By: Keith Ryan Cartwright
October 13, 2016
PUEBLO, Co. – No, J.W. Hart is not easy to live with.
But neither is his wife, LeAnn.
Yes, she said the good “Lord knew what He was doing when he put us together.”
LeAnn, this year’s recipient of the Sharon Shoulder’s Award, will be honored during the Heroes & Legends Celebration held at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, in Las Vegas Nov. 1.
That night, she knows everyone will expect her to share stories about how tough it is being married to a gritty, hardnosed former bull rider known as “The Iron Man.”
“I think everybody expects me to get up there and bash on J-Dub a little bit,” LeAnn said, “because it’s kind of rough being his wife sometimes.”
There’s no doubt he’s toughened her up over the years and conversely she’s “knocked some of the edges” off of him.
What most people – even those behind the scenes of the PBR – don’t see is how well she holds her own with him and, in truth, can make it just tough on him. LeAnn can be pretty demanding when she wants to be.
In fact, when it comes to working their Oklahoma ranch together, she can put in just as many hours in the pasture feeding cattle and mending fences as he does.
“When you’re out in the brush with that guy and you hear a bunch of cowboys just complaining,” LeAnn recalled, “it’s a thorn in his side. They’re wanting to just give up and go to the house. You’re not going to hear his wife complaining. I’m going to quietly humble myself and follow him. I’ll stay out there in the brush with him as long as he needs to get it done.”
And, yeah, they’ve gone through a lot of saddle pads in their years together.
LeAnn is no pushover, but she wants to be there for him.
“She’s the most loving, chartable person I know,” J.W. said of his wife. “At the same time, she’ll stand up and go toe to toe with anybody.”
“You want to be tough around J.W. Hart,” she said. “At the same time, as a woman, he needed to be softened in a few places.”
She laughed at the thought of being asked what edges she knocked off.
In many respects, J.W. is tough man because he was forced to be a tough kid in an even tougher situation.
He grew up poor and, like LeAnn, he’s been working nearly all his life. As a child, his family was so poor it was more common than not for the Hart family to be without electricity—even during the bitter cold months of winter.
For different reasons, the Hart’s had to grow up and mature at young ages.
J.W.’s parents were married until his mother passed away in 2009 just hours after his adopted son was born. In one of the most powerful moments of his life, J.W.’s mother lived long enough for LeAnn to text a photo of Wacey to J.W., who in turn showed his mother.
LeAnn, on the other hand, was raised in a broken home.
They weren’t particularly poor, but they worked hard on a dairy farm in Louisiana.
One particular Christmas Eve two “soon-to-probably-be” (but never were) step-sisters came to their family celebration. Everyone sat around the tree and they read “A Christmas Story” and when it was finally time for the gifts to be passed out, LeAnn watched carefully as the two each opened a gift box that had nightgowns from Victoria’s Secret.
Then opened her own box to find a scarf and mittens.
Though she was thankful for the present, LeAnn was noticeably disappointed.
Moments later her paternal grandmother whispered in LeAnn’s ear, “I didn’t get you what I got them because you don’t expect it.”
LeAnn already knew her grandmother loved her.
“So I’ve always been that person who never looked for materialistic things,” said LeAnn, who once paid only $16 for sunglasses because it was two-for-one special despite the fact that J.W. had given her $100 to go buy a pair. “I’ve always felt that people giving time to somebody was worth way more.”
LeAnn continued, “That’s where I put my focus. … And that’s really, in a nutshell, who I am today.”
That’s the LeAnn being honored this year.
It’s also why Tiffany Davis – the wife of PBR cofounder Jerome Davis and a past recipient of the Sharon Shoulders Award – was honored to call her longtime friend with the news.
LeAnn joked that Tiffany might have “chewed some people out for the first time in her life” had she not been the one to make the call. They’ve been best friends for longer than she and J.W. have been officially together.
In fact, after meeting her at an event, Tiffany said to J.W., “I have found your future wife.”
She said J.W. needed someone to “line him out” and LeAnn “looked like she could handle him.”
Tiffany said the first time they met “it just clicked,” as if the two fast-friends had known one another their entire lives. All these years later, Tiffany may have called LeAnn with the news, but Shoulders sent her a gift – “awesome lotion” – to express her excitement to have LeAnn representing the Shoulders name.
Now the onus is on her to deliver not just a good speech, but a great one.
Her speech will be filled with love and family.
And what a family it is.
“They’re kind of like hillbilly Osbourne’s,” J.W. once told LeAnn before she met his family for the first time.
The Hart family swore a lot and it was not uncommon for any one of them to use the F word. LeAnn’s family wasn’t quite as rough around the edges, but in short order she said, “It got easy to be rough.”
J.W. still enjoys hearing his wife get rattled and let a few words fly out.
However, she wishes she could be more like Tiffany, who spells out curse words instead of saying them, but once onlookers get past the colorful language there has always been a sense of family values.
As a couple, the Harts do everything together.
“Marriage is about climbing a mountain together,” said LeAnn, of her relationship with J.W. “I’d rather be fighting and fussing up the mountain with that man any day than not have him.”
Though his choice of adjectives is still in question, he has definitely learned how to say, “I love you.”
In fact, even his father has learned the importance of saying it.
LeAnn said it’s just in her nature to say “I love you” when she says goodbye and she’s also the hugging type, which – for years, OK, decades – was something the Hart family lacked. Without ever thinking twice about what she was saying or who she was saying it to, LeAnn always said, “I love you” when saying goodbye to J.W.’s dad.
Before long, he replied, “I love you.”
Until then, J.W. had never heard his father say those words.
At the time, they weren’t meant for him, but it was a monumental moment in the Hart family.
Nowadays, father and son finally take the time to say the same to one another.
It’s only fitting considering years earlier the elder Hart once pointed out LeAnn at a bull riding event in Fort Worth, Texas, and said, “Why can’t you find one like that.”
Seven years later, J.W. couldn’t wait to say, “Remember the one you liked?”
“It’s just about breaking the walls down,” said LeAnn, who despite any perceived differences fit right into the Hart family. “That’s a really big thing for us. Even if we’re aggravated with each other, we say we love each other.”
And, yes, J-Dub is definitely full of ‘I love yous’ when it comes to his own kids.
They are parents of three adopted children and raising a foster child as well, but all that is still only a part of the reason why LeAnn was chosen as this year’s Sharon Shoulder’s Award recipient.
Yes. There’s more to her.
She is also active in church and she’s been singing and praising not just in Oklahoma and Texas, but from Louisiana to Colorado.
There’s also LeAnn’s charity work.
She tirelessly provides clothes, toys and holiday gifts to needy children and is willing to help with anyone else who happens to ask throughout the year.
“That’s the way she works,” J.W. said. “I mean, I have a grown man who works for me and he can’t do as good a job as she does when I’m gone. When he can’t pull the slack, she goes and takes care of it. Cattle, horses and kids, feeds a crew of guys on branding day, takes the kids to school, saddles horses, helps to gather cattle, brand cattle and then she does all the charity work for the kids.”
He added, “Nobody sees that and really, to me, it’s immeasurable the way she handles it all.”
So, yes, on her long drives from one cowboy church to another – she recently took a road trip to Colorado at the request of Kody Lostroh’s wife Candace – she contemplates life and thinks about that upcoming speech.
Is she nervous? A little.
But long ago her father told her having butterflies in her belly is a good thing.
“I’m not going to totally wing it,” LeAnn said, “but I’m going to wing it a little bit. No. I’m not going to read a script, but it’ll be heartfelt.”
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