Wacee Simenson Wins Prestigious Inspirational Award
August 16, 2023
On Saturday, August 5 at the Big Sky Pro Rodeo in Great Falls, Wacee Simenson and his family received the 2023 Perseverance Character Hope buckle. Sponsored by the Heckman family in collaboration with Hoglund's Western Wear and Montana Silversmiths, the award is presented annually in the memory of Rocky Joe Heckman. On April 22, 2017, at age 58, Heckman passed away from brain cancer.
About the award, Wacee's mother, Tomi Simenson, said: "We were blessed with an amazing surprise last night during the Big Sky Rodeo in Great Falls. We can't begin to express how thankful we are for Wacee's health and all those that helped us get through those tough days. What an amazing acknowledgment!"
For his part, Wacee was initially speechless but finally said, "I'm happy; this makes me really happy."
During the award presentation in the rodeo arena, a video played, sharing the story of Wacee's challenges while fighting cancer. The video not only refers to Wacee as a "mighty cancer warrior" but also speaks about the support he received from friends, family, and community, calling Chinook "a Montana small town with a big heart."
According to the award criteria, the buckle is awarded annually "to an individual or family that has suffered adversity but has persevered, showing great character and instilling hope in others."
To memorialize these attributes, a non-profit organization was created in 2017 by Rocky's wife of 38 years, Lorell Heckman. Because Mrs. Heckman was committed to keeping her husband's memory alive and the values he stood for in people's hearts, she took inspiration from the bible. Romans, Chapter Five, verses three and four state: ". . . we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." From that, Rocky's Road Continues was born.
"You are missed by so many, but through this award you will continue to encourage others," Heckman said. "Rocky, your road continues."
The first Rocky's Road Perseverance Character Hope belt buckle was presented in August 2017 to Mike Moore. According to organization personnel, Moore depicts the spirit of the award-someone who, despite life's suffering, personifies perseverance and maintains good character while using those traits to instill hope in others. As a poster personality of sorts, "Mike is always willing to give to others. His ability to laugh and show humor through his trials with MS are an inspiration," stated the award presenter.
A lover of horses and the outdoors, as well as Chairman of the Big Sky Pro Rodeo Committee for two years, Rocky was primarily remembered for his time spent in the mountains. He worked not only for his parents' outfitting business but also for several other local outfitters before starting his own business in 1988, Montana Safaris. With their various clients, Montana Safaris took multiple trips into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Capturing this lifestyle and his philosophy, Heckman's obituary states: "Rocky always said that the outside of a horse was good for the inside of a man, and his life was spent encouraging others to share that."
To nominate someone for this award, individuals simply need to write a letter with the nominee's name along with a description of why the person is deserving of the award. These nominations should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plaque of Memorial Buckle Recipients is on perpetual display at Hoglund's Western Wear, which is owned by Mike Marzetta in Great Falls.