Heart of a Rancher in Old Marana - The Explorer: Import

Heart of a Rancher in Old Marana

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Sept. 8, 2004 - On the sun-drenched banks of the Santa Cruz river, black cattle lie in the shade to escape the heat. They seem reluctant to move, and do so only when it becomes the alternative to colliding with the Ford truck that bounces toward them as it scrapes through the trees and brush.

About 300 to 350 Brangus cattle - a cross between Brahman and Angus breeds - graze in the 4,000 to 5,000 acres surrounding the Bridle Bit Ranch, said Bob Honea. He and his wife Pat live together on the ranch. While they don't own all the land on which their cattle graze, twice a year Honea, and some of his family and close friends ride into the pasture to round up the two herds of cattle.

Honea, 75, took on cattle ranching and cotton farming about 20 years ago, after retiring from his position as Marana's postmaster. He gave up growing cotton after a few years because it was costly and labor intensive, but he still raises and sells cattle. It's a way of life, he said. And one that he's enjoyed having his children grow up in.

"I may be retired but so far I'm still active and I enjoy it," Honea said.

This year, Honea, along with six other inductees, received a lifetime achievement award from the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. According to the university's Web site, the award is granted to "individuals or organizations who have significantly supported CALS and/or Arizona Agriculture or any of its programs in a superior and sustained manner over a 30-year period."

The opening sentence of Honea's award describes him as a man who was able to "make water flow uphill." Honea said he created this illusion with a little ingenuity. His cotton fields were located at a higher elevation than the nearby Santa Cruz River. Rather than using a pump, Honea decided to divert water from the river upstream, at a point higher than his fields. He then routed the water down a gradual slope to irrigate his fields. Because his fields held water at an elevation higher than the nearby Santa Cruz, it appeared as if he'd made water flow "uphill."

Honea admitted that he didn't have a stellar academic career when he studied animal husbandry at the University of Arizona, and when he first found out he'd been nominated to receive the lifetime achievement award, he told them to find someone else. He said he accepted it for what he's done outside of school.

"When they base that award on what we've accomplished since school - and I'm assuming they've done that - then I gladly accept," he said. "I'm very honored that they would give me such an award."

He's slightly less modest about his accomplishments as a player on the University of Arizona Wildcats basketball team. Honea got into the school on a baseball scholarship and was given a spot on the basketball team by former coach Fred Enke. When he was on the team in 1950-51, the Wildcats won more than 70 consecutive games at home.

And, according to an article in the Arizona Daily Star published when Honea was still on the basketball team, he was a unique player. His wife pointed out that athletes at the time weren't much different than they are today, they liked to chase women and have a good time. However, when Honea was on the road with his team he would abstain from such activities. And, according to that Daily Star article, while many of the other athletes would swear, the worst thing you'd hear coming out of Honea's mouth would be the words "Aw, foot!"

Honea said his actions stem from his faith in Christianity, which has remained with him until this day. He is an active member of the Church of the Nazarene in Oro Valley, where he greets people as they enter the church. Through his church he lets kids come down to his ranch to look at his horses and takes them on hay rides through his cattle's grazing land. He even let's the kids shoot paint balls by the Santa Cruz River.

"He lets them down there then gives them instructions: don't shoot a cow with a paintball," Pat said.

While his faith is an important part of his life, he made it clear that he doesn't feel the need to broadcast his beliefs.

"I don't feel like I need to impose my Christian life on anyone. I believe the way I live, the way I talk, what I do and what I don't do - I expect to expose everyone to my way of life, which is Christianity," Honea said.

Honea's father Wilburt was among one of the first three families to move to the Marana area in 1941. He said the town has changed from a rural farming community to a town with an urban center in the past 60 years. For example, when Honea graduated from Marana High School in 1947, he was one of only seven in the senior class, now the school has thousands of students.

Honea worked as postmaster of Marana after serving for two years in the armed forces. He was responsible for making sure everyone in the town got their mail, and had the opportunity to meet most of the town's residents.

"I worked as the postmaster of Marana for 30 years," Honea said. "I used my brain when I was there, and when I came home I used my muscle."

He retired after serving the government for 30 years, two in the armed services and 28 and a half as postmaster of Marana.

"When I retired I just put my truck in reverse and stayed home," he said, though he had no intention of becoming inactive. So he began to grow cotton and some barley, and raised and sold cattle.

In 1983 a flood roared down the Santa Cruz River, destroying the Honeas' cotton fields and scattering the cattle to distant parts of the ranch. It took about a month for him to gather all the cattle. While the Honeas lost the income from the cotton, they received no aid from the government, because according to the government the land was not salvageable, Pat said.

But Honea said despite the effect it had on their land, they survived the flood, physically and financially, and were able to move on. Honea said when he talks about receiving the lifetime achievement award, it seems like he's reached the end of his life, but he said he's got a lot more living to do. He's still able to go out and round up the cattle, though he can't do a day's work like he used to .

"That means he comes inside when he gets hot," Pat said.

In fact his doctor recently replaced his knee. Being a rancher can be hard work. After the surgery when Honea asked his doctor if he could still ride his horse, his doctor told him it would be all right so long as he didn't fall off, so Honea does his best to stay in the saddle.

Looking back on his life, Honea said he has few regrets.

"In fact if I had it to do again there wouldn't be many things in life I would change," he said. "There would be a couple of small detours that I probably would change. But as a whole, if I had to live my life again I made the majority of the right choices at the right time."

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