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Top Hand Awards 2023 – 2011

2023 Top Hand Award – Dennis “Denny” Walter

Denny Walter (Left) and General Chairman Audie Archer

Dennis “Denny” Walter was born and raised in Durango Colorado, the second-youngest of 10. He grew up on his parents’ ranch learning to ride and care for animals at a young age. He competed in bull riding when he was in high school and joined the U.S. Navy at age 17.

Walter was stationed in San Diego as part of an air squadron. When the time came, they were attached to a carrier for trips to Vietnam. He met his future wife, Elly, when he was still 17, and they got engaged the next time they met. They have been married 56 years and have three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

After four years in the Navy, Walter retired and moved up to Fremont and went to work for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. He worked out of town most of the time. He was a towerman, linesman, trouble man and foreman throughout the years.

In 1986, he and Elly moved to Sonora, and a few months later, he transferred to a PG&E division up here. He retired in 2007 and was one of the first to go up to Kennedy Meadows to help after the horrific fire there. He ended up working there for six years as an electrician and whatever else they needed.

Walter has always been a guy who helps without having to be asked. He helped as a volunteer a few years before becoming a Tuolumne County Sheriff‘s Posse member. He helped to put up and take down the beer booths for the rodeo, helped cook for the Posse parade riders and barbecued for many events. He has been a Posse member for well over 20 years.

2022 Top Hand Award – Arthur Schmidt

John and Freda Barrows Top Hand 2020

Arthur Schmidt Top Hand 2022

2019 Top Hand Award – Galen Mutzner

Galen Mutzner (Mut) age 92, was born in Covington, Ohio on December 22, 1926. He worked on his uncle’s farm every chance he could, staying on the farm in the summers and going home on weekends. It was on the farm where he learned to harness and drive teams of horses.

At age fifteen his family moved to Sonora because of his father’s health. Galen had a special driver’s license because his father was unable to drive all the time. He soon got a job from Sam Booth, who had a small ranch outside of Tuolumne City. The work was a variety of ranch chores including driving a wagon to and from town. Galen’s special license was handy as occasionally he was called upon to drive Mrs. Booth to town in the car.

He started Sonora High School that fall where he performed well in several sports. In his senior year the varsity baseball and basketball teams’ performance earned the team members a unique award; small gold-plated baseballs and basketballs which commemorated their achievements. In addition to these awards Galen was the recipient of the Fred Rowe Memorial Trophy in 1944. Following graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and served overseas in Okinawa.

One summer he worked for the Forest Service out of Long Barn. The crews would go out on horseback to fight lightening fires in the back country.

Mut had many jobs during his life piling lumber at the Standard Mill (there he piled drainboard stock in the sugar pine yard, a job that he recalled was the toughest one he ever worked). He also owned and operated a carpet business and worked in construction and plumbing for many years. Not willing to sit still after retirement, Mut performed odd jobs for anyone that needed a hand.

Galen traveled to Indianapolis every year for 40+ years to attend the Indy Time Trials. He made many friends there most notably was Parnelli Jones whom he met through a mutual friend.

Mut cooked and served beans to the public at Linoberg Street in downtown Sonora at Christmas time for 30 years. He has been married to his sweet, thoughtful wife, Sissy, for 68 years – married in July of 1950.

For many years Mut has made many friends and has even more wonderful memories. Age perhaps has slowed him down, but Galen “Mut” Mutzner will always be the “Top Hand.”

2018 Top Hand Award – Kelly Robinson

John Kelly Robinson IV is the son of Roderick (Bud) & Marlene Robinson of Fresno and brother to Kimberly Robinson Bloom of Pacific Palisades.  Kelly was born and raised in Fresno and is named after his great-great-grandfather who patented the Diamond match.  Kelly has been married to Kristi Robinson for 26 years and they have four grown daughters.

Kelly began his automotive career in San Jose in 1984 as a salesman. He relocated back to Fresno in 1985 and continued his automotive career. In 1994 Kelly was transferred to Modesto to oversee the Mercedes-Benz/Volvo store and in 2009 he added a Subaru franchise to the organization.

