‘A lost breed:’ Public servant and rodeo champion Ken Woolstenhulme dies at 90
‘One of the fathers of Oakley’ remembered for generosity, service and toughness
Ken Woolstenhulme, a man lauded in equal parts for his toughness, kindness, stubbornness and humor, and who served the Oakley and Summit County communities for decades, died Tuesday morning within a half-mile of where he was born.
He was 90.
Woolstenhulme was at various times a Summit County Commissioner, mayor, school board president, city councilor, planning commissioner and postmaster. He was also a rodeo champion, dairyman, cowboy, rancher, missionary and bishop.
He was the longtime former owner of Ken’s Kash, the store that still bears his name and has been for a half-century the unofficial center of Oakley.
Oakley Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme, Ken Woolstenhulme’s son, said his father loved people.
“He was an old cowboy. He was a jokester, a prankster. He liked to have a lot of fun,” Wade Woolstenhulme said. “… He was always inviting people to Sunday dinner — new people, people that were new to our church congregation. People that he’d met who needed a new post-office box, just moving into town, he was always trying to make people feel welcome.”
He was born in 1930 in Oakley, the eldest of 11 children, according to his obituary, and would go on to serve an integral role in the community.
Former Oakley Mayor Doug Evans said Woolstenhulme and his family welcomed him when Evans’ family moved to Oakley in the early 1980s.
“Ken and his family kind of represented Oakley,” Evans said. “… They’ve been involved in making Oakley what it is, a place of volunteer service and hard work.”
Ken Woolstehulme’s father had been mayor, he served as mayor, his son Wade is now the city’s retiring mayor and his eldest son Zane is running to be mayor.
For years, Ken Woolstenhulme would butcher meat, help customers, chat with newcomers and sort the mail, all at Ken’s Kash.
“Anybody’s kid could go in there,” Wade Woolstenhulme said. “They’d get teased, probably end up leaving with a lollipop.”
Sally Elliott served alongside Woolstenhulme as a County Commissioner from 2005 until 2008 in the last few years of Woolstenhulme’s second stint in countywide elected office. She remembered Woolstenhulme as “feisty” and a diligent advocate for Oakley and the East Side of Summit County.
“He was just an absolute pillar for the Oakley community,” she said. “… Everybody knew Ken and everybody loved him and, whether you agreed with him or not, you always respected what he did for his community.”
Woolstenhulme first served on the Summit County Commission from 1966 until 1973, a time when a “gentleman’s agreement” called for the three seats to be split equally between Park City, North Summit and South Summit. He was also in office when the commission was disbanded and a new form of government took over in 2009.
Woolstenhulme was Oakley’s mayor from 1986 until 1997, according to a social media post from the city, which credited him with helping develop the Oakley Recreation and Arena Complex and improving the city’s water system.
Tom Smart, an Oakley City Councilor, praised Woolstenhulme and others of his generation for having the foresight to secure land for the city that became the rodeo grounds.
“He really was known as one of the fathers of Oakley,” Smart said.
Smart also recalled Woolstenhulme’s toughness and kindness.
“He took care of me. I’d wake up in the morning and he’d come over in his tractor and cut my fields because the hay was ready without me asking, and wouldn’t take a penny for it,” he said. “One time doing yard work, he comes over in his big tractor, moves all the dirt we were moving for the project. Once in a while he might hit a fencepost as he got older, but his heart was always in the right place.”
Wade Woolstenhulme recalled his father’s work ethic.
“I spent the most time with him on horseback,” he said. “He raised us, all us kids grew up learning how to work.”
He added that he also learned how to play from watching his dad, who had a strong sense of humor.
Ken Woolstenhulme was a champion bareback bronc rider and bull rider and was inducted into the Utah Rodeo Hall of Fame. He was integrally involved in the Oakley Rodeo and helped transform it into a nationally recognized event that draws thousands of spectators.
His hard lifestyle came with a physical toll, with Smart, Elliott and others recalling the many times he was injured.
“He had been thrown from horses and trampled and run over so many times. He had a lot of broken bones and a lot of times, he had to heal up,” Elliott said.
She indicated it was remarkable that somebody who lived life so “ferociously” could live to 90.
In addition to his passion for rodeo and hard work, Woolstenhulme believed in public service, often pushing others to join.
Evans, Smart and Wade Woolstenhulme all said Ken Woolstenhulme encouraged them to volunteer as public servants.
“For some reason, Ken took me under his wing and, I don’t know what, he saw me as different, or maybe he saw something in me I hadn’t seen myself,” Evans said.
Evans served on the Oakley City Council, planning commission and as mayor and his wife served on the school board.
“I guess we didn’t know when we came here if we’d have a purpose in the community, but Ken helped me find that purpose,” Evans said.
Smart said Woolstenhulme recruited him to be a city councilor.
“I said, ‘Ken, we might not agree on anything,’ and he said ‘I don’t care, you’re a good man,’” Smart recalled. “So I said OK.”
Evans said Woolstenhulme was stubborn and outspoken, referring to him as one of a “lost breed.” Woolstenhulme would tell people what he thought, including more than a few developers looking to build in Oakley, Evans recalled.
Wade Woolstenhulme said he almost felt bad for the salesmen who came to solicit at Ken’s Kash, knowing his dad would chase them off.
But there was another side, many said, evident in Woolstenhulme’s charity, church work and generosity.
He married many couples as part of his decadeslong work as a sealer in the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was a bishop of the Oakley Ward.
Evans said his generosity was significant, but often hidden.
“I’m pretty sure that he had the ledger in his store, he took care of lots of widows and people struggling with food,” Evans said. “If there were times they couldn’t pay him, he wrote it off. I know he financially cared for many people and you never knew it.”
But it’s not the image of Woolstenhulme manning the counter at Ken’s Kash that Evans said he returns to when he thinks of the man, it’s that of Woolstenhulme on horseback, helping others.
Woolstenhulme and his brother Dutch served as “pickup men” for the Oakley Rodeo for decades, their job to usher the riders out of harm’s way after their rides ended.
“They were the ones on their horses that would pick up the bull riders after they were thrown from the bulls, protect them from the bulls. They did that forever,” Evans said. “… I picture him picking people up and helping them, and in a way I think it’s a metaphor for what he did for me and hundreds of others. He was there to rescue us.”
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