A classified ad about a missing belt buckle prompted a story in the June 6, 2012 edition of Kiowa County Signal. The story was about a belt buckle found after the 2007 tornado. Through research and personal accounts, it was discovered that it had been owned by a Greensburg native whose family helped build this small community — a man who touched the Colorado racing world and whose work continues to improve the lives of disabled children across the country.
Larry McElwee, a retired convenience store manager living in Dodge City, wrote the five-line classified which stated simply ‘Found in Greensburg after the tornado 5 years ago, a souvenir from Lands End Auto Hill Climb, identify to claim.’
Terry, a friend, had confessed to taking the buckle from the rubble while in Greensburg after the devastating 2007 tornado.
“He was helping out a friend clean up after the tornado,” explained McElwee. “He kind of put the buckle out of his mind but he ran across it recently. We got to talking about getting it back to whoever it belonged to.”
The buckle was traced back to J&H Buckles, the Englewood, Colo. manufacturer who had produced the buckle for the “Lands End Hill Climb” in fall 1982.
Jared Apjoke of J&H was able to locate the original artwork, but found no customer information, though the Colorado Hill Climb Association (CHCA) had commissioned it.
The Lands End Hill Climb is an auto race along the Land’s End Road in Grand Junction, Colo. that began in the 1940s.
The Daily Sentinel, a local newspaper, had published a program for that year’s race, which provided a roster of contestants. It was thought that the buckle had been a trophy and perhaps the owner of the buckle had been a racer.
“It might be a keepsake,” added McElwee in the article. “It might be a keepsake from someone who might have gotten killed [in the tornado]. Terry thought it would be a good idea to get it back to the person who owned it.”
After the story ran a single phone call eventually led to the owner.
“I was in Glen’s Barber Shop in Dodge City and some of the guys in there were talking about an article they read in the newspaper about a Land’s End Auto Hill Climb buckle and the Greensburg tornado,” said Fowler resident Larry Dewell. “They said that no one had found the owner and I thought ‘I betcha I know who that is.’”
Dewell said the buckle might belong to his old friend J.L. Tucker, a man whom he had met during his Colorado racing days.
Page 2 of 5 - “He was the head of transportation at some of the Colorado Hill Climb races I was at. I was racing in Pike’s Peak and he was there helping them,” continued Dewell. “I was racing the Cripple Creek Road in 1990 and I crashed pretty bad. I must have flipped two or three times. I was really sore and shaken up from it and he said ‘why don’t you come to the house and recuperate.’ He took me in for about three days in Colorado Springs. He didn’t know me except that I was from Kansas. That tells you a lot about what type of guy he was, to do that for a stranger.”
Dewell said he ran into Tucker and his wife at a restaurant years later in Greensburg and spent the night catching up. “When I heard about this story I knew whose buckle it was.”
Tucker was a Greensburg native and the son of Lois and Raymond “R.H.” Tucker.
He graduated from Greensburg High School in 1953 and served two years as a Military Police officer after graduating from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He and his family had deep roots in the community. Two of their businesses are still operating today.
After returning to Greensburg he built and managed the J-Hawk Hotel, which was rebuilt after the 2007 tornado as the Best Western Night Watchman.
Tucker’s grandfather “M.H.” Tucker opened a local car dealership in Greensburg in the early 1910’s. Dwane Shank purchased the dealership in 1973 and is now run by his son Ron and his widow Ester.
Tucker eventually left Greensburg and moved to Colorado where he the chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association for twenty years, having also been diagnosed with the degenerative disease that affects muscle tissue. The disease would put Tucker in a wheelchair for most of his later life.
While in Colorado he also work for the Colorado Hill Climb Association and the Pike’s Peak Auto Hill Climb Association.
Tucker worked for the race associations for more than 30 years as a director, assistant and head of transportation. The buckle was given to employees of the Land’s End Auto Hill Climb in 1982 and since Tucker worked for the race association at that time, he likely received one of the buckles.
In 1987 he married Susan (Goeson) Tucker while living in Colorado. She was a trained equine therapist, a profession that administers horse-riding therapy to disabled children and adults.
He would eventually become the national director of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association and worked for a therapeutic riding program with his wife.
Page 3 of 5 - He also created the “Tucker Project” with his wife.
