Shocking news of a death at Grand Canyon has rocked our community again. In the past month, we’ve lost Doug Buyck, Steve Suminski, Julia Strating and now Buck Schrader, each of them under age 60.
It’s difficult to accept death, especially when it occurs without any warning. Doug was a memorable face from the grocery store. Steve used to work for the fire department. Julia was a neighbor just a few houses down from me in Pinon Park.
When I heard about Buck’s passing Wednesday morning, it hit me especially hard. Perhaps part of it stems from the fact that I’ve been writing so many obituaries lately. Or maybe it’s the fact that he died so suddenly. But I think it’s because I’ve always had a very high admiration for him.
I first saw Buck Schrader in a performance at the Grand Hotel. Like so many others, it was enjoyable to watch him on stage in the Canyon Star Restaurant. Then in the fall of 2000, I sat down with Buck to do an interview about a cowboy poetry event he was bringing to town.
I drove out to Tusayan at an early hour and Buck greeted me with a smile as we sat down to breakfast there in the restaurant. It quickly became obvious that he had a passion for the cowboy lifestyle.
"Poetry seems to make a difference coming from a cowboy," he told me that day. "There are some words and phrases people don’t understand but they respond anyway. Then they get involved with it."
Buck became involved with cowboy poetry after meeting Ross Knox, a mainstay at the biggest event of them all in Elko, Nev. At the time, Buck was doing trail rides for Apache Stables. Soon after, he saw a video of notable cowboy musician Don Edwards. He went to his first cowboy poetry gathering in Durango, Colo.
In 2000, Schrader hooked up with Mike Finney to create the local cowboy gathering. He worked hard to think up ways to get some money to the visiting cowboys, who do not receive pay for their apperances. Ron Clayton helped by auctioning things off. In fact, in year one, Schrader cut his long hair and auctioned it. The funds from that portion of the auction went to a charity that makes wigs for child cancer victims.
The event was named after the Hole in the Ground Sound, a band that played at Grand Canyon in previous years. Sponsors followed and things were rolling. This past year, the event expanded to other lodges in Tusayan to become a communitywide event.
Each year, the gathering seems to be different. Cowboys and cowgirls show up and it can be interesting just to watch them get together on a couch and listen to the conversation. A constant in the background was always Buck, making sure everybody was comfortable.
My parents visited Grand Canyon a few years ago and I took them out to the Grand Hotel. Buck was on stage and one particular song reminded my stepmother of a tune from long ago.
Just a few weeks ago in the newspaper, I published a photo of Buck from the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Grand Hotel. There he was with a friend and a big smile.
On Tuesday night last week, Buck got together with some friends for a jam session at the hotel. It was something he really enjoyed doing, being with the guys and playing music. Hours later, he died of an apparent heart attack.
A memorial service was held Saturday at the Canyon Star. Appropriately, it took place on the stage where he had entertained.
Buck, a lot of people are going to miss you. Your contributions to our area were appreciated. You were a friend and role model for all of us.
(Brad Fuqua is editor of the Grand Canyon News).