Leverne Perry died March 27th, 2016, but his contributions to the quality and financial health of Quarter Horse racing in Louisiana will continue.
Tony Patterson, who followed Leverne Perry as executive director of the Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association, spent over six years working beside the Louisiana legend. Patterson remembers his first few months in Alexandria, when Perry took him around the city and introduced him to all his contacts. Patterson recalls that “it was amazing how many people he knew and how each of them had such respect for him.”
Patterson acknowledges that one of Perry’s greatest contributions involved his work with the Louisiana legislature to ensure the prosperity of the state’s Quarter Horse breeding and racing.
“Leverne was respected and revered by so many,” says Patterson. “His success in breeding and racing set a very high standard, as did his tireless efforts in working with legislators to expand gaming at racetracks. His passing was a tremendous loss, but his legacy will live on forever.”
Leverne’s daughter Leigh Lepinski spent much of the past year in Alexandria helping her dad downsize his horse farm prior to his sudden passing. She recently shared personal reminiscences of her father with The Equine Report.
Your father had five girls!
Yes. My oldest sister, Karen, was a recreational therapist and worked with special needs children. She got married and became a mom. She’s a mother of five. Julie went into the radiology field. She’s actually teaching now at LSU-A, teaching physics and clinicals in their radiology certification program. Jill is a little more artsy. She lives in New Orleans and she’s a cosmetologist. Amy, my youngest sister, is a marketing representative for a hospital group and a mother of two and is very active in the community. I became a Certified Internal Auditor worked as an auditor for the racing commission, then in various senior management positions in the gaming industry. I am the only one that became actively involved in Quarter Horse racing and breeding.
We all went in very different directions and have very different personalities, I think.
There was a morning, this year, when one of the horses kicked down some boards in the barn. We just had part-time help in the afternoons, so my dad and I had to fix it. They were huge thick boards between two horses, we pulled and hammered and drilled, and I finally looked at him and said, “Dad, I don’t know why God didn’t give you any boys!” He laughed and said, “Good job fixing that, son!”
He loved us all very much. Every time he talked about any of us he just lit up. He was very proud of his girls and he tried to stay involved with us and the different aspects of our lives.
Was your mother interested in horses?
Yes. Actually, when she was younger, she was a rodeo queen and I think that’s how she and my dad met. She later worked at a bank for a while, and then she owned shoe stores. Both of my parents owned shoe stores. She kept hers until she retired.
My mother sold ladies shoes. The store was like Imelda’s in Shreveport, a “contemporary, upscale boutique.” In fact, the people who started Imelda’s visited my mom’s store when it opened to look at the concept. Dad had more of a family shoe store, where you could buy boots, kids’ shoes, and adult shoes. He closed his shoe business in 1987 when he became the Executive Director of the LQHBA.
Where did your dad grow up?
Sieper, Louisiana. A little country town west of Alexandria. He was an only child, and he loved his parents. He would tell his mom happy Mother’s Day every time he saw her. He would say about his dad, “I can wear his boots but I can’t fill his shoes.” He kept a lot of his dad’s cowboy boots and he still would wear them. The day my dad entered the hospital, he had on his dad’s boots.
My grandfather was a gentle giant. A quiet man who was loved by everybody. He wasn’t a wealthy man financially, but he was full of love. He wasn’t as bubbly as my dad! Dad got that from his mom. My grandfather worked cattle for people, so he traveled all over the state. If they had something they couldn’t get out of the woods or out of a spot, they would call him. He was a true cowboy. He had good horses and good skills. I remember watching him shoe his own horses. I was so impressed.
I understand that the stallion Mr Jess Perry is named after your grandfather.
Yes. My grandfather gave my dad $1,000 to find a mare for him, because my grandfather had working cow horses and had never done anything with racehorses. My dad bought Scoopie Fein [by Sinn Fein] in Texas and picked Streakin La Jolla to breed to. Scoopie foaled that baby, and one year later my grandfather passed away. My dad said the foal was the best one he ever raised and he named him after his father.
We still have one stallion at my dad’s horse farm, Mr Jesse, a three-quarter brother to Mr Jess Perry. His dam is Scoopie Magic, a daughter of Scoopie Fein, and his sire is also Streakin La Jolla.
Your dad was a professional rodeo competitor?
Yes. His specialty was calf roping, and he competed at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1952. He didn’t have enough money to go, but a friend and businessman named Jimmy Thompson sponsored him. Dad won the first go-around and was able to pay Mr. Thompson back. He was so grateful that Mr. Thompson had given him the opportunity.
My dad’s favorite horse was Purex. He was a really good roping horse and my dad was excited to get him. My grandmother told him he needed to name the horse Purex, because getting that horse cleaned them out!
He never taught me how to rope because I am left-handed, the only left-handed one in the family. He would tell me not to touch his rope because I’d mess it up.
Your father had such variety in his life…
He’s done so many things. He was in the Army in Japan during the Korean War. His job was to shoot down planes that came too close to Japan. He wasn’t there very long, so it was probably near the end of the war. He loved it there and he always said he would love to go back to Japan. He said the culture was so interesting and the people were so nice.
(Leverne Perry hosted his own television show, “Leverne Perry and the Little Wranglers,” on KALB in Alexandria from 1960 to 1966. The show featured kids, cartoons, and guest stars from TV and movie Westerns.)
People who were once “Little Wranglers” would stop him, every day and everywhere, and thank him for the show. It did not fail! He had this saying that he would always say to them: “I really appreciate you! Thank you for remembering.” He told every single person that, and he meant it. It touched him that people remembered.
