Tall in the saddle
March 27, 2014
Night was falling on the small, green farmhouse south of Fallon.
Two pickups were parked in the circle driveway. Every so often, a vehicle would race by on Corkill Lane heading west.
Inside, the family of Justin Edgemon, a longtime Churchill County resident, gathered in the living room to remember the 36-year-old man whose life was cut short earlier this month because of a vehicle accident east of Fallon on U.S. Highway 50. Edgemon, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol, suffered fatal injuries when he collided with a hay trailer just shy of 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.
Although the accident occurred almost three weeks ago and his family finds it difficult to talk about that day, they, nevertheless, wanted to remember their son, husband, father and brother and how as a young man who meant so much to others.
“Justin and Janell met four years ago in July 2010. “We met on a blind date, I cooked him dinner at my place in Reno and despite the meat being too done and the potatoes still hard, he came back.”
His gentle nature contrasted with his 6-foot-7-inch frame, a tall figure when sitting in the saddle of his favorite horse or when standing next to his sisters or friends. To some, he was a larger-than-life character who always wanted to lending a helping hand.
Justin's father, Lee Edgemon, grew up in Fallon, attended classes at the Stillwater and Harmon schools and left when he became older. Lee and their small family didn't return to the Lahontan Valley until 1984 when Justin had turned 6-years-old. Prior to that, the family lived in California where Lee worked in construction and then moved to Elko where he donned turnouts to work for the Elko Fire Department. His love of public service took him to two military installations, Frances E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Hill Air Force Base south of Ogden, Utah, where he worked as a federal firefighter. Because of a change in manning fire stations with local firefighters, Lee decided to relocate his family to Fallon.
As his mother and wife searched for the right words to remember Justin, Lee stepped up with a short family history.
"We've been back in Fallon for 30 years, and since that time Justin was involved in 4-H, FFA, Barracudas and the high school swim teams. He also roped in rodeos through high school," Lee explained, leaning forward in his chair. "It (rodeo) was something that struck his fancy to be involved with horses."
During his rodeo career, Justin loved to team and calf rope and bulldog. Although he never qualified for the National High School Rodeo Finals, Justin managed to be a top competitor in the hometown Silver State International Rodeo that attracted more than 500 contestants from every western Canadian province and state. Barely old enough to ride a horse, Justin was also very young when Lee took him hunting for birds and big game. For a high school graduation present, Lee took his oldest child to a lodge in Colorado during hunting season.
Justin had potential after high school, but he declined a rodeo scholarship to a college in Missouri. He didn't want to be that far away from Nevada or his family, Lee said. Instead, the young teen remained in Nevada, worked the summer in Eureka, a 170-mile drive east of Fallon and eventually was hired by Fisher Construction to build a bridge that spans Interstate 580 through Washoe Valley. Justin's roots, though, remained in Churchill County where he returned to work, his last job with A & K Earthmovers in Dixie Valley.
In between the time he had graduated from high school to returning home, Justin married, and they had a son, but a divorce eventually split the family. Then, four years ago in July, friends set him up on a blind date with Janell Morris, a southern California transplant who was working for the University of Nevada's agricultural station on McCarran Boulevard.
"He was really content," Lee said, looking at Janell and their daughter Paisley, who turned one year old on Wednesday. "Being with Janell was a big ease on him."
Sadly, Janell said this July would have marked four years of togetherness.
The blind date
Janell said she felt as though she knew Justin her entire life.
"We met on a blind date, I cooked him dinner at my place in Reno and despite the meat being too done and the potatoes still hard, he came back," she reminisced, tears occasionally welling in her eyes. "But during that first date, the conversation was amazing. He had a way of talking to you like you were old friends. He made you comfortable and could talk about almost anything."
Justin showed his grasp of various subjects, a trait that further attracted Janell to her newly discovered Prince Charming.
"Guess you could say from the moment I met him, I was hooked, and we were literally inseparable after that," she said.
From that hot July summer day when they first met, Janell said Justin was an excellent teacher who was willing to show her how to hunt, rope or work on the truck. With him close to her side, Janell felt safe, because Justin was calm and cool and had every situation under control.
"He always knew the right thing to do, treated livestock well and got the job done without getting anyone hurt," she added.
Joyce Edgemon interjected, saying her son's marriage proposal was very romantic.
"He proposed to her in the mountains on horseback. Most might not think it's romantic, but from a hunting family, it is," she said.
Janell and Justin married in September at their house.
"We had a beautiful wedding," she said.
Janell bowed her head, unable to say more.
"Janell and Justin were a good match … inseparable when they got together. Both were very hard workers, very self reliant," Lee explained. "It makes a father proud to see his son grow up and become self reliant and take care of his family. It comes back to rewards."
Joyce said her son loved to western dance.
"He was always on the dance floor with everyone," Joyce said. "My 5-foot frame loved to fast dance with his 6-7 frame. A memory I will always cherish is dancing with him at all three of my children's weddings."
