The Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum honors men and women whose lives exemplify the independence and resilience of the people who settled Utah. The honor includes artists, champions, entertainers, musicians, ranchers, writers and those persons, past and present, who have promoted the western way of life. Submissions in consideration for this year’s class are due by March 31, 2024. Applications and instructions for submission can be found on the museums website.
Barbara and Neil Merrill
Barbara was born and raised in Lehi, Utah, daughter of Ferron and Florence Olson. Her champion roper father started Barbara on a horse at an early age. In high school she competed in five events and qualified for High School Nationals Finals each year of eligibility. She was a two time Utah State Championship Breakaway Roper and Girls All Around Championship as a senior.
Neil was born and raised in Salem, Utah, son of Freeborn (Jack) and Ruth Merrill. As a teenager, Neil began riding with his best friend Bob Davis. Bob’s father, Sterling, taught Neil horsemanship, roping and bulldogging. In college Neil was named the Regional Champion Steer Wrestler.
Neil and Barbara were married in 1976 and welcomed their son Corey in 1977. As with most young couples, money was tight, so to pay the bills, Neil took a job in a machine shop. Little did this young couple know that the skills Neil developed while employed as a machinist would later place them into a position that would impact the equine industry worldwide.
Barbara had an idea for a barrel racing bit and Neil, through trial and error was able to make it. Soon friends and competitors alike wanted the “Merrill Bits”. Additionally Barbara and Neil designed and made the “Merrill Saddle” and “Merrill Saddle Pad” both of which were developed with the horse in mind.
Their desire for improving rodeo ground conditions lead them to come up with a design for a self-leveling implement that practically runs itself. With the “Black Widow Arena Drag” the ground is now safer and faster being widely used by private and municipal arenas, equestrian event producers, and rodeo committees nationwide.
In 1986 Barbara trained a horse she believed could win at the national level, so Neil quit his job and they went on the road. Their hard work and efforts paid off in 1992 & 1993 when Barbara won the Wilderness Circuit Barrel Racing Championship and also qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV. As Barbara ran down the alley at the Thomas & Mack Arena you can bet Neil ran every step with her.
The Merrill’s resistance free horse training program encourages riders to find the method that works best for them and their horse. “What matters most is what the horse thinks of it”, is their philosophy.
The union of Neil and Barbara Merrill is an example of commitment and companionship. Taking the time to learn, understand and truly care is not only what Neil and Barbara Merrill have done and teach, it is who they are.
“Life gives us all some lessons and faith can sustain us through the tuff times and temper our successes with gratitude. All inspiration and success comes through us not from us.” Neil Merrill
Ben German Rodeo Producer, Stock Contractor
Ben was born February of 1969 on a military base in White Sands, New Mexico. His father was an army veteran who served in Vietnam, and his mother is a retired Ogden City dispatcher. Ben grew up in Roy, Utah where he graduated from Roy High School in 1987. In 1989 he married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer and together they have three children, Jordan, Ashton, and Wyatt. They have been married for 33 years and currently live in West Haven.
As owner of the Broken Heart Rodeo Company Ben produces over 100 rodeo performances annually for RMPRA, UHSRA, NIRA, and numerous open rodeos. He has won countless awards for his outstanding bucking stock, some of which have made appearances at the National Finals Rodeo.
In a partnership with Weber County, Ben produces the Intermountain Icebreaker and Kickin’ Corona rodeos. The Ice breaker is in its 11th year and hosts over 1,000 contestants from 17 different states and Canada. Kickin’ Corona held in 2020 was one of the few rodeos that provided an opportunity for junior high and high school competitors an opportunity to compete. Ben understands that the future of rodeo lies solely with our youth and does what he can to support them.
During his time as a USHRA Board Member, the balance of the general fund went from 10k to over 150k. In addition, with Ben’s oversight the scholarship account had ~ 250k to award rodeo athletes upon his departure.
Above all else, Ben is a family man. His children and grandchildren are the love of his life—his pride and joy. Each of them help produce Broken Heart Rodeos in some way or another.
When you become friends with Ben, you are friends for life. He is blessed to have countless life-long friends, many of which are from his involvement in rodeo.
Ben has a tremendous love for the outdoors. Fishing and hunting are his favorite things to do when he gets time out of his busy schedule.
