By Ken Jackson
Gary Suhl lived a life “you could hang your hat on.”
In celebrating the lifelong Osceola County rodeo enthusiast’s life, many of the nearly 700 attendees at his memorial Monday at Osceola Heritage Park brought their cowboy hats.
Suhl, 72, who passed away suddenly at home on July 12, was remembered, through laughs and tears,
for the traits that made him unique: tough, stubborn, honest, hardworking, intense and strong-willed.
“If you wanted to explain him … he was just Gary,” said Pastor Leonard Thompson, of Heartcry Chapel, who officiated the ceremony.
The service was attended by a stream of well-wishers that included past and present members of the County Commission and the School Board.
He was remembered for sitting on the Osceola County Commission from 1978-82, and for speaking up when something he saw didn’t pass his smell test.
But he was more known for building, creating and playing host to the Kissimmee Sports Arena, which for many years gave local up-and-coming rodeo riders, racers and ropers the chance to cut their teeth in competitive rodeo. It also provided tourists the opportunity to see a rodeo put on at the grassroots level.
On kissimmeerodeo.com, it’s called, “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” Thompson said local cowboys and cowgirls called it, “Osceola’s Field of Dreams.”
“That rodeo was Gary’s passion,” Thompson said. “It gave a chance at rodeo to these kids who wouldn’t get it anywhere else. But that’s not his legacy. That has names: Kathy, Jed and Calee.”
Those are the children of Suhl and his wife, Diane, and while they and their six grandchildren were family, anybody could be Suhl’s friend, to hear Thompson tell it.
“He was a man who’d talk to anyone, and many people here can call him friend,” Thompson said Monday. “He was a man of faith, and the same guy at church as he was in the rodeo ring.”
And that’s where the fun started as Suhl’s no-nonsense approach to life was captured.
“He’d say, ‘Life would be so simple if government used common sense,’” Thompson said.
Cindy Joint, Suhl’s business manager and secretary, said Suhl “had a special way of doing things, especially if it had to do with the county.
“He once said, ‘They saw me coming, and they closed the blinds,’” she wrote in a letter Thompson read. “He was a one of a kind boss man.”
Thompson offered a tidbit few knew: in Suhl’s time at the University of Florida, he was accepted into its law school.
“After thinking more about it, he said, ‘To hell with it, I’m just gonna
go home and milk cows,” he said.
He did that, and so much more, like raising a family and helping to build a thriving community.
“There isn’t enough time or words to capture what Daddy meant to us,” Kathy Suhl McClintick said.
The son of Rufus and Mary Suhl, Gary graduated from Osceola High School in 1963 and was a lifelong member of the Silver Spurs Riding Club, which named him its Coca-Cola Cowboy in 2010. It’s an honor reserved for the club’s most devoted members; the red jacket the club awards its honorees was on proud display at Monday’s service.