The little brother
Joyce said Justin was quite the jokester and loved to pick on his younger brother, Cordell, who graduated from high school in 2002.
"Lyla Guazzini brought Justin a dead turkey so he put it in bed with Cordell," Joyce said, a small grin forming. "He then made turkey noises."
When Cordell, who was 6 years old, woke up and saw what was lying next to him, the family roared with laughter.
Cordell, though, tried to "best" the turkey story with one of his own.
"One day we were outside roping. I was his steer, and he was healing me," Cordell recollected. Justin snared Cordell by the feet and hoisted him up after throwing the rope over a tree limb to let his brother dangle upside down.
"Then Justin went in for dinner and left me hanging," Cordell said.
As the story progressed, Cordell said their parents asked Justin about his little brother.
"Oh, he's just hanging outside," Justin replied, smirking.
Lee and Joyce hurried outside and saw Cordell in his newfound predicament.
"There I was hanging, and dad cut me down with a pocket knife," Cordell said.
The family laughed, breaking some of the tension during their remembrance.
Janell said the stories about Justin and his high-school friends emerged as the best tales since the boys always found a way to get into and out of trouble.
"It makes me wish I had grown up here with him," Janell said. "There was never a dull moment when Justin was around."
Karice Edgemon Uhalde said her older brother loved to tease people, and if he didn't tease, then he most likely didn't like them.
"He could tell stories that would make anyone laugh and make you feel like you were right there when the story took place," she added. "He was always very caring, loving and supportive of his family and friends."
Karice said her older brother was very protective of his siblings.
Protecting his sisters
Justin had two younger sisters whom he protected, said Joyce. Both Stacy Edgemon Frank and Karice admired their brother's love for them and how he nurtured his friendship with their families.
"Justin was one that liked to tease and joke around with his brother and sisters. Growing up we were each other's best friends, and we spent much of our time playing outside," said Stacy, who now lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and daughter. "He was always up to some kind of adventure or challenge … only thing is he would convince one of us to try it first such as pole vaulting with a metal pole."
She remembers the times they spent together and the trips they took. Stacy recalled a trip to Idaho to fetch some pigs. Justin and Stacy rode in the horse trailer, while Karice and Cordell each had a seat in the truck. Yet, it is those family gatherings that hold a special bond in Stacy's heart.
"Justin always made family gathering fun; he always had the best stories to tell," Stacy remembered. "He could make anyone laugh. He had a way of telling a story that made you feel like you were there … he could tell the same story over and over again and it would still be as interesting and funny as the first time you heard it."
There was no doubt Justin was their big brother, especially when Stacy and Karice entered high school as freshmen, and he was a senior. Stacey said Justin ensured the girls were not initiated and protected them throughout the year.
"He was always looking after us and let Karice and I use his locker in the senior wing," Stacy said. "He was always having a good time, always had friends around and never in a hurry (always on his own time); that is what helped me get my first detention the first week of high school because he brought me back from lunch late."
Karice's memories include the times when they swam at their favorite swimming hole in Stillwater, built forts in the hay or took hunting trips.
"Justin was actually with me the day I shot my first antelope," Karice said. "He didn't think I could shoot and kill something as far as I shot that day. Justin always teased me about being left handed and doing everything backwards for as long as I can remember; when his son Haydn turned out to be left handed I told him it was pay backs for all the years he made fun of me."
Both sisters said Justin loved to visit them and their families. He became the quintessential uncle and brother, always willing to help with their home projects. Justin, though, loved his niece. Stacy said her bother was a wonderful uncle and that her 2-year-old daughter, Taylor, loved her time with him and always wanted to put on his big cowboy boots.
"He and his family attended Taylor's second birthday in January," Stacy said. "He came back to the house and he was the first to start putting all of Taylor's toys together. Our last visit was March 2 (my 34th birthday). He spent the weekend playing with Taylor. He always had time to play with kids."
Karice said her brother was happy for her on the day she married John Ugalde in June. She said Justin loved to dance and will forever cherish the dances they had the night of their wedding.
"I remember the day I told Justin that he was going to be an uncle again; he was so excited and couldn't wait to meet his new little niece or nephew," Karice said. "John and I were both looking forward to him and his family coming to visit us this summer on the ranch and getting to see where we lived. I talked with Justin on his birthday (Feb. 20), and he was so excited that we were expecting a little boy. We even talked about baby names. He told me that he couldn't wait to see me with my own kids."
Janell said Justin was great with everyone's children and loved teaching them as well.
"He was so funny and joked around so much that it seemed like kids flocked to him because he wasn't your typical adult that didn't have time to play with them," Janell said. "He was still so much a kid himself and they loved him."
Under his wing
Although Kathy Kerstiens wasn't a blood sister, Justin treated her as one of the family. Kathy had undergone her own grief 20 years ago when her older brother, Mike, died in a car accident north of Fallon when the vehicle in which he ws a passenger ran off Coleman Road and into a canal. A wooden cross still marks the location.
