GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE Wednesday, July 9, 2003

=============================================================

Teen dies in riding accident


The Associated Press

CHINOOK -- A Big Sandy woman has died after being thrown from a horse on a ranch southwest of Chinook, Blaine County authorities reported Tuesday.

Laceen Ophus, 19, died Sunday evening on a ranch in the foothills of the Bear Paw Mountains.

Officials said Ophus was riding up a steep embankment when her horse reared, flipped over and rolled down the hill. Ophus died of head injuries at the scene.

-End-

...................

HAVRE DAILY NEWS Wednesday, July 9, 2003

==============================================================

Big Sandy cowgirl dies in riding mishap


Ophus

By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily News/pwinderl@havredailynews.com

A simple outing turned tragic this weekend, claiming the life of a local equestrian. Nineteen-year-old Laceen Ophus, a Big Sandy native, college student and rodeo star, was killed during a horseback ride south of Havre Sunday. The loss of Ophus, described as fun-loving and energetic, has devastated friends and family. "She lived so much in her not quite 20 years," her mother, Barb Ophus, said today. "She lived more than most of us do in our whole lives."

Ophus, a member of the Big Sandy Saddle Club and the Hi-Line Barrel Racing Club, loved animals and lived for rodeo, her mother said. "She was definitely the life of the team," said Julie Strauser, Ohpus' rodeo coach at Montana State University-Northern. "She was always happy, always laughing. She was the life of the party, very outgoing."

Ophus, a 2002 graduate of Big Sandy High School, was recruited for MSU-N's rodeo team following a distinguished early career. At the college level, she participated in barrel racing and goat-tying competitions, and earned the distinction of Academic All-American. "It's a very big loss to Northern's rodeo team," Strauser said. "Not just as a competitor, but as a friend. The team is having a pretty tough time with it."

To honor Ophus, the rodeo team will lead the funeral procession from Big Sandy High School to St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church on horseback, Strauser said. The team will ride bareback, Ophus' preferred style, and without hats. Ophus was known within the team for losing her hat during competitions. "That's just Laceen," Strauser said.

Ophus was a hard worker with a zest for life, friends and family said. In addition to going to college and working part time at Big R Stores in Havre, she also trained horses. "She was such a competitor," her mother said. "She had absolutely no fear. She was a hard worker."

Barb Ophus last saw her daughter Saturday morning after she spent the night at Laceen's Havre home. The younger Ophus had participated in a rodeo in Cleveland Friday night, an event her mother attended.

After her four-person team placed second in the event, Laceen proceeded to further prove her ability by winning a series of informal horse races on her beloved horse, Flicka. A male competitor bet Laceen $5 he could beat her and promptly lost, Barb said.

A rematch ended with the same result. After four attempts, the young man accepted defeat and paid Laceen $20, Barb said, adding that attending the rodeo was one of the best times she ever had with her daughter.

After the rodeo, Laceen participated in her other great love - dancing. "She loved horses and she loved dancing," her mother said. "She danced every dance that night."

The two returned to Havre, where they stayed the night. In the morning, Laceen said goodbye as she went to work. "She told me, 'Have fun shopping,'" her mother said. "That was the last time I was with her."

Laceen Ophus went riding south of Havre Sunday afternoon with a friend and two younger relatives. She was riding a horse that she was training for a client, her mother said. While ascending a hill, the horse attempted to back down, lost its footing, and fell backward on top of Laceen, she said. Ophus suffered head injuries and died at the scene.

The reality of her daughter's death hit home when the family returned to Big Sandy driving Laceen's pickup and horse trailer, Barb said. The family dog ran out to meet the pickup, running back and forth to each side of the truck, waiting for Laceen.

-End-

HAVRE DAILY NEWS Wednesday, July 9, 2003

==============================================================

LACEEN OPHUS


Ophus

Laceen Elizabeth Ophus of Big Sandy died Sunday, July 6, 2003, in a horse riding accident south of Havre in the Bear Paw Mountains. She was 19.

A service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday in the Big Sandy High School gymnasium with the Rev. Pete Guthneck officiating. Those who wish are welcome to ride horses in the funeral procession from the high school to the reception afterward at St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church, Big Sandy.

Visitation will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the church and one hour before the service at the school. Prayer service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the church.

Laceen was born Aug. 10, 1983, at Northern Montana Hospital in Havre, the youngest of seven daughters and four sons born to Lyle and Barbara Ophus. Laceen attended F.E. Miley Elementary School. By kindergarten she was catching, bridling and riding Spice, the easygoing family horse, as often as she could convince someone to throw on a saddle.

Her 10th birthday present from her brother Reece was the most cherished gift of her life, a 1-year-old mare she named Flicka. After breaking and training her, the duo began a rodeo career that would continue to flourish through college rodeo.

In eighth grade she launched a career of breaking and training horses for paying customers.

In junior high and at Big Sandy High School, Laceen maintained perfect attendance. She was consistently on the honor roll and was a member of the National Honor Society. She was awarded best defensive and best offensive volleyball player her junior and senior year, respectively, and she also won many medals in track and rodeo.

