Mark Denny has loved every minute of his time as a Williams Lake Stampede Association volunteer, so being named this year’s rodeo lifetime pass recipient came as a complete surprise.
“I was amazed when Willie (Crosina) phoned me,” Denny says. “It is an honour.” A saddle-maker by trade, Denny has volunteered with the Stampede association for the past 20 years in various capacities. His favourite part is the Monday night work parties during May and June when volunteers get together at the Stampede Grounds to paint, fix fences, clean-up, and work on various improvement projects. They start about 6 p.m. and work until dark getting ready for Stampede, enjoying each other’s company and working for a common goal. “That’s fun, just working with people who are all working for the same thing, to put on a rodeo,” Denny says.
He also served eight years as a director with the association, about two of them working on the campsite management and development, and six years working as the sponsorship director.Being the campsite director involves organizing maintenance projects and working with the caretaker on managing the site, encouraging participation by local and major corporate sponsors. Establishing programs for the major sponsors such as Coors, Copenhagen and Dodge involved a trip to Edmonton each year.
While no longer a director, Denny continues to enjoy the Monday night work parties. “Stampede is great,” Denny says. “It brings a lot of people to town for the weekend and keeps our western spirit alive. And it’s not just the rodeo. There is a car show, street party, rugby tournament … Born and raised in Williams Lake Denny operates Cariboo Saddlery, a business started in the lakecity by his late father, Tom, who was also a Stampede volunteer honoured with a lifetime pass.
Mark started working with leather as a hobby during his teens and later took a job at a saddle factory in Calgary. When he returned to the lakecity he added saddle-making to the family business of selling and repairing saddles and tack. “Saddle making is the glory part,” Denny says. “I couldn’t make a living just making saddles.”
Each of the 737 custom saddles he has made during his 20-year saddle-making career has a serial number which coincides with the name of the person for whom the saddle was made and details on the specific size and design elements that went into making the saddle. He has had customers from all over the world and repeat customers who sometimes call him up to have a new saddle made just the same as the original one he made.
Photo and story by Gaeil Farrar