He did so much. He was president of the Police Jury, he was president of the local rodeo club, he was a businessman, he was a racehorse breeder, he was always helping with fundraisers. He coached a softball team that one of my sisters was on and they won like two or three state championships. He made TV commercials for different businesses around town.
But his life wasn’t about all the achievements. It was about how he was with people and how he gave his time and his love.
My dad has always had a strong place in his heart for people with any special needs. He’s done a lot over the years to help people with disabilities. One day we had round bales delivered and the tractor wouldn’t start, so the man that delivered them and I were pushing the bales off the trailer. Normally dad would be there supervising or trying to push them himself, but he wasn’t. I looked up and said, “Where’s Dad?” He was at the front of the man’s truck on the passenger side talking to somebody. As I walked up just to see what he was doing, I saw him pull a $20 bill out of his pocket and grab this hand and put the bill in this hand and close it… I realize that he’s talking to the hay man’s daughter and she is blind. She was talking about getting their Harley repaired and her dad had bought a side car for their Harley… She said she loved it and wanted to go everywhere in it. After delivering hay they were going to try to get it out of the shop. Dad put a $20 bill in her hand and told her to put it towards getting her Harley fixed. And she was so sweet and said, “Oh, Mr. Leverne, I love you, I love you!” She wanted to come back and see him. It was just a really sweet thing to be able to witness. And I turned around, when they left, and I saw that my dad had tears in his eyes and he said, “You know, you just thank God every day that you’ve got your health, and I just can’t help but want to help people who don’t.” That was my dad, unsolicited and in front of no audience. I’m just grateful that God let me witness that first hand. It was a blessing to see that one little moment completely out of the blue.
He’s done so much for people. He’s raised money for St. Mary’s. He started the first Horses and Handicaps program in Alexandria and started the LQHBA scholarship program…
Did your dad love music?
Oh, yes. He loved Dwight Yoakum and older country singers like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. Country classic.
He had a guitar and he wanted to play the guitar so bad… We have no musical talent whatsoever. In his next life he will be a musician.
During the last several years he would call us girls up and not say anything, just hold the phone close to the speaker and the song would be George Strait’s “Love Without End”: “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then. It’s a love without end, amen, it’s a love without end, amen.” If we didn’t answer, he’d leave the song on our voicemail. He would do it to all of us, all the time!
Dad had extreme hearing loss. It might be hereditary. He couldn’t hear me very well, so I had to get my voice high and yell. If people were around who weren’t used to us, they probably thought, “What’s wrong with them?!”
In a way, we are opposites. Now, I’m a thinker and tend to worry, and he would say to me, “Quit fighting your head!” Dad was spontaneous and didn’t worry. We were like yin and yang, left hand and right hand. We’d be in the barn, and he’d say, “Do it this way!” And I’d say, “Daddy, I can’t!” We could both get from A to Z, but he was going to go by way of D and G and I was going to go by way of E and H. I’d do it my way, he’d do it his way, and we’d laugh and high five and say, “Teamwork!”
Leigh, have you always been involved with horses?
I don’t remember not being around horses. They were always part of our life. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my dad always had land somewhere and my grandparents had land outside Alexandria where we would ride.
I got away from riding for many years when I was involved other sports and in college. Then I moved to Shreveport after college and went riding with a cousin, and I said, “Dad, I want a horse.”
He said, “No, you don’t, it will pass.” He just kept thinking I would get past it, and he kept putting me off. In his breeding business, he had a pretty large volume of horses. Some of them might not have been halter broke until they were weaned and were a good size. He’d tell me not to handle the yearlings at all. He was protecting me.
When I was working for the racing commission at LA Downs, I would visit the backside on my lunch breaks, even though I was all dressed up, just to get the smell of the horses. I kept telling one trainer that there was one horse, Fire for Virgil, that I wanted when he retired from racing. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have the skills to handle a Thoroughbred coming off the track.
One day after the trainer had moved down to the Fair Grounds he called me and said, “Hey, we’re retiring that horse. He’s on the van. Where do you want him to go?” I put him in a stable by the river, then put on his halter and took him for a walk around the barn, and BOOM—he gave me a black eye. I was in my early 20s and I thought I could conquer the world, but when he blacked my eye I thought maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
My dad said, “Well, send him down here, and I’ll find someone who will do something with him.” When the horse got to my dad’s place, he busted out with a contagious respiratory infection. It spread though his entire barn. My dad was so mad at me.
Then, three weeks later, he told me to come home because he had something for me to see: a dead broke retired Quarter Horse off the track who had $75 in lifetime earnings. He had been turned out in someone’s pasture and he had a huge abscessed hoof. He wasn’t my vision of an ideal horse, but I couldn’t say anything. He came with a saddle, too!
He lived to be 31, and I owned him for about 17 years. He was the best horse and my best friend. My dad knew what I needed. When my horse passed away, Dad had a formal headstone made for him and brought it to Shreveport along with some mums. We placed the headstone at his grave and Dad planted the flowers. That’s the kind of dad he was.
Over the years he and I partnered on a few races horses and a broodmare. This year we had our first stakes horse as co-breeders, Who Jack. It was so special to me that he was able to see that. His last yearling will be going through the sale ring at the yearling sale and that is tough to swallow. I’m honored that he passed his passion for this industry on to me. Through serving on the Board of Directors for the LQHBA, I can continue to contribute to an industry that he dedicated so much of his life to improving. All of his friends in the industry have been so supportive to our family through this difficult time, which has been very comforting and is appreciated.