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Leanin’ Tree Founder Ed Trumble of Boulder Dies at 94

December 29, 2018
Founder Ed Trumble stood on the second floor at the Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art in May 2016. It closed little more than a year later. Trumble, 94, died Wednesday in Longmont.

Ed Trumble, longtime owner of Gunbarrel’s Leanin’ Tree greeting card company and founder of the Leanin’ Tree Museum and Sculpture Garden, which closed last year, died in Longmont on Wednesday.

A resident of Boulder, he was 94.

Edward Patrick “Ed” Trumble, born Nov. 1, 1924, in Havelock, Neb., made his mark on Boulder County and far beyond, both as a highly successful entrepreneur and also as a curator and aficionado of western art.

Trumble started his business, originally called Lazy RL Ranch, with artist and partner Robert Lorenz in 1949. Their four Christmas cards sold out immediately.

The company was renamed after Lorenz died in 1965, at which point Trumble bought out his late partner’s share of the business. He opted for the logo of a spruce tree, symbolic of the Christmas season, which he saw as a cardmarker’s busiest time. He chose to make the tree lean in honor of his home state, Nebraska, he said, because “the wind blew all the time.”

For Trumble, Leanin’ Tree was actually his second brush with the greeting card industry. Following his graduation from the University of Nebraska, he was offered a position at Hallmark in Kansas City. However, after a visit to Denver, he declined that opportunity even before his first day.

“I couldn’t live in Kansas City after seeing it here,” Trumble told the Camera in a 2016 interview. “So I stayed in Denver and found a job at a magazine for about half what Hallmark would have paid me. I’ve never regretted it.”

After operating briefly in Fort Collins, Leanin’ Tree bought its Gunbarrel facility in 1974, and all of its cards are still manufactured there. The company works with about 700 independent artists to annually produce more than 6,000 cards and gift products.

The Greeting Card Association presented Trumble with its Lifetime Achievement Award in May 2016, after not having presented one for several years. Its decision to honor Trumble at that time was unanimous.

“There’s a lot of history (there) and when we wanted to celebrate our industry, there was nobody better than Ed,” Greeting Card Association President Carlos LLansó said, at the time. “He’s been a great supporter not just to Western artwork but just supporting artists in general.”

At that time, Trumble said, “Good heavens, I never thought I’d live half this long.

“I was so busy growing the company, paying my taxes and scratching some capital. I just kind of went from year to year and rode along as it became successful.”

Trumble found that the many years of finding art for his western-themed greeting cards connected him to many of the finest western art galleries, and he would become a big supporter and friend of many artists and gallery owners.

He became a collector himself, and at the time he moved his company to its present-day location in Gunbarrel, he opened the Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art.

According to a biography assembled by family members, in 1983 he met Lynn Dickens Courtley, a fourth-generation Coloradan from Longmont, an accomplished horsewoman from a prominent northern Colorado ranching family who also had a passion for singing and the world of art.

Trumble saw her three children through their teenage years, raising them as if they were his own, and she in turn helped Trumble broaden the focus of the Leanin’ Tree Museum with the creation of the associated Sculpture Garden.

The museum, nearly all of its western-and-Native-American-themed art belonging to Trumble, closed its doors after a 40-year run in August 2017. Much of the collection, including more than 300 paintings and about 200 bronze sculptures, was placed on auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.

He completed numerous major writing projects during his life, including “A View From The Bottom,” which was an autobiography of his experiences in World War II, including his service as a private in the 99th Infantry Division from 1943 to 1945. His 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry Regiment received a presidential citation for its role in the Battle of the Bulge.

The war ended for Trumble in January 1945 when a German artillery shell exploded near him. He was wounded and evacuated to England for his recovery.

His family considers his greatest publishing achievement to be his 500-page coffee-table book, “The Story of Leanin’ Tree: Art and Enterprise in the American West,” published in 2008.

Trumble’s first wife was the former Patricia Jane Ewell of Madison, Wisc., whom he married in 1952 and with whom he raised four children. They divorced in 1981, and she died in 1995 at the age of 68.

He is survived by his wife, Lynn Marie Dickens Trumble; children Tom Trumble (Sharon), Jane Trumble, Nancy Trumble Fox (Quinn), and Tim Trumble (Linda); step-children Dana Carey (Peter), Cade Courtley, and Brooke Dunaway (Lance); grandchildren, Erik Knutson, Scot Knutson, Kelly Knutson, Jonathan Fox, Christina Fox and Ashton Trumble; and great-grandchildren Logan Knutson, Ethan Patrick Knutson and step-granddaughter Lane Carey.

A funeral Mass is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 5 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Longmont, where Trumble was a faithful member. All are welcome to attend with a reception and remembrances to follow. There will be a private graveside interment.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The Ed Trumble Alumni Scholarship Fund, the University of Nebraska or the Long’s Peak Council of Boy Scouts of America. Memorial gifts to the University of Nebraska should be designated to the Ed Trumble Fund for Entrepreneurship, and mailed to the University of Nebraska Foundation, 1010 Lincoln Mall, Suite 300, Lincoln, Neb., 68508.

At the time his honor from the Greeting Card Association was presented, Trumble said that in nearly 70 years of business, he took the most pride in the fact that his company never had to take capital from outside the company, or even from his own family.

“We really started from scratch,” he said in 2016. “It was three years before we could afford a telephone. Today, we have 30,000 distributors.”

He added: “A greeting card is nothing but pictures and words, and I think we do a pretty good job of putting them together.”

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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