Kelly and Kristi wanted to raise their girls in a great community and moved to Sonora in 1995.  Part of the attraction to the area was the Sierra Waldorf School. Kristi is a graduate of a Waldorf school and prior to having children they knew their children would be attending a Waldorf School due to its teaching philosophies and Kristi is now a teacher at the Sierra Waldorf School.

Kelly and Kristi enjoy spending time with their daughters; Christine 33 (San Diego), Nicole 24 (Sonora), Courtney 23 (Chico) and Breann 22 (San Jose) who all graduated from Summerville High School. The girls were involved in 4H, softball and volleyball and weekends often consisted of tournaments or other sporting events. Courtney went on to play volleyball at Butte Junior College and Breann received a 4-year full scholarship at San Jose State for volleyball.

Kelly’s personal interests include hunting, fishing, golf and spending time with family. Kelly began golfing at the age of 6 and continued playing for Bullard High School as well as Fresno City College and is a current member at Greenhorn Creek.

Kelly has been a consistent supporter of community activities and sponsorships in both Tuolumne and Calaveras County since moving to Sonora. Kelly is a staunch believer in supporting local businesses, activities, clubs, organizations and the local schools.

In 2012 Kelly was given the opportunity of a lifetime when Manuel & Mona Prieto purchased Hammond Ford and asked him to run the day-to-day operations. Kelly and Manuel worked for the same owner in the past with Manuel running a Honda store in Clovis and Kelly running the Mercedes-Benz/Volvo/Subaru store in Modesto.  In March of 2017 the Subaru franchise was acquired by Prieto Automotive and relocated to the Ford location, where there are now two great brands in one location.. Kelly’s office is on the showroom floor and his door is always open!

The Tuolumne county Sheriff’s Posse is pleased to select Kelly Robinson as the 2018 Top Hand Award winner for his continuing support of not only the Motherlode Round-up but many Tuolumne County non-profit efforts.

2016 Top Hand Award - Kevin Day

Kevin Day is a member of the Tuolumne Band of Me Wuk Indians, he was born to Victor Day and Jeannette Bell and was raised in Tuolumne County with his three brothers: Greg, Ty and Kelly, and three sisters: Joy, Valerie and Gretchen. Kevin attended Summerville Elementary and Summerville High School, and football and baseball were a big part of his life. After high school, Kevin spent his early career working as a Correctional Officer for the State of California. More recently, he served two years as Vice-Chairman of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians and was then elected as Tribal Chairman in 1996. This year marks Kevin’s 20th consecutive year as Tribal Chairman.

Kevin and his wife, Julie, have been married for 5 years and have a combined five children: Brady (22), Zach (27), Jake (25), Alex (18), and Madeline (17). He also enjoys spending time with his dogs Moose and Maverick.

Kevin currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Central California Tribal Chairman’s Association. His past achievements include memberships or participation of, The Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, Mother Lode Fair Board, Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority Governing Board, Sierra Conservation Center Citizens Advisory Committee, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Advisory Board and The Tuolumne Me-Wuk Indian Health Board, as well as advocating for charitable causes across the Mother Lode.

We felt it was time to recognize Tribal Chairman Kevin Day for his steadfast support, selecting him as the recipient of our prestigious Top Hand buckle for the 2016, 59th Annual Motherlode Round-Up.

2015 Top Hand Award - Craig Pedro

Photo courtesy Tuolumne CountyThe Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse made a surprise announcement at this morning’s county Board of Supervisors meeting.

During the public comment period to open up the meeting, Posse member Ty Wivell took to the microphone to announce that County Administrator Craig Pedro has been named the prestigious “Top Hand” award winner for the 2015 Mother Lode Roundup. General Chairman Al O’Brien also took to the podium to thank Pedro and the Board of Supervisors for their yearly financial commitment to the event, and ongoing support. Pedro appeared surprised by the announcement, and he was given the traditional belt buckle in honor of the recognition.

