Sonny rode into Cowboy Heaven on May 9, 2022, after a long battle with pneumonia.
Sonny was born in Maytoy, Okla., and moved to Madera, Calif., with his family at the age of 12. They were no strangers to hard work and the cotton fields provided them a living. In 1958, at just 23 years old, Sonny went to work managing a ranch for Frank Bergon Sr. There he married Joyce (Blakney) and they had two children, Trish and Pam. He left the Bergons in 1965 and, at the insistence of Jack Schwabacher, moved his family to Daniel, Wyo., to manage the Quarter Circle 5. His best friend Darrell Winfield followed shortly after and was eventually discovered by the Marlboro people there. In 1976, Sonny moved to Wilson, Wyo., to manage the Snake River Ranch. During his time there his marriage ended and she moved to be in the warmer weather. In his first full year at the new outfit he completed a difficult cattle drive from the ranch to the summer range. This required moving cattle along public roads busy with tourists that were unfamiliar with encountering a cattle drive. As he investigated and then committed to replacing the seasonal horseback cattle drive with a large trucking operation, the doubters and the shortsighted made their reservations known. It would only be a short time before they too would all be trucking their cattle. This was not the first, nor would it be the last time, he showed others how to do what they said could not be done.
During the years of transforming the Snake River Ranch operation, Sonny became acquainted with Susie Hauge. She stood out to him, and to hear him tell it, she was smart as a whip and was eager to learn the right way to do things. And she could work! In 1996, after toiling 20 years in the shadow of the Tetons, and a near lifetime of managing agricultural operations, Sonny retired and settled in La Barge, Wyo., to be near his children.
Easily recognizable as a man of his word, Sonny believed a handshake secured a deal. He was a natural leader, extraordinary at reading people and could talk to anybody. One of the best cattle traders in the country, he showed the Green River Valley a different way of doing things. His personal discipline, his exceptional time management, his lightning wit and gift with words, and his concern for the welfare of livestock were central to his success. He was a master at maintaining equipment and made keeping track of sprawling operations seem easier than it was. No one would be seriously injured while he was in charge of a dangerous task.
As anyone who has worked on a ranch knows, ranch work is hard work and in all kinds of conditions. However, Sonny always made it fun. His sense of humor and consideration for his coworkers made it so enjoyable to work with him, as well as endlessly educational. Good habits were learned by all.
In retirement he loved to keep track of his neighbors and the surrounding communities, especially agricultural people doing interesting things with animals and equipment. He never missed a change in the landscape. He brought the same focused mentality to maintaining residential property that he had honed as a ranch manager. The man could not be made to slow down, take it easy or let it slide just this once.
His health and routine became increasingly important to him, as did the health and habits of those around him. He would become well known as an unlicensed dietitian. He even made house calls, free of charge.
Many knew him as an avid antique collector and beginning in the 1970s on the Quarter Circle 5, with organized retreats known as Trail Rides, Sonny became well acquainted with many in the Cowboy Western art world. The retreats attracted renowned painters, sketch artists, sculptors and Hollywood actors. He had lifelong friendships with many of them. He and Susie spent the early years of his retirement touring around to various western art exhibitions, attending auctions, visiting galleries and reconnecting with the people that had so dazzlingly represented the cowboy and native ways of life.
Sonny was the man we loved and a complicated figure because of his close acquaintance with the harsh realities of life, beginning at a very young age. Those pressures made him into a diamond because he managed to channel them to build character, but he never stopped being a champion for those he saw were simply being crushed by the weight. He was a mentor, a friend and confidant for so many along the way. He was truly one of a kind.
He will be sorely missed by so many. He is survived by his longtime life partner Susie Hauge, his daughter Trish Studt, his granddaughter Brittany Ritter, grandsons Dusty and Jacob Wallentine, his great-granddaughter Madison Ritter, great-grandson West Ritter, great- grandsons Sean and Ayden Wallentine, his sister Judy (Richard) Beene and his brother Ralph (Shirley) Clement.
Sonny was preceded in death by his mother Callie Childers, his father James R. Clement, sister Ida Bell Collett, brothers Roy and Charles Clement, his daughter Pam (Boyd) Wallentine, and granddaughter Sarah Studt.
In lieu of flowers, Sonny would challenge you to add value to the life of someone else or to your community by providing advice, expertise and/or action.