By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
Many people knew him as a fellow rancher, others through his iconic characters Elmo and Flo in his syndicated comic strip “Stampede,” the most widely syndicated cartoon in both the U.S. and Canada.
Still others will remember Jerry Palen as the sculptor, artist and general all-round good man who represented the cowboy way of life and quintessential Wyoming.
Regardless of they knew him, all of those contacted agreed that the loss of Palen at the age of 78 on Nov. 25 left a crater-size hole in the lives as his friends and fans.
Wyoming Has Lost a Great One
“Wyoming has lost a great one,” Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, wrote on his Facebook page. “Always appreciated his enthusiasm for our state and its people.”
Driskill admitted he was a bit teary as he recounted memories about his friend.
“Jerry was just an absolute treat and wonderful person,” he said. “He always put Wyoming first and dearly loved the state and the people.”
Driskill had known Palen for more than 30 years. Among Driskill’s greatest treasures, he said, is one of Palen’s bronze horse and cowboy sculptures.
Palen was one heck of an artist and man, Driskill said.
“He’s one of those neat people who touches your life.”
The Official Illustrator of Wyoming Life
Rod Miller, a historian and columnist from Cheyenne, agreed.
“He was the official illustrator of life in Wyoming,” Miller said. “He was an incredibly talented artist, nice, smart and thoughtful man.
According to his obituary, Jerry and his family moved to the Wyoming Hereford Ranch in Cheyenne from Tennessee after World War II, where his dad, Joseph, worked as a ranch veterinarian.
Jerry and his brother Gene went to Central High School, where Jerry graduated in 1961. Three years later, Jerry married his high school sweetheart, Ann Prosser, who he’d met in an art class.
The couple went on to attend the University of Wyoming, but took a break so Palen could study art under a well-known western artist in Santa Barbara, California.
Later, the couple would return to Laramie, where Palen finished his economics degree before once again settling in California, where he worked as comptroller at a lamp company before returning to Wyoming again so he could work work as a bank examiner for the state.
In 1973, according to his obituary, Jerry and Ann moved to Ann’s family ranch with their two sons, Eric and Brian, and little money in their pocket. From there, Palen embarked on a career as illustrator, cartoonist and artist.
It was then that Palen launched the “Stampede” cartoon series featuring Elmo and Flo, husband-and-wife characters whose struggles in the ranching industry were a familiar theme to Palen’s neighbors and friends.
The series was eventually syndicated in publications throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Later, the Palens bought the Wyoming Hereford Ranch and set up a studio where Palen could produce his comic strip and the notable bronze sculptures and monuments that can be found at the State Capitol, Cheyenne Municipal Airport, University of Wyoming and State Fairgrounds, as well as in private art collections.
Palen would go on to form his own publishing company with his partner Susannah Borg, which operated for the next 43 years until his retirement.
He touched many both in his life and art.
“Jerry was a one-of-a-kind, all-American Wyoming cowboy with a gift for both art and humor,” said Bill Sniffin, long-time newspaper publisher and current publisher of Cowboy State Daily. “He entertained folks from one end of the country to the other with his insightful cartoons.”
In addition, Sniffin said, Palen had an outstanding career in fine art and was true Wyoming gentleman.
“His kind do not come along often,” Sniffin said. “In Jerry’s case, we celebrate a real Wyoming life, well-lived.”
Send Fresh Horses
Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust and a former ranch manager, agreed.
Budd knew Palen’s dad from his work with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association years before meeting Jerry. The two finally connected after a publisher who picked up Palen’s first book suggested Budd contact a guy named Jerry Palen in Wyoming, who was a terrific illustrator.
The two teamed up on Budd’s book, “Send Fresh Horses,” which Jerry illustrated.
The book’s publication took the two on the road together for various book signings and events in many cities, including Las Vegas and Florida.
Budd laughed about their trip together to Vegas. Neither one was really into the Vegas scene, and after walking around for a bit, they returned to the hotel room they were sharing to get some rest for their book signing the next morning.
However, only one of them went to bed that night.
Budd said he woke up at 2 a.m. to find Jerry hunched over a sketch pad, drawing. He suggested maybe his friend should get a bit of sleep. An hour later, Budd woke up to find Jerry back at it.
Budd doubted his friend slept more than a couple minutes that night.
“Jerry did things on Jerry’s pace,” Bob laughed. “He saw the world differently and that made him so unique and special. He’s a great, great guy and tremendous artist. Everything about Jerry was funny, and I’ll miss him.”
Found Joy In Everything He Did
Mary Meyer, who worked with Palen when she was the head of community outreach at the then-Cheyenne Memorial Hospital, said Palen was very generous with his time in supporting the hospital.
Mentioning that he created shirts for the hospital with his cartoons on them, she said he “found joy in everything he did.”
“Jerry was a very pleasant man, always smiling which made me wonder what he knew that I didn’t,” Meyer said. “He was a pure gentleman who immensely enjoyed people and sharing his talent.”
Meyer, the wife of late Wyoming politician Joe Meyer, said when her husband stepped down as Wyoming’s Attorney General, Palen created and framed a cartoon for him which was presented a public reception.
Appreciated By All
Others who never met Palen, like Hulett-based rancher Dave Wolfskill, appreciated his talent and humor and unique ability to capture the experiences of real-life ranchers with both insight and humor.
“It was hilarious and realistic stuff,” Wolfskill said. “Ranchers could really identify with his stuff.”
Others took to social media to pay their respects like Kristen Teubner who referred to him as “a tremendous man and artist with a warm, kind soul and smile” who will be greatly missed.