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'Another good cowboy's gone home'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Earlier this year, humorist and ventriloquist, Barry Toepp, passed away, leaving his wife, Marcia, bereft; and his constant companion, Gino "R" Tree, without a voice.
To keep her husband's memory and legacy alive, Toepp's widow has donated a collection of the costumes and props used during the couple's performances with the Cowboys on Main and Bandera on the Road programs to the Frontier Times Museum. On Wednesday, Nov. 26, the museum showcased the collection, "Pitching His Voice - The Art and Tradition of Cowboy Ventriloquist Barry Toepp."
"We were honored that Marcia generously offered us the treasures that she shared with her beloved husband," said Frontier Times Museum Executive Director Rebecca Norton.
"Bandera is known for its interesting people and Barry was definitely interesting and funny. Where else but in Bandera could you have a conversation on the street with a cowboy and his cowboy ventriloquist dummy? Marcia's gift to the museum will allow us to tell this story for years to come," Norton continued.
The opening of "Pitching His Voice - The Art and Tradition of Cowboy Ventriloquist Barry Toepp" also served as a memorial service for the popular entertainer.
"He really didn't want a memorial service," Marcia Toepp told those assembled. "Two well-respected friends of his passed away recently and the memorials were very hard on him. Barry felt this would be too hard on me and the kids."
However, as it turned out, the memorial morphed into a very special tribute to a man whom everyone loved and respected - with friends and family sharing remembrances of someone who passed from their lives too soon.
Adding a little levity, Marcia recalled a time when after gaining a little weight, lamenting, "I can't fit into any of my pants." Her husband's reaction? "He just said, 'We can buy bigger pants and there's just more of you to cuddle'!" Marcia added, "He loved me unconditionally."
One of Toepp's oldest friends of 52 years, Mike Wooley, of Santa Rosa, California, recalled forming a singing group - in the manner of The Lettermen and Four Freshmen - in the 1960s in California. "Barry was the humorous one. Pretending to be late for the performance, he used to rush on stage with toilet paper trailing behind him," Wooley said. "A true entertainer, Barry left his heart with a lot of people."
"I am my father's son," said Barry Vincent Toepp Jr., "both in appearance and humor." The former Master at Arms for the United States Navy, now chief of police for the VA in Seattle, Washington, bore an uncanny resemblance to his father - and they were close in other ways. "Dad was always my 'go to' guy and his counsel was never self-serving," Toepp Jr. said.
Recalling a somewhat painful and less than idyllic childhood, he remembered his father driving him back to his mother's house after spending the day with his son. "I was about 6 years old and I didn't want to go back to that house so I'd run after my father," Toepp Jr. said. "I spent the next 40 years running after him and when I finally get there, it's going to be really cool."
Reminiscing about the couple's 41 years together as a team, Marcia said, "I don't have any bad memories. I loved Barry with all my heart and miss him terribly."
At Marcia's request, entertainer Makin' Dust paid perfect homage to his late friend with a poignant song written by cowboy poet and songwriter Red Steagall, "There's One Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse."
The lyrics conjured up a full life cut short too soon:
"There's one empty cot in the bunkhouse.
There's a saddle that nobody rides.
One empty place at the table.
The remuda is five horses shy.
We turned his string out to pasture.
He'll never ride 'em no more.
We buried him out on the hillside last Sunday.
Another good cowboy's gone home."
Barry Toepp Sr. may have gone home, but according to Makin' Dust and the multitude of friends who gathered at the museum, his sweet and gentle spirit will live on forever in the hearts of those who loved him.
"Pitching His Voice - The Art and Tradition of Cowboy Ventriloquist Barry Toepp" will be on display in the museum's Western gallery through May 2015. The exhibit features a selection of the Toepps' matching outfits, a poster signed by Professional Bull Riders' champion cowboys and, of course, Gino "R" Tree and Carrie Oakie and their tiny matching costumes.
The Frontier Times Museum is located at 510 13th Street in Bandera. For more information, call 830-796-3864.