"Justin was an amazing man and big brother," Kathy reflected. "After my brother passed away, Justin stepped up and adopted me as his little sister. I have multiple wonderful memories of Justin being his funny loving caring self."
She said another memory of Justin occurred when she was a high school junior in Utah and returned to Fallon to visit the Edgemon family, especially Stacy.
"Stacy and I were driving around town on a Friday night in Joyce's little blue Honda. We pulled into the Raley's parking lot to socialize because that was the cool place to hang out and meet up with people in Fallon," she descried. "When we pulled up we saw Justin's truck. We parked right next to him, got out and started to socialize with all the people that were there. Jason Manzini walked up and started to talk to me. He was able to say, 'Hello, how is your trip?' In the time that Jason was able to get those few words out, Justin was already over and had his arm around me. He looked at Jason very seriously and said, 'Do you know who this is? This is Mike Kerstiens' sister.'"
Kathy said Manzini smiled and replied, "I know it is." Justin, still looking serious, said, "Then you know that you are not allowed to talk to her!"
Jason smiled,laughed and walked away.
Kathy said she attended many events involving the Edgemon family — weddings, baby showers and graduations. When she lived in Fallon, Kathy said Justin would always grab her for a country dance. At the time, Kathy said she was a good dancer, but when she moved away and returned to Fallon, her steps became rusty.
"At every event Justin would make sure to grab me and take me out on the dance floor. He would always joke and say, 'We need to work on those dance moves a little bit.' He would always take the time to dance a few songs with me. Justin was such a good dancer. He just glided across the floor like it was as easy as walking.
"I, on the other hand, was quite awkward while dancing. Justin always made me feel like I was floating on a cloud even when I was stepping on his feet in my stiletto heels."
Janell said Justin also had many acquaintances and told her he knew many people but had only a few good friends. Yet, he was just as cordial with his friends as he was with a stranger, and could talk to that person for hours.
"He was witty, affable and had the gift of gab. We couldn't go anywhere in town with out him running into someone he knew and would end up chatting for a bit. He was a great storyteller and had many to tell," she said.
Family friend Kerry Capps said she will always treasure her memories with Justin and his family. She said his love of the community and the great outdoors was contagious to those who knew him.
"He was always quick to lend a helping hand and watch out for the little guy or underdog," Kerry said. "I remember stories of him leaving his lunch and water for coyotes and foxes in need or water for range horses. His love of wild life really showed in his beautiful taxidermy work. He was a natural with wild and domestic animals. He included anyone and everyone."
Kelly Clyburn said he had many great times with Justin and most of them, he said, would best be told around a campfire instead of in the newspaper.
"We had so many hell-raising adventures growing up that helped get it out of our systems and shape us into the men we grew up to be. I can truly say that if it wasn't for those been there and done that times, I would not feel as if my life was complete," Clyburn said. "His quick comebacks could get us into trouble sometimes but just as quickly get us out of it."
Likewise, classmate David McIntosh, who now lives in Ely, said Justin had an aura about him.
"First thing I'll tell you about Justin he was very dependable, very outgoing," David pointed out. "It didn't make any difference if it was with friends or family."
David said Justin and he loved to hunt, whether it was for chukar or elk. On occasion, David said he and Justin would stop for a cold beer and chat.
When David married, Justin served as best man, something David said he will always cherish, especially the memories of the day.
"He was funny, always smiled and had a great demeanor," David said. "He was a father, friend and husband."
David Howard roped with Justin at ranch-hand rodeos and events. They first met when they competed against each other, but in later years, they became partners.'
"We have had a team together for the past four years," said Howard, the Edgemon's best man at their September wedding. "We have been both friends and family acquaintances. He took my kids on their first hunting trip and the first time fishing."
Howard said Justin was always good to his children.
The last month has been difficult for all those who knew Justin. Justin and Janell roped with David and his wife in mixed branding at a ranch-hand event in Elko the weekend before Justin died. He said his friend of almost 20 years never had a bad moment and always had a smile on his face. At Justin's funeral, he thought of Justin and "Daddy Long Legs" because of his 6-7 height.
"I remember my kids when they were young climbing on him like a tree or ladder," his longtime friend said.
Janell said Justin had a heart of gold and loved his family dearly, but he wasn't always content working construction … he was always looking for something better.
"He knew what he wanted out of life — a family, a loving wife — but he also wanted nice horses, property and a small jag of cows. He wanted the ranch life, the cowboy life," she said. "You asked what legacy he would leave behind. If you were to ask Justin I think he would say life is too short to be unhappy, ride a good horse, work good dogs and love the people who love you. I could go on for days about Justin and never do him justice.
"There are just not enough words to describe the character, dignity, and love that were in that man. There will be a void in my heart forever, as with a lot of people who knew him."