Audrey Hankins Balow, 80, passed away peacefully in the early morning hours Sept. 27, 2022. A 60-year resident of the Wickenburg area, Audrey was well-known for capturing the life of Arizona ranching families in the verses of her many poems. Her sweet smile will be missed by many.
Audrey was born Oct. 12, 1941, in Mason City, Iowa, to Ivan and Ruby (Borchert) Krueger. She and her younger sister Kathy have many sweet childhood memories of growing up on a family farm surrounded by animals, riding their horses to country school, milking cows, going to church and playing with their many cousins around the countryside. Audrey loved to read and had an affinity for Zane Gray books which told stories of cowboys and ladies in the West. As a teen she talked her parents into taking a family trip to Arizona. A short time later, her parents built a house in Prescott where Audrey graduated from high school in 1959.
After high school Audrey went to work for the Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg. That's where she embarked on her own Western adventure. Wickenburg was known as for good times and dancing at the guest ranches and Bowman's Barn. Audrey met Loyd Hankins at a dance, and a short time later, the two were married on her birthday in 1963. (She said it was the only impulsive thing she ever did in her life). Three children were born, Zane, Jeanie and Ike. The young family moved to the JV Bar Ranch outside of Wickenburg in 1971. Loyd and Audrey managed the ranch for several years. Audrey, raising three little kids in a house with no phone, a short supply of running water and only a generator for electricity. She also raised kittens, puppies, baby calves and horses. She loved cooking for roundup crews and was a diligent mother, making sure her kids were always well-dressed in western shirts and dresses she made on an old sewing machine. She drove them to school and Sunday school over eight miles of rough dirt road.
In 1978, Loyd and Audrey bought the Big Corral - a riding stable and pack outfit based in Wickenburg and Vallecito Lake, Colo. With 40+ horses, a few cow dogs and three half-grown kids, they moved back and forth between the two locations for about 7 years. Audrey ran the business end of the outfit while also doing a lot of the hard work outdoors, guiding countless hourly rides, cooking for breakfast rides and pack trips, doctoring horses, and always keeping her kids in line, teaching them everything she knew and making sure they went to Sunday school.
After the outfitting business was sold, the family settled back into Wickenburg and split their time between working in town and working ranch jobs. In the early 1990s Audrey became a mail carrier and worked for many years for the US Postal Service. It was during this time that she began to reflect on the years in ranching and outfitting and the poetry began to flow out of her memories and onto the pages. Naturally shy, Audrey mustered enough courage to take her writing to a couple of cowboy poetry gatherings and get in front of the mic. That ounce of courage blossomed into an amazing journey which took Audrey to center stage in all the biggest poetry gatherings from Texas to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. Audrey absolutely loved all the friends she gained at the poetry gatherings. She connected with so many "good ranch people" she would have otherwise never met, and they became some of her dearest friends. She published two books of poetry and a CD, and was invited to share her poems in numerous anthologies. In 1998, Audrey was recognized by the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering with the esteemed Gail L Gardner Award.
After 40 years of marriage, Loyd and Audrey divorced. A few years later, she met Dale Balow of Skull Valley, and they were married in 2010. Dale and Audrey loved to take road trips and enjoyed many good times with both sides of their families while living at Dale's place and spending colder months at Audrey's house in Congress. Dale was the light of Audrey's life during those years, and he was by her side through her many challenges and declining health.
Audrey will be sorely missed by her husband Dale Balow; her children Zane Hankins of Prescott, Jeanie Hankins (Ed Temerowski) of Wickenburg; Ike Hankins (Tammy) of Wickenburg; grandchildren Riley Rasmussen, Aeriel Bright and Audrey Kay Hankins; great-grandson Jaxton Bright; her sister Kathy Coleman of Minnesota; and Dale's children Buddy, Ben, Bonnie and their families.