dental hygienist this fall.
In high school, she was involved in FBLA, FFA, FCA, was president of the National Honor Society, leading actress in the school’s one-act play, and played basketball for two years.
School wasn’t always a bed of roses for Whetham. Growing up as one of the few ranch kids in the Morrill area, her classmates didn’t always understand her. She played basketball her freshman and sophomore years, but quit after that to be able to spend more time on rodeo. “I got ridiculed when I stopped playing basketball,” she said. Classmates didn’t always understand the work schedule for a ranch, either. Taylor and her younger brothers Tanner and Teige were occasionally late for school due to having to pull a calf, or took off a day for cattle work. But that didn’t deter Taylor. In her salutatorian speech, she made sure to point out that “it’s OK to pursue things different from other people.”
She’ll study to be a dental hygienist this fall, first at Chadron and then at the UNMC’s satellite location in Gering. She has realized that nice teeth make for confident people. “I want to go into a job that gives people the confidence to smile. Confidence comes from a smile, and you feel better about yourself. It’d be great to give people” that boost, she said.
Taylor’s dad Shon got his kids started with poetry on cattle drives when they were young and bored with riding. He had Taylor memorize a poem with several stanzas, and he’d show off his only daughter at rodeos, brandings, parties, and weddings as she recited the poem for others. Since then, she’s added several more to her repertoire. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve recited that (first) poem,” she said.
Taylor’s talents run beyond academics, poetry and rodeo. As part of her National Honor Society service project, she took pictures and wrote some articles for the local newspaper, The Voice. “I took a lot of pictures,” she said, “at every football game, volleyball game, and community event that would happen with school. It was fun to see your name in the newspaper.”
When she gets to college this fall, she knows she’ll have to work. But she’s no stranger to it, and fencing taught her that. “Dad likes us to get a pasture done in a day. It gets hot and lonely and you get thirsty.” Her summer ranch job has made her super-aware of fences. “We’ll be driving down the highway and I’ll see a staple that’s out,” she joked. And she’s sick of the odor of creosote. “I can’t stand the smell of creosote anymore. It reminds me of those hot, miserable days.”
Her former ag teacher, Rebecca Cox, isn’t surprised at her success. “Taylor is probably one of the most hard-working kids I’ve ever been around, and her whole family is like that. She’s amazing. I wish more kids worked like she does.” Taylor is also aware of others around her. “She just had a bright personality, and people were drawn to her. She’s a bright light, wherever she goes.”
In high school rodeo, Taylor competes in the breakaway and team roping, and qualified for the high school state finals rodeo last year, finishing in fifth place at state in the team roping. She and her younger brother Tanner have secured a spot in this year’s state finals, which will be held in Hastings June 15-17. Performances begin at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on June 15-16 with the finals at 1 p.m. on June 17. For more information, visit AdamsCountyFairgrounds.com or hsrodeo-nebraska.com, or call (402) 462-3247.
— Nicolaus is a freelance writer from Blue Hill, Neb., and a Great Plains girl at heart. She can be reached at Nicolaus@gtmc.net.