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In one sense or another, Judy Wagner has been riding for the brand since she was a child. Growing up on a cattle ranch as the eldest of eight kids, she learned early on the importance of pulling together for the greater good. When she was 16, her father died in a ranch accident, and the lessons that had already been ingrained in her came into vivid relief. She and her siblings worked even harder to keep the ranch going, doing chores, continuing their 4-H involvement, and keeping up with their schoolwork. Successful on all fronts, all eight of them received athletic scholarships to Montana State University.
The lessons Wagner learned as a child have carried her through a dynamic career, from founding her own company, Gator Ropes (she has a good story about someone calling up to order some ropes who, after a length discussion about heading and heeling, turned out to be country legend George Strait), to launching all-girl rodeo teams. Her path ultimately led her to become Montana Silversmiths’ marketing director in 2000. Her role has continued to grow with the company’s success, and in 2014 she was promoted to vice president of marketing.
Wagner has been honored in many ways over the years (Justin Boots’ Standard of the West Award in 1990, for instance, and the 2014 WPRA Team Roping Heading Rookie of the Year), and has achieved success telling the Montana Silversmiths story as a co-host on the shopping network Evine. In her work, she doesn’t see herself as a salesperson, but as a storyteller. She speaks from the heart and advises others to do the same; humility goes a long way. “Be honest, be sincere, and don’t take yourself too seriously,” she advises. When she’s talking about a piece of silver jewelry on television, for example, she might talk about her horses, or her grandmother. “The product is silver artistry,” she points out, “but it’s the way it makes you feel that’s the magic.”
In February 2019, Wagner received her highest accolade yet: the Western Horseman’s Woman of the West Award, bestowed at the annual gathering of Art of the Cowgirl, an organization to empower and connect the Western genre’s women artists and artisans. For Wagner, the award is both humbling, and—as one of life’s “coming full circle” moments—clarifying. The person who proposed her for the honor, Tammy Pate, a former Miss Rodeo Montana and founder of Art of the Cowgirl, is someone she had mentored years ago.
“Looking back, it seems that everything happens for a reason,” Wagner reflects. “People you meet impact you. I may not have realized it then, but I see it now. We never know how what we do impacts other people. The gift is to the giver; what we give comes back to us tenfold.”