The Lady’s Legacy: Liberty, Faith, Family and Ranching
Southeastern Colorado can be hard, dry country and the people who call it home aren’t accustomed to frills. It is, you might say, where legacies are hard won. For Kimmi Lewis, legacy was tangible, real, and vitally important.
Lewis passed away on Dec. 6 at the age of 62 following her third bout with breast cancer.
Those who knew Lewis knew her to be an advocate for agriculture and rural areas, including the nine counties within the geographically vast and primarily agricultural House district 64. Lewis fought for the rights of the communities she represented fiercely, and she did it while fighting the effects of chemotherapy.
Lewis moved to the Muddy Valley Ranch between Kim and La Junta when she was a year old, where she and her three sisters were raised to be ranchers. Her father, Ken Clark, was a well-known former senator (1978-1982) and made his mark on Colorado politics. While in office, former Senator Clark fought the initial threat of the proposed Pinon Canyon expansion, a fight Lewis also took up. Her mother, Jewell (Middleton), was raised in the store in Karval that still stands, built and rebuilt after a fire both in the 1930s.
Lewis married her high school sweetheart, Dave, in 1977. His mother, Margaret, still lives in the area. She came from a rich Basque history and speaks five languages- Basque, French, Spanish, English, and Latin. Dave and Kimmi raised their children on the ranch, eventually purchasing it from her father. Dave was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and died four months after his diagnosis.
When it comes to legacy, Dave and Kimmi’s grown children are proof. Tatum Lee, R-CALF USA development director, said there is no greater reflection of a person than their children and said she has found that to be true in getting to know Korry, one of Kimmi’s two youngest daughters.
Lewis was one of the first producers she met when Lee began working for the organization four years ago. She said Lewis, who has been involved in the national cattlemen’s organization for years, was fiercely unafraid and said she would stand on the line when others shrank away from the hard battles.
“I’m so thankful for Kimmi Lewis that she has taught me as a woman what legacy looks like,” Lee said.
Service, Lee said, was never about a title for Lewis but instead about doing the hard thing because it was the right thing.
“She was a strong businesswoman, she was a tender mom, she was a sweet friend,” Lee said. “She’s a Proverbs 31 woman and as most ranching women, I think we want to be able to look at our lives and for the Lord to say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ That, to me, is legacy.”
PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS
Private property rights were a torch former Senator Clark carried for many years and a cause that was vitally important to Lewis. Her sister, Julie Sumpter, said protecting citizens’ rights, rural communities and agriculture was second nature to her.
“Both my dad and mom were very patriotic and felt it was everyone’s duty to vote and be involved and they were adamant about that,” Sumpter said. “They were very hard workers so that’s where the rest of us get it.”
Lewis reflected both of her parents, Sumpter said. Having grown up “dirt poor” in large families, both were driven by their love of ranching and their love of the land. Jewell passed away in 1983, and Ken in 2005. His second wife, Betty, now lives in Eads.
In the early years of Colorado Agri Women, Janell Reid, Ordway, shared rides to meetings with Lewis and it was on those rides Reid said she learned about conservation easements, property rights and other issues Lewis was passionate about.
“She could stand up at the drop of a hat and give you a 20-minute dissertation on Pinon Canyon and how many millions of dollars here, and billions of dollars there,” she said. “The amount of knowledge was amazing, and her dad was that way, too. She had an uncanny ability to remember things and to store away that information.”
In addition to her other daily tasks, Lewis tended a huge garden and Reid still has some home-canned salsa Lewis gifted to her.
“I never knew anyone who could get so much done in a day,” Reid said.
Beyond the labeling of U.S. beef, an issue she and Gerald Schreiber both worked toward, he said she believed in rural communities. Schreiber, a rancher and R-CALF USA president, said Lewis gave her life to service and was often at meetings rather than at home on the ranch or with her family, an example of her selflessness.
“She had a unique ability to remember names and could walk around the room and call people by name,” he said. “Certain people are gifted that way. She just had a presence.”
Schreiber said he received a call “out of the blue” from Lewis in 2004. He said he didn’t know her at the time but when he hung up the phone, she had made an impression on him. Colorado Independent Cattlemen Association was formed the following year, something both were involved in.
Schreiber said a neighbor once told him he recalled Lewis speaking to the delegation of the Colorado State FFA Convention in the early 1970s, taking the stage to convince those in attendance that female members ought to be allowed to wear slacks in contests like the livestock judging. Being competitive in nature, she took the stage many times in her FFA years gathering awards in various contests. He said it wasn’t much earlier that females were allowed to be members, rather than just sweethearts.
“She was making points even then,” he said. ‘She had her ideas and she was always fighting for justice, even then. She was a good friend and I’m going to miss her.”
Daughter Korry Lewis, who served in several capacities during Lewis’ campaign and worked closely with her mom, helped care for her during the legislative session as she endured chemotherapy treatments.
Korry said she and her five siblings were raised by incredible people. She recalls her mom riding all morning, having a lunch ready for the family and ranch hands, and then driving 100 miles to a meeting to speak knowledgeably about any number of topics.
“Our parents had strong backbones, unwavering principles, and huge hearts,” she said. “They left us way too soon, but Dad waited almost 20 years for mom to join him in heaven and we’re grateful we had her as long as we did. We all wanted to fight the cancer for her as she was busy fighting for our liberties, ensuring the prosperity of U.S. cattle producers, and protecting our rural way of life.”
Lewis said she and her five siblings can only hope to collectively impact a fraction of the lives their mother did in her short 62 years.
Ben Rainbolt, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union executive director, said he worked with Lewis on a number of issues and while they didn’t always agree, he appreciated her forthrightness and said she raised awareness about southeastern Colorado during her time as a legislator.
Bill Hammerich, executive officer of the Colorado Livestock Association said the state’s livestock industry and legislature lost “a lady who was forever steadfast in her support of the ranching community and her political beliefs.”
-Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.