“Ben has been such a huge part of the success of many Utah cowboys and cowgirls, including my family! The impact he has made in our state and with our youth and keeping the sport of rodeo alive and prosperous is second to none. Utah is known for having some of the most talented rodeo athletes in the nation and if you look into it, Ben has been a huge part of all of them”. Cody Wright, World Champion Cowboy
“I know Ben to be a man of exceptional integrity and a man of his word. I have witnessed his large heart in action as he secretly paid for entry fees, has given away free tickets to his events and has gone out of his way to help the underprivileged. I have seen him fight to keep our western heritage alive and stand up for what is right and fair, even if it’s unpopular”. Wendy Dahl, Rodeo Secretary
“My goal has always been to make a difference,” said Dennis Montgomery in an article written for the NIRA Alumni Board of Directors. And make a difference is exactly what he did.
Dennis graduated from Weber High School in 1971. He continued his education at Weber State College in the Paramedic Program, graduating in 1983. Dennis started his career in 1975 as a Police Chief of Huntsville, UT and continued in Public Safety for 40 years. He worked for Weber County Jail, Weber County and Ogden City fire districts, and Weber State University, with positions as a firefighter, EMT, SWAT member and Fire Marshall.
Dennis held many elected/appointed office positions. He served on the EMT State Board, Weber County Planning Commission, IAAI and Weber Fire District Board (20 Years). His memberships are countless, but included career based memberships on a state and national level for EMT, paramedic, fire prevention and countless rodeo associations.
He loved working with and mentoring the youth. For 10 years, he served as medical advisement and recruitment for Utah High School Rodeo, including local, state, and national levels. From 1996-2003 Dennis was the assistant Rodeo Coach for WSU women’s rodeo team and led them to a National Championship in 1997. As Head Rodeo Coach from 2003-2015 he again lead the Women’s Team to a National Championship in 2006. In 2008 Cody Wade competed at Nationals in Casper, WY winning the National Steer Wrestling Champion title under the guidance of the big guy, Dennis Montgomery.
Dennis was the President of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association 2008-2010, being the first to serve a 2-year term. He was named National Coach of the Year in 2008 and the Rocky Mountain Region Coach of the Year in 2011. As the Rocky Mountain Region College Rodeo Faculty Director he helped support 11 colleges. Following his retirement in 2015, he continued to travel to Casper, WY to support current athletes, coaches and staff at the College National Finals Rodeo.
Dennis served on the Ogden Pioneer Days Committee as the Event Parking Chairman beginning in 2014 until his passing in 2021. Pioneer Days spectators knew Dennis by name and enjoyed being greeted by him as they came through the west gate.
He made a difference in the lives of all who knew him.
Ken and Lynda Norris
Ken and Lynda Norris spent most of their life in the small town of Cedar Fort, UT. They graduated from Lehi High School in 1960 and were married in 1961. Ken and Lynda have 4 children Jan, Kenny, Jami, and Brad. They also have 9 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Jan, Kenny and Brad were involved in rodeo from a very young age and the western way of life was an important part of the Norris family. They traveled to numerous rodeos in support of their children. Ken and Lynda were also members of the Cedar Valley Riding Club.
In 1974 they became advisors for the Lehi Longhorn Rodeo Club. In 1981 Lynda started as the State Secretary for the Utah High School Rodeo Association (UHSRA) and Ken took a position on the Utah High School Rodeo Board. They took part in decision making, office work and behind the scenes action for the UHSRA.
From 1989-2008 Ken was the Utah National High School Rodeo Association Director. In those 19 years Ken and Lynda inspired many high school rodeo contestants. Ken was the National High School Rodeo President in 1998 and in 2002 received the National High School Rodeo Association “Man of the Year” award. This is given to the director who exhibits an outstanding example of leadership and positive influence on the youth of high school rodeo.
Lynda was awarded Secretary of the Year by the NHSRA for her years of service to the UHSRA.
Ken and Lynda developed the UHSRA point system that ensures Utah sends its top competitors to the nationals.
The Norris’ embody grit, determination, kindness, integrity and selflessness that come with the western way of life. They dedicated a majority of their lives as positive leaders and examples for the young cowboys and cowgirls in Utah and across the nation.
