Wednesday, 06 July 2011 16:04

Tilley remembers old-timer Joe Anderson

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By Scott Schmidt
Pretty much anyone in Newell County old enough has at least heard of ‘Old Joe’ Anderson and most could probably even tell a story or two of an encounter they once had.

What is remarkable about this is the simple fact the Suffield-born sheepherder was known best for keeping quietly to himself.

He was a man who felt Brooks was too fast-paced during  the early ’70s. Anderson loved to be away from it all. Anderson still touched anyone who knew him, as he subtly represented what small-town people are all about —hard working, humble and kind.

On July 2, nearly 15 years since his passing, the town of Tilley unveiled a mural commemorating Anderson’s life. He lived in that community for many years with his wife Mary and their four daughters.

The mural — spanning more than 20 feet across — hangs across the front of the town’s Friendship Centre.

Painted by Tilley artist Manda Roberts, it depicts Anderson in his famous pose out on the prairies with his sheep, his dog and his rifle, as he peers out across the land from underneath a straw cowboy hat.

“The seniors (centre members) sat together and tried to think of somebody they could choose as a representative for this mural and they all came up with my father,” said youngest daughter Betty Anderson, who lives in Medicine Hat.

“Dad treated everybody individually and he just knew everyone. Whenever he met up with people he would remember their name, say some quirky thing, which endeared them to him and he would remember something about them.”

A good-sized crowd came out to honour Anderson and there were plenty of speakers before and after the unveiling of ‘Old Joe’s’ mural, each with their own memory of the man who affected so many lives.

For Betty and her sisters, seeing how much their dad meant to others was a moment of pride they’ll always remember.

“It’s really hard on the emotions because it brings so much back and you want to cry,” said Betty. “But yet, they’re tears of joy.”

A small book has even been developed called Joe’s Stories, filled with various takes on Anderson’s life and his character.

The complete mural, which is five sections fused together, took Roberts three months to complete.

She says meticulous efforts were put into trying to capture the proper and correct reflection.

“It was a little overwhelming,” said Roberts on her being asked to take on the project. “This being my first mural, it was a challenge, but I took it on thinking there must be a reason I was chosen.”

Roberts began to feel a connection to ‘Old Joe’ as she did the work. She says she was made welcome by the Anderson family. That motivated her to do the best job she could, even if it meant being extra critical of own work.

“I made a lot of changes along the way, but it just kind of came together in the end.”

John Desjardins, president of the Friendship Centre, grinned ear-to-ear when asked about the mural.

The project had been in the works for years and he felt it would help give the centre a needed boost.

“This whole area was settled by sheepherders,” said Desjardins. “Joe loved his family, he loved to be around people, but he just loved to be alone with his sheep, his trusty 30/30 and his sheep dog.”

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