Laceen held various offices and earned numerous awards in FFA, FHA, Science Olympiad and speech and drama.

She was an active lifetime member of St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church in Big Sandy.

She graduated from Big Sandy High School in 2002 and attended Montana State University- Northern in Havre. Laceen was awarded many collegiate scholarships and was a 4.0 student.

She loved her rodeo team and traveled across Montana with it, competing in goat tying and barrel racing.

Beyond ranching and riding and rodeos, Laceen was thrilled to dance, from jitterbugging contests to pulsating club music. She established a network of friends that extended far past the boundaries of her hometown area.

She was preceded in death by her grandparents, Anton and Pearl Ophus and Frank and Agnes Magda.

Laceen is survived by her parents; brothers, Shane (Gwen) and Reece, both of Big Sandy, Clint (Jolene) of Havre, and Clete of Great Falls; sisters, Lyla (Cody) Brazier of Bremerton, Wash., Demra (Rick) Brown of Big Sandy, Charna (Rob Otis) Ophus of Gresham, Ore., Landa Aponte of Peoria, Ariz., Kami (Steve) Crass of Lolo, and Rashae (James Johnson) of Jamestown, N.D.; and 15 nieces and nephews.

Arrangements are by Edwards Funeral Home of Chinook

-End-

GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE Saturday, July 12, 2003

=============================================================

Laceen Elizabeth Ophus

BIG SANDY -- Laceen Elizabeth Ophus, 19, a student at Montana State University-Northern at Havre, died in a horse riding accident Sunday in the Bear's Paw Mountains.

Funeral Mass is 1 p.m. today at Big Sandy High School gym, followed by a reception at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church. Edwards Funeral Home of Chinook is in charge of cremation and arrangements.

Survivors include her parents, Lyle and Barbara (Magda) Ophus of Big Sandy; brothers Shane (Gwen) Ophus and Reece Ophus of Big Sandy, Clint (Jolene) Ophus of Havre and Clete Ophus of Great Falls; sisters Lyla (Cody) Brazier of Bremerton, Wash., Demra (Rick) Brown of Big Sandy, Charna (Rob Otis) Ophus of Gresham, Ore., Landa Aponte of Peoria, Ariz., Kami (Steve) Crass of Lolo and Rashae (James) Johnson of Jamestown, N.D.; and 15 nieces and nephews; and the many people who loved her.

Laceen Elizabeth Ophus, a Big Sandy, Mont., cowgirl admired statewide for her loving heart and vivacious spirit, died Sunday, July 6, 2003, in a horse riding accident south of Havre, Mont., in the Bear's Paw Mountains.

Laceen was born Aug. 10, 1983, at Northern Montana Hospital in Havre, the youngest of seven daughters and four sons born to Lyle and Barbara Ophus. Her endearing grin debuted in less than two weeks, her love of animals in less than two years. She was toting armfuls of kittens around the yard as a toddler, and by kindergarten Laceen was catching, bridling and riding Spice, the easy-going family horse, as often as she could convince someone to throw on a saddle.

Laceen attended F.E. Miley Elementary School. Her 10th birthday present from her brother Reece was the most cherished gift of her life, a 1-year-old mare she named Flicka. After breaking and training her, the duo began a rodeo reign that would continue to flourish through college rodeo until Laceen's death.

By seventh grade, Laceen roped Reno, Rena, Shania and Spunky into her equine family, breaking and training them all herself, and in eighth grade launched a lifetime career of breaking and training horses for paying customers.

In junior high and at Big Sandy High School, Laceen maintained perfect attendance. She was consistently on the honor roll and was a member of the National Honor Society. She was awarded best defensive and best offensive volleyball player her junior and senior year respectively, and she also won many medals in track and, of course, rodeo. Laceen held various offices and earned numerous awards in FFA, FHA, Science Olympiad and speech and drama. She was an active lifetime member of St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church, Big Sandy.

She graduated from Big Sandy High School in 2002, and attended Montana State University-Northern, Havre, where she was an undeclared major at the time of her death. Laceen was awarded a slew of collegiate scholarships and was a 4.0 student at MSU-Northern.

She loved her rodeo team there and traveled across Montana with them competing in goat tying and barrel racing. Her part-time college job was customer service intake tack department at Big R in Havre. Her myriad summer jobs included roofing, selling cattle products and Kettle Corn popcorn and helping with her brother Shane's auction sales.

Beyond ranching and riding and rodeos, Laceen was thrilled to dance, from jitterbugging contests to pulsating club music. And to win all those dancing partners, Laceen was the queen of socialization. She established a network of friends that extended far past the boundaries of her hometown area to the countless lives she warmed, from the children she took on horseback rides to older adults she charmed at rodeos and auction sales. She treasured time with her sisters and brothers and shared innumerable hours with her 15 nieces and nephews, taking them horseback riding, swimming and to fairs and O'Mok'Sees.

She was preceded in death by her grandparents, Anton and Pearl Ophus and Frank and Agnes Magda.

Rev. Pete Guthneck will officiate at the service. Those who wish are welcome to ride horses in the funeral procession from the high school to the reception afterward at St. Margaret Mary's Catholic Church

-End-

...................