There’s a painting in my office. Oils on canvas, framed in wood. Hanging on a wooden wall that’s worn and weathered. The first time my dad saw my office he called it “rough,” but I like to say it has character.
The painting depicts a livestock auction with a ring full of Hereford cattle (my favorite), the stands full of bidders, and a few folks on the block doing the business of selling cattle. If you grew up with me, you might think I painted the piece from memory. My mom worked at a livestock auction very similar to the one in the painting. She sat on the block every Friday for nearly 30 years and if I were there, I’d likely be watching my family’s Hereford cattle in the sale ring. We’d eat at the café, if we were lucky, where you could always count on having the best caramel roll of your life.
Magness Livestock was a special place. Rarely do people work somewhere for 30 years if there isn’t something special about it. And while the caramel rolls were great, and the phone booths were fun to play in, and the occasional office cat was a treat to pet, the real magic came from the guy next to my mom on the auction block – Cobbie Magness.
Cobbie was the owner, the patriarch of the Magness family. His wife, Vi, handled the office, Cobbie handled the ring. Sometimes he was the auctioneer with his signature gravelly voice. Sometimes spotting bids from the buyers in the seats. But for me, he’ll always have a Dum Dum sucker in his hand, ready to throw it to the kid sitting patiently for the sale to be done. Without much clue it was coming other than a little eye contact and a nod, Cobbie would launch those little suckers across a pen full of bawling calves to your seat in the audience. It felt like a secret on full display.
While Cobbie’s sucker tossing prowess made him larger than life, it was his humble and kind demeanor that made him special. Cobbie passed away this week, leaving a hole in the hearts of a whole bunch of Magness family members. And he’ll leave a hole in the South Dakota cattle industry as well.
My first call this week was to Jim Woster to let him know about Cobbie’s passing. I knew Jim thought pretty darn highly of that “true cattleman.” We’d talked about Magness Livestock before but Jim shared the story again. Back in 1971, the Sioux Falls Stockyards was moving from private treaty sales to a live auction – quite the change for the folks at the Stockyards. For their annual dinner, the Sioux Falls Stockyards crew invited Cobbie down to Sioux Falls to share his thoughts and experiences with the cattle live auction world. And like Jim said, “he could have said ‘no,’ we were his competitors, after all.” But Cobbie accepted the invitation and gave a great talk that night at the downtown Holiday Inn.
Stories like that aren’t surprising to hear about Cobbie. He was a great man, a kind man, a man who built a business that felt like a family. The Bischoff family is blessed by our friendship with the Magnesses. And I bet there’s folks across the region who feel the same.
That painting in my office, it hung there before I got the job. I often tell a story of admiring the painting before I worked here – boldly claiming I’d just have to take the job to get the painting (which I did). And while the painting doesn’t have my mom on the block, or a little basket of Dum Dums, it does feel a whole lot like home.