2014 Top Hand Award - Union Democrat

2013 Mother Lode Round-up Top Hand Award - Union Democrat
Established in 1854 by Albert N. Francisco, The Union Democrat is the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the state of California. On July 1 of that year, the four-page paper hit the dusty streets of a rough and tumble Gold Rush County populated by 17,000 miners, merchants, fortune seekers, tradesman and outlaws.

The story of The Union Democrat is one of survival; surviving the threat of Union Soldiers closing down the paper because of its stance during the Civil War. Although it backed a loser in the War, it was a winner with Tuolumne County readers. In those early years, The Union Democrat overcame gun-toting competition, fire, flood, financial adversity and political upheaval.

For 21 years after Francisco’s death in 1867, The Union Democrat was owned by no less than six ownership changes. John Van Harlingen bought the newspaper in 1892 and together with his brother Ferdinand tenured the newspaper for 51 years. These years brought telephone service, local photos, an electric press and Linotype machines. These were also a time of circulation wars with two other newspapers, the Tuolumne Independent and The Banner. But, with a quiet, conservative approach and solid local coverage, The Democrat survived.

Ferdinand’s transfer of ownership to Don Segerstrom and Raymond Minners in 1938 brought dramatic changes. As the youngest publishers in California, the pair transformed the paper: News coverage widened and weekly papers grew from 8 to 12 pages. Headlines were bolder and wider. A comprehensive sports section was added and community events were energetically reported. Finally, after being a staunch Democratic organ for more than eight decades, the paper declared itself independent. “The Union Democrat can better serve the community if it is neither Democratic or Republican but instead fairly presents the local activities of both parties in an impartial manner,” wrote the new owners.

And so it was, The Union Democrat entered into the modern age and survived the manpower and raw material shortages during World War II. In 1953, Segerstrom sold the paper and the combined Democrat and Independent merged with The Banner.

In 1959, Harvey and Helen McGee bought the newspaper and operated The Democrat for 39 years until Harvey’s death in 1998. Harvey McGee oversaw great expansion at the paper: New presses, a new location, wire service and eventually the computerization of pre-press production.
The Democrat was purchased May 1, 1998 by Western Communications and became the second largest paper in the group. Editorial policy remains locally determined, as Wescom believes in giving its papers nearly complete autonomy. In the fall of 2007, Western Communications Inc. purchase a building in the Pluim Industrial Park off Tuolumne Rd. near Nugget Blvd. Two additional press units were also acquired allowing for full color front pages of each section of the Newspaper.

Throughout the newspaper’s history it is the focus on local events and issues that keeps The Union Democrat an integral part of the community and the leading information source of the Mother Lode.

2013 Top Hand Award - Rich Miller

2013 Mother Lode Round-up Top Hand Award - Rich MillerRich Miller was born on a Marine Base in California. Both of his parents served in the Marine Corps during the War. His family lived in New York for his first 7 years, and then moved to a rural area in Southern California due to Rich contracting polio. He couldn’t walk, but he could ride horses. Rich has been very involved with horses and riding since that time. Rich attended high school and college in Southern California. As a young man he was a horseshoer for a few years, then became a Meat Dept Manager. He raced motorcycles for quite a few years, and he also became interested in photography. He and his wife, Carol, moved to Tuolumne County in 1973. They have 2 children and 4 grandchildren. Rich and Carol have been married for 46 years. Rich has been a professional photographer since 1982 (mentored by Lynne Jerome).

Rich has photographed the Mother Lode Round Up, the Mother Lode Round Up Queen contestants, and other rodeos for over 27 years – it’s one of his favorite activities. Rich received the Union Democrat’s “Readers’ Choice Award” for “Best Photographer” 8 years in a row. He was voted “Photographer of the Year” by Stanislaus Professional Photographers 2 times, and he was also voted “Photographer of the Year” by the California Professional Photographers Association. He is a member of the Professional Photographers of America. Rich enjoys riding motorcycles, competitive shooting with his son, traveling, and gardening.

