Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame to induct 2015 class |

Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame to induct 2015 class

Ruth Nicolaus | for Tri-State Livestock News
Keith Zimmerman heading for Jack Bilby in 1976 at the Hyannis, Neb. Old Timers Rodeo.
Photo by John S. Bilby. |

2015 Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame Inductees

Glen Dee (Red) Barner, Stapleton

Jim Bixby, Ellsworth

Dennis Bonsall, Burwell

Sterling Bowers, Burwell

Bernard C. Burgess, Alliance

Ira “Sid” Sidney Cotton, Lewellen

Art Daly, Tryon

Melvin Dikeman, Hershey

Eleanor Dikeman, Hershey

Wayne Gorsuch, Alliance

Harry Walker Haythorn, Maxwell

Jack Ostergard, Gothenburg

Larry Wayne Painter, Springview

Walter L. Rhoades, Brewster

Larry Trenary, Arthur

Tom White, Ashby

Keith Zimmerman, Harrison


The Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame Banquet and Social Hour in honor of the 2015 class

When: Saturday, June 13, 4 p.m.

Where: Bull Market, downtown Valentine, Neb.

Cost: $25

Purchase tickets from Vern Oatman, chairman of the board, at (308) 870-0146 or Rod Palmer, executive secretary, at (402) 387-2212. Seating is limited.

The 2015 class of inductees into the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame will be honored in a ceremony in Valentine, Neb., June 13.

The 17 inductees join a diverse group of people who live in the 20-county region known as the Sandhills of Nebraska, and have made extraordinary contributions to the Western lifestyle or horse culture in a variety of ways, through competition, business or the support of rodeo in the Nebraska Sandhills, including rodeo, ranching rodeo stock contractors, western arts and western entertainment, as the criteria for the hall of fame reads.

We have selected three members of the 2015 class to highlight here.

Jack Ostergard

Jack Ostergard, the second son of six boys of Harry and Ilene Ostergard, began life in 1929 on the home ranch 20 miles north of Gothenburg. He, along with his brothers, worked with their dad on the ranch, and when dry times hit in the ’30s, helped their dad move cattle to the closest grass, which, in 1934, was at Rose, Neb., about 90 miles to the north. It was a nine-day cattle drive.

“It wasn’t the Chisholm Trail, but it was a good start,” Ostergard said.

When Harry and Ilene’s sons were each nine years old, they were allowed to make the trip, walking.

“That way, if anything got through the fences, it was your job to make sure they kept coming,” Ostergard said.

At age ten, the boys were allowed to ride on the cattle trail. When he was eleven, his dad promised him if he’d skip the cattle drive to stay home and milk and do chores, he could rope at branding time. It was a fair trade off, Ostergard thought, and his love of the rodeo life was born.

He graduated from Gothenburg High School in 1946. During his senior year of high school, he got on his first bull, and it was an experience.

“I swore when I got done on him, if I ever got out of there alive, I’d never go back,” Ostergard joked.

He was awarded a reride, and, “fifteen minutes later, I was back behind the chutes.”

He joined the Navy in 1950 and was honorably discharged in 1952. He came back to the ranch with his brother Dick, married Mary that year, and picked up his rodeo career, riding bulls and saddle broncs. His bull riding ended with the birth of daughter, Ann.

“When my daughter was born, the doctor said, ‘You’re a father now, and maybe you oughta quit riding bulls.’ I’d been looking for an excuse,” Ostergard said.

He continued to ranch alongside his father.

“I was fortunate,” Jack said. “I could add a little land as it became available, because I was working with my dad.”

He eventually took over management of the cow herd.

In addition to ranching, Jack wrote five cowboy poetry books and gave more than 300 talks and presentations across seven states. When he retired, the ranch was leased to neighboring ranchers.

His daughter Ann lives with her husband Carl in Florida. He and Mary also have a son, Ross, who ranched with his father and has earned his storm spotter certification. He lives in Gothenburg.

Keith Zimmerman

Harrison, Neb., cowboy Keith Zimmerman has lived every day of his life except for four years of high school on the same ranch his grandparents settled in 1885, and their log house makes up part of the house he and his wife Olita still live in.

“I’m going to stay here till they run me off,” Zimmerman said. “And I think they’ve tried.”

