Obituary – Longtime Fraser resident and ranch owner Punk Murphy dies
January 24, 2010
Longtime Fraser resident and ranch owner, Punk Murphy, nee Kerry Duncan Ohman, passed away at age 95 on January 9, 2010.
Born in Pilger, Neb. on Sept. 22, 1914, she moved to Denver with her family when the cattle market crashed in the 1920s. Punk’s father took up the trade of carpentry, but his passion was in cattle. Soon the family would discover the Fraser Valley, where they would spend summers pasturing cattle on the lush summer grass surrounding Crooked Creek. Many years, theirs would be the last car to leave Grand County before Berthoud Pass would close and the valley would be isolated for the winter.
In 1934, Punk married Granby rancher James Murphy. They ran cattle on what is still the Murphy ranch in Fraser, as well as the ranch that Jim’s brother John still owns in Granby, and were year-round residents of the Fraser Valley. During the Great Depression, Punk milked cows, churned butter and raised eggs to sell in town to support the family and, of course, she and Jim raised beef. During the haying season, large crews of 10 or more men would have to be fed, and Punk was the cook in addition to working in the field. She did much of the butchering, and continued butchering chickens and rabbits for her family and to sell until she was well into her 80s.
Punk raised 2 boys, John Carl and James Leigh, in the small house that still stands today. She often recalled that possibly the greatest invention of all time was the electric blanket. Their house was so poorly insulated that a glass of water would freeze solid during the night, and they would often wake up with a skiff of snow on the beds. For many years, her winter days would start by harnessing the team of draft horses to a sled to feed the cows. Eventually they started using equipment to feed the cows. One extremely cold morning, nothing would start. Punk, being the only adult on the ranch at the time, fed the entire herd of cows with a toboggan – one or two bales at a time – through waist-deep snow, never complaining and never a notion of letting the cows go hungry.
A new house was completed in 1972. With it came both cold and hot running water. Jim died in 1974, and although Leigh had stayed on the ranch, Punk did many of the chores. It’s been reported that very often she would out-work the teenage boys that she hired to help. Although haying was then done with machinery and didn’t require a crew of men, there were still miles of fence that would need tending every year, especially in the spring after the harsh Fraser winters.
Punk could sure build a fence, even though there was sometimes complaining from others that her gates were too dang tight and impossible to open! She spent much of the summer on horseback and prided herself on the fact that no matter what horse she rode, it could always out-walk anyone else’s. She had a way with animals in general. She enjoyed a small flock of sheep, and one could always expect her to have a cold orphan lamb in her kitchen during lambing season.
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Punk also had a way with baking. At any time, you could walk into the house and find several varieties of cookies, homemade bread and who knows what other kind of goody. Her cinnamon rolls were a favorite of everyone. On days when there was a crew of people helping to ship cattle, Punk would always have fresh cinnamon rolls ready for a morning treat. On more than one occasion someone would say, “This is the only reason I come to help!”
Ranch life wasn’t always work. Punk recalled New Year’s parties with the neighbors that would include everyone riding on someone’s hay sled around the neighborhood, singing and laughing. Those would not end until the next afternoon, after they all had gone to everyone’s ranch and fed their cows. She loved to tell stories of the good old days and was known to occasionally play a prank on someone. One time in particular, knowing a guest hated lamb, she fixed a lamb roast for dinner letting him brag on how good that pork roast was before letting him in on the secret.
Punk was very involved with other activities such as a knitting club, and she was a member of the Fraser library board for many years. Every year, she would volunteer at the voting polls and help with the hand-counting of votes that always lasted until the morning hours. Of course, she always came prepared with cookies.
Punk was a fisherman and enjoyed hunting even into her 70s. She preferred a cow elk to any trophy hunt, as she wasn’t there to show off but to fill her freezer with something she enjoyed. She always had a garden and eventually a sun room was added on to her house for her huge collection of house plants. This is where you could find her as she got older sitting in the sun looking out the window and reading a book.
She and Jim started a 4-H club in the 1940s, and when she was honored for being its leader for 50 years, everyone thought she might retire. She didn’t for another year or two. She raised lambs that were shown at the county and state fairs, and she spent many hours every year halter breaking a ewe for her granddaughter’s “ladies’ lead contest,” a contest that she also judged on more than one occasion.
She had a passion for all young people and enjoyed helping in their activities. Her grandchildren spent a lot of time with her, and she soon became known as Gram to about everyone. She always had time to play silly games, read stories and help with homework. Punk attended all school events and always supplied home-baked treats. Another of Punk’s activities as she got older was helping older ladies. She would spend time with them, take them places and lend a listening ear.
Punk was extremely intelligent and loved to read. Although she never traveled much, there were few places that she didn’t know about as she was always researching. If someone wanted to know something, all they had to do was ask Gram. If she didn’t know the answer, she would spend however long it took and find out.
Punk kept a detailed journal of her life’s happenings, everyday, until arthritis took her ability to write. As she got older she enjoyed when someone would come calling to just sit and visit. Having tea and cookies and good conversation was a favorite way to spend the afternoon. Punk will be missed by anyone that knew her. With her died a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, mentor, friend and – to many of us – a hero.
In addition, to her two sons, she is survived by six grandchildren: Paula Buckley, Mike Murphy, Sabrina Ketcham, and Andy Murphy, and six great-grandchildren.
The family will hold a service for her at the ranch when the snow melts and the grass turns green.