The portable compact ramp allowed equine therapy patients in wheelchairs to get on to a horse without a pulley system.
Tucker would bring the business back to Kansas with him in 1998 and team up with Gene Kile, a local welder, to manufacture the ramps.
Tucker and his wife moved back to Greensburg in 1998 to help care for his mother, who had taken ill.
“Greensburg was his home town and his mother had broken her hip,” said Mrs. Tucker, who recently remarried. “At first when we came back it was temporarily to help her, but I fell in love with the town and after she passed away we just decided to stay there.”
When he came back to Greensburg he was a trustee for the Methodist Church, a treasurer for the Hospital Board and coordinated the annual Christmas Parade of Lights.
While his muscular dystrophy continued to progress and make simple tasks painful and difficult, he continued to contribute to the community.
“To him the disease was not something that kept him down it was something to overcome,” said Mrs. Tucker. “He had great drive and a great will to succeed in whatever he applied himself to. He also cared very much about Greensburg and the people there. He still had plans the day he died. Things he wanted to do to help Greensburg grow. He just never let it get him down.”
Tucker passed away on Aug. 16, 2004 at a hospital in Wichita.
Rev. Gene McIntosh Jr. officiated services less than a week later and he was laid to rest in Fairview Cemetery, Greensburg.
Even in his later years he was connected to the races in Colorado, taking long trips with friends to work the Land’s End Auto Hill Climb.
“One of the final years he was able to help out there, because of his limitations, he needed some help,” said Ron Shank, who knew Tucker because of both families’ ownership in the Chevy dealership. “So he called and asked if I would want to come out to Colorado and he thought that I would enjoy that. It was really neat and I took my son along. Because he was in charge of transportation we had VIP passes. We could get in anywhere.”
Shank who, coincidentally used to fly planes with Larry Dewell, the man who recognized the buckle as belonging to Tucker, remembers him as many of his friends do, a resilient man who overcame a devastating disability.
“Because he was so handicapped, he wasn’t able to do any physical activity, so he thought a lot,” said Shank. “That’s what he could do, think. He always had thoughts and ideas because that’s what he could do. He was always coming up with something new.”
Page 4 of 5 - While Tucker has passed away, his legacy continues to affect handicapped children and their families.
“J was already making the ramps in Colorado,” said Gene Kile, Tucker’s former business partner in The Tucker Project. “I had done a little welding for J before, I’m a retired welder, and when he moved back to Greensburg he asked me if I would be interested in making ramps for him.”
Kile and Tucker continued to produce the Tucker Ramps until 2004 when he passed away. Kile and his wife Ramona took over the business and still make the ramps, which are sold to equine therapy facilities all over the country, at their workshop in Pratt.
“I really admired him because he was so handicapped to where it was nearly impossible to do anything,” continued Kile. “He never complained, he was always interested in doing more things, even when he was in the hospital and sick. He was talking about what he was going to do when he got out. He was a really amazing guy.”
Kile estimates that they have sold more than 140 Tucker Ramps since he began working on them. They have sold them to facilities in New York, New Jersey and Maine. They’ve also sold them to the University of Kansas and to Reigns of Hope in Hutchinson.
“We usually sell about a dozen or so each year,” said Mrs. Kile. “We like packing up the truck and delivering them. We have enjoyed those trips very much and we never would have done it if we didn’t have a reason.”
Mrs. Tucker left Kansas after her husband died to take work in Colorado.
When she left in 2005 she still owned a former florist shop at 435 S. Walnut in Greensburg, across the street from where the hospital had been located.
“We had been renting the front as a furnished apartment for hospital staff when they were on call,” she said. “The back part was for our storage and I'm guessing that was where the buckle got lost since I'd moved about everything out after J. L. died.”
Jerry, the man who discovered the buckle, said he had found it just next to the remains of the hospital.
“Part of J survived the tornado, that’s significant,” said Mrs. Tucker. “I think it was a token of something that was important in his life. It was something that he kept because it was important to him. It was about those memories.”
The Kiowa County Historical Museum held the buckle until last month when Tucker’s son John, who lives in Colorado, decided he wanted the buckle.
Page 5 of 5 - “I am positive that it was dad’s,” said Tucker’s son John, responding to a picture of the buckle which had run in The Signal. “He wore it often, and I went to many of those races with him. It brought a tear to the eye to see it again.”