He was born in 1935 to Cleve and Mildred Zimmerman, and began rodeoing in high school. He was a calf roper and team roper, competing in the PRCA and amateur rodeos across Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota. He switched to the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association, then called the Old Timer’s Rodeo Association, and team roped with them.

He rodeoed quite a bit, mostly in South Dakota and Wyoming.

“I paid a lot of entry fees but never made a lot of money,” he said.

The Zimmerman ranch ran feeder cattle, a few mama cows, and horses. He was honored with an award from the American Quarter Horse Association for having registered horses for fifty years. He bought his first registered horse at the age of thirteen in 1948. Zimmerman trained most of his horses for roping and ranch work, and sold “some pretty good ones.”

In addition to his ranching and rodeo, he served as Sioux County commissioner for twelve years.

He and Olita have been married for 57 years and have five children: Wanda Cross, Dee Zimmerman, Lex Zimmerman, Trudy Saults, and Ginger Zimmerman. They also have twelve grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. Dee ranches with his dad.

It is an honor to be inducted into the hall of fame, Zimmerman said.

“I feel pretty privileged to be in there with those people. I know a lot of them, and there’s some pretty good ones in there.”

Sterling Bowers

Like most of the other inductees into the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame, Sterling Bowers has lived around horses, cattle and rodeo his whole life

Born in 1936, he grew up on a small farm and ranch northeast of Burwell. His parents, who milked, had calves that Bowers and his older brother would feed then ride.

“That was the start of it,” he said of his rodeo career. “I’ve always liked and admired cowboys, and liked rodeos and contesting. I liked the challenge of it.”

In his high school days, there existed only one high school rodeo, and that was in Harrison. Sterling competed at it, and then after graduating from Burwell High School in 1953, continued his rodeo competition at local rodeos. He was one of the organizers of the Nebraska State Rodeo Association in the early 1950s and was a director for several years.

Sterling was a bareback rider, saddle bronc rider, steer wrestler and bull rider. He won the NSRA’s steer wrestling year-end award once, the all-around twice, and the bull riding title three years, serving as runnerup several times. Of all his events, bull riding was his best and what he competed in the most.

After Bowers turned 40, he competed in the Old Timers’ Rodeo Association, riding bareback broncs till the mid-1980s.

He got his start as a rodeo judge in the same way many cowboys did: when they were injured, they were often called on to judge. During his injuries, which included broken ribs, arms, collarbones, and a punctured lung, he often judged. Then after he retired, he judged even more, including NSRA and Mid-States Rodeos, high school, college, and Little Britches rodeos. He was honored at the Greeley, Neb., rodeo in 2007 with a buckle, for judging it for thirty years.

Bowers began his ranching career with his parents, Sam and Geneva Bowers, and in the late 1960s, bought several smaller parcels of land and formed his own ranch. He ran commercial Angus-Hereford cross cattle for a while, then ran yearlings, and got back into commercial cattle with an Angus-Simmental cross. He also worked at the Burwell Sale Barn for sixty years.

He has six children, five daughters and a son, and three grandsons who are current or past PBR bull riders: Austin Meier, Rusty Patrick and LJ Jenkins. His children include Twila Meier, Teresa Fales, Jay Bowers, who owns a ranch near Springview, Neb., Kaelene Bowers, Brenda Bowers and Holly Bowers.

Over his rodeo career, Bowers won eight saddles, more than fifty trophy buckles and other mementos. He always had fun.

“It was quite an exciting life, rodeo was,” he recalled. “After the rodeo, during the rodeo, whenever. I was usually there for the excitement, good or bad.”

Since the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame began in 2006, 105 people have been inducted.

The Hall of Fame is located in Ainsworth, Neb., and houses the photos and biographies of all of the hall of fame members.

Hall of fame inductees and its board of directors are from these twenty Nebraska Sandhills counties: Holt, Rock, Keya Paha, Brown, Cherry, Loup, Garfield, Blaine, Thomas, Custer, Hooker, Grant, Arthur, Sheridan, Lincoln, Keith, McPherson, Logan, Wheeler and Garden.

More information is available at or by calling (402) 387-2212. The address for the hall of fame is 353 North Main, P.O.Box 127, Ainsworth, Neb., 69210. ❖