A life-long passion

Published 8:30 pm Saturday, August 27, 2011

Charley Hamersma, who died at age 91 Aug., 10, 2011, had a life-long love for horses. - Photo provided

Area man remembered for love of horses, daredevil antics

Many people have seen as much of the world as one local man, but few will ever experience it like he did.

His name is Charley Hamersma. He died Wednesday morning, Aug., 10, 2011, at his home. He was 91.

Charley Hamersma - Photo provided

Charley, who was born in 1919 in Fillmore County and recently resided in Newry Township of Mower County, isn’t easily described with one word. But in several words, he was an entrepreneur, farmer, iron worker, truck driver, livestock seller, Golden Glove boxer, daredevil, World War II veteran, two-time cancer survivor and perhaps most notable, a cowboy.

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At 7 years old, Charley was driving a team of Clydesdales, plowing fields while his mother rested.

Passion for horses was in Charley’s blood early. His father was a jockey who also operated a stud service for area farmers and horse owners. So Charley was always accustomed to farming, livestock and making things happen for himself.

“He always had to work on something,” said his son, Chad Hamersma.

Throughout the years, Charley owned a livestock shipping service in Fillmore County, sold horses and owned a truck stop in Missouri.

Though he was always working on something, his work was often his entertainment. In 1949, Charley held the first-ever wild west show at Forestville State Park in Fillmore County. He was part of the show. He rode broncos, bareback horses and even tried his hand at bull riding. Though he gave up the bull riding after the first time, he tried plenty of other daredevil stunts, such as ghost-riding cars off of cliffs — jumping out of them before they plummeted to the ground.

“The first one, he got his boot caught on the brake pedal,” Chad said, but added that he Charley didn’t quit. “… He didn’t wear shoes after that.”

According to many family stories, Charley lived life on the edge, even as he grew old. That was in his nature.

“He liked a challenge,” said his wife, Suzanne, who met Charley in his prime setting: a horse trail ride.

Suzanne likely didn’t have to look hard to find Charley, either. He stood out in a crowd.

“He was always the center of attention,” Chad said. Charley participated in too many different events for his family to recall.

“We can’t even remember it all,” Suzanne said.

However, the family remembers some of the wild times. When Chad got a three-wheeler in the 1980s, Charley felt compelled to ride it. Though he was in his 70s at the time, Charley blazed across an open field, riding a wheelie, hat backwards, waving to Chad.

His wife may not have been impressed, but Charley knew what he was doing.

“He never made a mistake,” Suzanne said.

Charley’s passion for horses never waned, either. When he and Suzanne moved to Newry Township, they bought Clydesdales, hitches and wagons. Charley’s experiences came full circle, and his family still owns his two prized workhorses, Gypsy and Sam. The two horses served Charley one last time this summer, when they carried his casket to Red Oak Grove Cemetery, where Charley was laid to rest.

Charley’s family couldn’t feasibly learn all the things he knew; however, he taught them a lot.

“He knew everything,” said his daughter, Corinn. “He knew what you were going to do before ‘you’ knew what you were going to do.”

Charley was even advising his family in his last few days. He was discussing with Chad whether to buy a loader or a magnet, and he broke down all the pros and cons of each.

“That was Friday,” Chad said, referring to the week before Charley passed away.

Charley never grew too sick to get around, either. He simply got old.

Suzanne quoted what doctors once told Charley, and said, “Charley, you are going to die of old age.”

They were right. On his last day, Charley wondered where his horses were. As his family brought them out of the barn, Charley called their names and waved to them one last time.