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Larger than life: Rodeo legend Hub Hubbell

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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 8, 2013
"I'm primarily a children's librarian," said author Judith Leipold, a former media specialist at Braden River Elementary School. "This (project) was a total stretch for me."
"I'm primarily a children's librarian," said author Judith Leipold, a former media specialist at Braden River Elementary School. "This (project) was a total stretch for me."
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EAST COUNTY — Judith Leipold heard of Hub Hubbell soon after moving in 1974 to Sarasota; the name followed her wherever she went.

The legendary rodeo personality was known for his gun tricks, his patriotic spirit and his love of promoting rodeos and the performers at them.

“I moved in 1985 to Arcadia, and everyone assumed I knew Hub, because I was from Sarasota,” said Leipold, who moved back to the area in 2004. “I’d still never met him.”

But, when she did, her life changed forever.

In 2010, while working as a media specialist at Braden River Elementary School, Leipold attended a Western-themed faculty meeting at Rosaire’s Riding Academy. While there, she made sure to thank the gentleman who was teaching teachers to rope.

“He introduced himself as Hub Hubbell,” she said. “(The other teachers) didn’t understand he was a legend. I couldn’t tear myself away from (him).”

Three years later — and after Hubbell’s death March 3, 2012, at 93 years old — his persona is still impacting Leipold.

And, Leipold has made Hubbell’s story larger than life, so to speak.

Peppertree Press recently released “Destiny’s Wild Ride,” a children’s tall tale based on Hubbell’s life. Leipold’s biography of Hubbell, “Straight from the Horse’s Mouth,” came out in late March.

She said the biography, in particular, not only is a tribute to Hubbell’s life, but also a promise fulfilled to Hubbell, who wanted his life story preserved on paper.

“He was such an exaggeration of life,” Leipold said. “He rode horses until he was 90, when he fell off (doing a riding stunt) and broke his neck.”

When Leipold met Hubbell that summer day in 2010, she never realized the closeness of the friendship that would develop as she spent up to four days a week visiting him, taking him to buy groceries and doctors visits and talking on the phone.

“He became like a father to me,” Leipold said. “We become very close.”

Later that year, Leipold retired early to care for her aging mother.

“I needed an outlet,” she said.

Leipold decided to write a book.

“I thought of (Hub) as a tall-tale character,” she said. “I wrote a story and gave it to him as a Christmas gift. He said he wanted (me to write a biography).”

Leipold protested. She didn’t write true stories. Hubbell persisted.

“He said, ‘I want a true book about my friends and my family,’” Leipold said. “They’re all special people.”

Leipold initially balked at the task of writing a biography about Hubbell, and she needed direction on where to start. Hubbell provided her with a list of names, wrote those friends letters and got back basic biographical information from all of them.

Leipold’s first interview was with Pepe Tomeu — a rodeo man who stopped fishing in a boat in the middle of the lake to take her call and share Hubbell’s impact on his life. Tomeu, who was a Cuban prisoner of war during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, had been released from captivity and immigrated to the United States with plans to join the U.S. military.

At 19 years old, Tomeu heard local rodeo might be a quick way to earn some extra money.

Hubbell, who was announcing that rodeo, met Tomeu and quickly learned his story — and of his support of President John F. Kennedy’s efforts — and announced Tomeu with a gush of patriotism.

What Tomeu said next made Leipold buy in to Hubbell’s idea for the book.

“Pepe said, ‘He gave me America that day,’” Leipold said. “Every chapter (of the book) involves people who touched his life and why they were important,” she said.

Leipold said after talking with Hubbell’s former colleagues, she couldn’t picture the book turning out any differently.

“Hub was right (about the book),” she said.

Leipold worked hard to finish the book, but was just a few chapters away from completion when Hubbell died last year.

His death stole Leipold’s desire to write, because the book had truly been a gift to Hubbell, himself. She surrounded herself with pictures of Hubbell, but continued to stare blankly at the computer screen. She lacked inspiration.

Six months passed. And, then, after asking a high school friend, an author, how to overcome writer’s block, Leipold regained her enthusiasm,. When Leipold realized she was still grieving Hubbell’s death, she was able to proceed.

“(My friend) said, ‘Finish the book,’” Leipold said. “‘Make Hub happy.’”

Within a month, the final four chapters had been completed.

Sarasota’s Peppertree Press began the editing process. The biography came out late last month.

Leipold smiles thinking back to all of Hubbell’s friends with whom she has connected. There are so many stories still to tell.

“I plan to do a revision,” she says. “There are more interviews to be done.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].


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