Rich’s Community activities (past and present) include teaching photography at Columbia College, ROP photography at Summerville High School, Associate Member of Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse, and volunteering his time and photographic expertise to Sierra Repertoire Theater for 27 years.

The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse is proud to honor long time Round-up photographer and Associate Member Rich Miller as the 2013 Top Hand Buckle Award winner.

2012 Top Hand Award - Wes Wittman

2012 Mother Lode Round-up Top Hand Award - Wes WiitmanThe Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse is pleased to honor Wes Wittman, DVM as our 2012 Mother Lode Round-up Top Hand buckle award winner.  Wes has been our Round-up rodeo Veterinarian for 29 years as well as a candidate for PRCA Vet of the Year.

Wes Wittman was born at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento but spent the first sixteen years of his life in Anaheim, CA before moving to Sonora, CA in 1973.  He graduated from Sonora High School in 1974 and was accepted to the University of California, Davis where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Physiology in 1978. He was then accepted to the prestigious UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and received his Doctorate in 1982.

Upon graduating Dr. Wittman returned to Sonora and in 1982 as co-owner and founder of the Sonora Veterinary Group, Inc. and is now the owner of the Mono Way Veterinary Hospital.

Wes has an active life with his many community minded activities which have included 20 Years on the Junior Livestock Committee, Director of the Tuolumne County Humane Society, Twain Harte Horseman, and many statewide Veterinary Medical Associations.  Dr. Wittman is also currently a Director of the Mother Lode Fair after being appointed by Governor’s Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Dr. Wittman has been married to his wife of 30 years Maggi.  Maggi is the daughter of the late actor and Professional Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame honoree, Slim Pickens.  They have one son Dustin.

Wes enjoys fly fishing in Wyoming, restoring antique farm equipment, and horseback riding in the Sierras, and Wind River Range in Wyoming in his free time.
Dr. Wittman has been active in educating public schools about rodeo and their humane treatment of valuable rodeo stock.  He wants to ensure that the great American sport of rodeo can be enjoyed by many future generations.

The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse wants to honor this outstanding physician, community volunteer, and nationally recognized rodeo Vet Wes Wittman as our 2012 Top Hand Award Winner.

2011 Top Hand Award - Tina Brown

2011 Mother Lode Round-up Top Hand Award - Tina BrownThe Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo Committee and General Membership unanimously selected Tina Brown as the 2011 Top Hand Buckle Award winner. Tina has been a supporter and sponsor of the Mother Lode Round-up Queen Contest for years since opening Pure Cowboy Western Center in Sonora, CA. Every year she provided the prized Queen Saddle and coordinated the overall prize package for the contestants. She also mentored, dressed, and assisted all the contestants fairly in any way she could. At the yearly Queen contest she provided materials and effort in displaying the Queen saddle, chaps, portraits and all the gifts provided by sponsors for the Queen contest held every year at the Sonora Elks Lodge.

Tina Brown was born in Roseville, California, and attended high school at Casa Robles High in Orangevale, CA. She spent several years working in for Lolly Rogers Western Wear before opening her own store when Lolly closed her popular Western Center. Her love of the western lifestyle, horses and fashion led her on her dream path of opening her own western clothing store to fill the gap left by Lolly’s closing. Pure Cowboy Western Center, the realization of her dream, opened in Sonora right around the millennium and she has been the main Queen sponsor for over 10 years. She always carried the top western brands in gifts, tack, boots, jeans, shirts, and hats for children, women and men. She closed Pure Cowboy in 2010 and has stayed in retail in a supervisory post at Kohl’s Dept. store.

She is the proud Mother and Grandmother to her boys Casey and Tanner Zelinsky and daughter in law, Jodie Zelinsky and grandson Cannon Zelinsky.

The Tuolumne county Sheriff’s Posse is proud to present the 2011 Top Hand Buckle to long time Round-up friend, Associate Posse Member, and sponsor, Tina Brown.