The Upper Midwest harness horse racing world lost a giant last week, and so did Rice Lake. Bud Epp, who for more than half a century was the well-known face of local harness horse racing, died Friday at the age of 83. Just this summer Epp gave up the race director title at the annual Barron County Fair races in Rice Lake, but he worked with new directors Patty Strand and Clark Whitney to pass the torch. He sat on the rail and watched racing in his beloved sport one last time in July. "I talked to him in September. He said he wanted to help out again with the races with whatever he could do next year. And I wanted his help," said Strand, a Rice Lake native who grew up following harness horse racing and watching Epp in what she calls "Bud's barn." "It's not going to be the same there. That's where he lived. He lived and breathed harness horse racing," said Strand. With a knack for detail and organization, a personable style and soft voice, Epp could get owners and trainers to bring up to 100 horses to Rice Lake each July. He also helped convince the community to support the races with their donations. For those who knew him, and that is many, his big heart, politeness and his way of calling folks "Pal" will be missed. "Just his knowledge is going to be missed. He had so many experiences with horses and he was always willing to help others in the sport," said Strand. Visitation for Epp is this Tuesday from 4-8 p.m. at Appleyard's Home for Funerals in Rice Lake, with the funeral Wednesday at 11 a.m. at United Presbyterian Church. Epp was inducted into the Wisconsin Harness Horse Racing Hall of Fame inn 2008. Following is a condensed version of a story that ran that same year in The Chronotype, just prior to the county fair races.
**************************** Published July 9, 2008 July's sun has climbed high enough to reach only a few feet inside the century old horse barn. Rice Lake's premier horseman is in the shade of the barn, alternating looks between a 3-year mare getting new shoes and the sun-drenched fairgrounds outside the door. "It's been 50 years I've been sitting on this trunk, fooling with these horses," said Bud Epp, his soft, smooth voice drifting into the cobwebs high in the barn's dark rafters. Happy Wishes is a "youngster," as Epp like to call them. The filly isn't ready for next week's two nights of racing at the Barron County Fair, but Epp is looking forward to the day she finally does pull a racing sulky to the starting line. A retired Rice Lake cattle dealer, Epp has driven, trained and owned harness horses since the 1950s. His half century of "fooling with horses" was recognized earlier this year by the Wisconsin Harness Horse Assn. Epp was inducted into the state group's hall of fame in January at Madison, joining two other Rice Lakers in the hall, Kathleen Larson and her late husband, Allyn "Bud" Larson. "I was surprised. It was kind of a nice honor," Epp said slowly, as if to let the good feeling of being recognized by his peers sink in once again. While Happy Wishes was getting shoed by Chetek farrier Lyle Amundson, Epp fielded questions and phone calls about next week's races on the half-mile fairgrounds track just outside the barn door. Epp weaves together the annual Rice Lake racing card, mostly by himself now since the death of Larson in 1996. He's looking at having between 65 and 75 pacers and trotters racing at the Barron County Fair. There won't be any local horses in the running, though Epp has a good 4-year old mare racing on Illinois tracks now. Puddin Tame has won five races this year. Epp stayed up late Sunday watching for a fifth place. "She ran a 1:53. That's a honkin'," said Epp. After Happy Wishes got her new shoes Monday, Epp sent her out on the track for a training run. The veteran horseman sat on the red trunk pushed up against an inside wall of the barn lined with box-type fans along a patchwork floor of dirt, blacktop and rubber mats. The only horse in the barn, an old swayback used to calm young horses during training runs, poked its head out from a stall over Epp's left shoulder. "It's been a good ride. I have a little trouble getting around now. But I would miss these horses if I didn't have them," said Epp, who has high hopes for Happy Wishes, the half-sister of Puddin Tame. "These horses get to be like family, and there's some heartbreaks with them too," said Epp, recalling Minnesota Fats, a horse that was "gonna be a good one" but went down with a broken leg after a big win in St. Louis. Epp came out of Nebraska as a teenager to join the Navy during World War II. By the time he settled in Rice Lake with his wife, Mike, and their family, Epp had already worked with thoroughbred horses. Larson got Epp into harness horse racing after Epp got his first look at the historic Rice Lake fairgrounds barn some 50 years ago. A lot of the old horsemen are gone now, the barn quieter on summer days than it ever was. As Happy Wishes makes her way back into the barn, from the sun to the shadows, Epp says softly, "Horses like to come home here. I do too."
Posted: Saturday, November 30, 2013
Article comment by:
I am so sorry for your loss, Bud was a great mentor to me when ever I passed thru the barn. I always made a point to stop n chat & he always made it worth while. He will be missed dearly and remembered Greatly:)
Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2013
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Thanks so very much for honoring our dad and hero. He was a friend to all and is such an inspiration to us all. We cherish the articles written honoring our hero.