You wouldn’t find Ken without Lynda or Lynda without Ken. Together, the two of them left a legacy on high school rodeo that will never be forgotten.
Paul H. (Jaws) Knight
Paul H. (“Jaws”) Knight was a cattleman from his birth in 1919 until his death in 2009. He lived his entire 90 years in Plain City, Utah.
Paul was a World War II Veteran, serving in the South Pacific for 4 years. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal by the direction of the President of the United States by the Commanding General of the 41st Infantry Division for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy on Mindanao, Philippine Islands on March 15, 1945.
Paul married June Maw on June 26, 1946. Together they raised three children, Curt Knight, Gwen Knight Moitzfield, and Russ Knight. They have four grandchildren and eight great- grandchildren.
As a youth Paul drove a team of horses to West Warren with his father to work in the fields on the family farm. He ran his own dairy herd from 1946 until 1976. He then owned and operated a beef cow/calf herd from 1976 until 2008.
Paul was very giving and enjoyed helping the youth. He provided the use of his calves to the students of Plain City Elementary to fit and show at the annual Plain City Dairy Days.
In 1954 he joined the Rocky Mountain Rodeo Association and remained an active member and participant for over 25 years. During the 1960s, Paul organized many jackpot roping events with friends and associates held at his arena. He also provided team roping steers for many local rodeos throughout the area.
From the 1960’s to the 1980’s Paul won numerous roping, team roping and Quarter Horse Association performance buckles and awards throughout the state. He was a consistent competitor and enjoyed working with his horses and associating with his rodeo friends.
Paul was selected as the Grand Marshall of the Plain City 4th of July Parade in 2004 and was the first to be selected as Weber County Honoree at the Ogden Pioneer Days National Day of the American Cowboy – 2006.
Susie and Dwane Van Hooser
Susie and Dwane Van Hooser moved to Utah in 1978 and immediately fell in love with the great state of Utah and the city of Ogden. Dwane worked for the research branch of the US Forest Service for 38 years, retiring as the manager of the Interior West Resource Inventory and Monitoring Program. Susie was an educator to hundreds of students for over 30 years and still loves seeing her second graders even though most of them have families of their own.
One of many notable things that we should all look up to is their dedication to Ogden and their passion for serving their community. They both joined the Ogden Pioneer Day’s committee in 1979 and have served in a multitude of roles over the years.
Dwane was the chairman of the Ogden Pioneer Days Parade Committee from 1984-1992, Vice Chairman of the Ogden Pioneer Days Committee in 1993 and Chairman from 1994-1995.
Susie founded the Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Union Station featuring art and memorabilia exemplifying the western way of life. Susie also founded this very Hall of Fame in which she and Dwane are being nominated. She continues to serve as an Ogden Pioneer Days committee member today.
They have both served on the Miss Rodeo Ogden and Miss Rodeo Utah committees and have supported the Hospitality Cabin at the Ogden Pioneer Stadium.
They were also honored to be the Grand Marshals of the Ogden Pioneer Days in 2014.
In 2006, Susie was appointed to the Ogden City Council and was elected to the same seat in 2009. She served as the Council Vice Chair in 2010 and had significant involvement in Ogden’s demolition by neglect ordinance and other historic preservation initiatives.
She has been a member or chairperson of many boards in Ogden including: Ogden City Landmarks Commission, Salvation Army Board, Egyptian Theater Foundation Board, Crossroads of the West Advisory Committee, Utah Heritage Foundation and Weber County Heritage Foundation.
As the Vice President of the Egyptian Theater Foundation Board Susie led the restoration of the Egyptian Theater (one of Ogden’s treasures) and as a past President of the Weber County Heritage Foundation was instrumental in the restoration of the lime kiln in Ogden Canyon.
In 1996 Dwane was asked to serve on the Governor’s Sesquicentennial Celebration Coordinating Council, which provided oversight to the activities commemorating the 1847 arrival of the Mormon Pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley.
In 1991, Susie and Dwane received President George H.W. Bush’s “Point of Light” Award for their volunteer activities.
The Van Hooser’s have been married for over 58 years and have three grown children (Randy, Kelly and Courtney) and many grandchildren living in the Ogden area.