Helped develop entertainment industry at the lake
Hope Carol Kemnitz Varner, a gracious cowgirl and longtime area resident, died at age ninety-six on August 4, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
Hope and her husband, Tex, arrived as newlyweds at Lake of the Ozarks in 1947 when Bagnell Dam tourism was in its infancy. Initially they operated the entertainment concessions at Lake of the Ozarks State Park, refurbishing beaches and establishing a stable and arena for western-heritage activities. To preserve the romance of pioneer tradition, they settled into the park’s historic dog-run log cabin built during Civil War days.
Their brand of western entertainment grew to include the park’s horseback rides through the scenic Ozark woods and moonlit hayrides on a thirty-six foot rack drawn by an eight-horse hitch. Hope sang songs of the Old West at rustic ranch parties, accompanying herself on the guitar and accordion. She delighted audiences with stories around the campfire then called square dances long into summer evenings. In Camdenton, she and Tex helped establish the Dogwood Festival Parade.
Hope and Tex opened Western Fun Arena – later called the Ozark Stampede – at Osage Beach, offering their signature horseback rides, overnight pack trips, and hayrides. They built an arena for rodeos and Wild West shows, co-producing historic early All-Girl Rodeos in 1955. Top-ranked national cowgirls competed in a full program of rodeo events. Among many who entertained at their rodeos were Pat Henry and his trick horse, Gold Tony; trick roper Eddie Roscoe; sharpshooter and whip artist Mary Padfield; Matej Triska’s high-wire act; singer Porter Wagoner; and Tex with his own trick horse, Nugget. Gene Holter’s Wild Animal Show, Jonny River’s Golden Horse Ranch Troupe, Al Szasz’s alligator and wrestling bears, Texas Tommy’s performing dogs, Will Ray Spurgeon’s sliding horse, old-time cowboy Milt Hinkle (the South-American Kid), and local fiddlers Don Russell and Roscoe Welsh all made summer-long appearances.
Hope’s voice was extraordinary, with a repertoire to match, and she entertained at the Lake area’s major hotels and resorts, playing 1930s and 40s standard songs on the piano in the evenings or strolling with her guitar or accordion. In Arizona, where Hope and Tex wintered, she was crowned 1949 rodeo queen of La Fiesta de los Vaqueros. A featured entertainer for several of the guest ranches, Hope sang live each week on Radio KVOA, the Voice of Arizona.
In recognition of her accomplishments preserving American western heritage, Hope was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1988, an honor she cherished.
Hope creatively led the local Brownie troop, 4-H club, and the Arrowhead Garden Club. Beta Sigma Phi honored her as its Woman of the Year.
The website www.hopevarner.com has photographs and stories from Hope’s remarkable life. This stout-hearted, dignified cowgirl is survived in Texas by her three children and their families: SGM (Ret) Jesus and Gay Chargualaf of Austin; Drs. Dickson and Tricia Varner of College Station; and Victoria Star Varner and Dr. Kenny Sheppard of Georgetown.
Hope’s family gratefully acknowledge those vital to the rodeo’s success. Valued contributors were head wrangler Porter Rodden, horse trainer and showman Chuck Grimes, and trick roper Jack Kipp, along with their families and the Trusleys, Bilyeus, Byrds, McKinnons, and Wickhams.