Wednesday, June 28, 2006

St. Paul Rodeo: behind the scenes

(Left to right) Steve Coleman, left, and Dave Wilson at the St. Paul Rodeo board of directors meeting held June 23 go over some of the last details of what needs to be done to prepare for the upcoming rodeo.

By Elaine Shein

Sometimes, as a journalist, you feel you have a chance to be at the right place at the right time. You receive an invitation to see another side of the world that you don’t always get to see. People take the time to share their lives, their passions, or their worlds with you for a short time. It may be an hour, it might be a day, or it might be longer.

As a journalist if you get a chance, you eagerly take the time to watch, to ask, to listen, to perhaps learn something new.

Later, you want to do their story justice: you want to capture their personality, their experiences and their philosophy of life and tell their story to other people. While their story may have been told many times before by other journalists and media, a journalist always wonders … is there a new way to tell the story? Is there something special that can be told about these people who so openly share what is important to them?

A couple weeks ago, a farmer casually mentioned to me that he was on the board of directors for the local rodeo in St. Paul, Ore. He invited me to visit the rodeo — or talk to his fellow board members even before the event— if I felt it was worth a story in our newspaper.

When I decided to do so, the rodeo’s board of directors offered another invitation that is rare to journalists: attend one of their board meetings.

No, there would be no earth-shattering news. It would be on a Friday evening, and may go an hour or two at a time when most people probably just wanted to go home to their families. The meeting would be like many others held across the country by rodeo associations or other organizations: an event is being planned, last details are being worked out, and the next couple weeks would be hectic … and next year they will go through this all over again.

Before I even visited St. Paul, I wondered why do people become so involved in a rodeo? How does a small town in Oregon attract so many tens of thousands of people around July 4? How do people who farm, ranch or have other jobs find the time, energy and support they need to volunteer for such a huge event?

St. Paul, Ore. is not unique: every small town probably has such stories to share to the rest of the world.

However, what makes this story about volunteers in St. Paul special is this is their story of families, friendships and a fraternity of people with pride in their community, respect for their ancestors, a love for what they do, and a desire to entertain spectators and celebrate the courage, skills and luck of cowboys and animals alike.

Thanks to all the people in St. Paul, Ore. who took the time to share their story with me.

The following is their story that emerged

By Elaine Shein
Capital Press

ST. PAUL, Ore. — Not long after the board of directors’ meeting is scheduled to start in a former bank building in St. Paul, Ore., a truck rumbles to a stop outside.

With his worn ballcap, dusty jeans and t-shirt, heavy work boots and sunburned arms bearing witness that he has come straight from his farm to be here, Bill Smith enters the room and takes his position at the head of the long wooden table.

There is no need to apologize to the other directors, although some good-naturedly tease him about dressing up for the occasion. Six of the nine are farmers like him. They know this is a busy time.

As president, Smith has big boots to fill: his grandfather was the first president of the St. Paul rodeo.

The evening sun’s rays softly filter the room. About a decade’s worth of framed posters for the St. Paul Rodeo line the walls, mostly artwork of cowboys on bucking bulls or horses and the American flag. The St. Paul Rodeo Hall of Fame sign is in one corner above a doorway.

Papers and cellphones are placed on the table in front of the board members mostly wearing ballcaps and cowboy hats. Putting in long days in record-breaking heat, the men appreciate the cold beverages as they prepare for the rodeo only 10 days away.

The last board member to arrive is rancher Steve Coleman who drove 45 miles from haying time in Molalla: he eases himself into a chair at the opposite end of the table from Smith. Wearing his cowboy hat and familiar denim shirt, he soon joins the conversation as the men begin to present their reports.

The sun’s rays catch a fading mural on a building not far down the street that shows an image of a cowboy on a bucking horse, and welcomes people to the rodeo that has been associated with St. Paul for the last 71 years.

* * *

After the meeting ends, Smith drives his truck out to his peppermint fields being harvested.

In his third year as president of St. Paul Rodeo board of directors, Smith gives a lot of credit to others for the success of the rodeo: the generations of people who helped keep the rodeo going in the past; his board of directors; the hundreds of volunteers that help each year; employees and neighbors who help with the farms when board members are busy with rodeo business; and the family and spouses, such as his wife Cindy.

He reflects on the people who serve with him on the board. ““I couldn’t ask for a better board. We discuss what needs to be done. It’s a pleasure that everyone takes care of business.”

Smith considers himself fortunate to have good employees that have worked a long time for him, such as his farm foreman, Norbert Rodriquez, has been with him 20 years. This allows Smith to take time off to help with the rodeo.

But the main person he praises is his wife. “I take a lot of the glory, but my wife does a lot of the work. She does the grunt work, she writes the letters, puts the packages together, takes the phone calls, good or bad. She’s the nuts and bolts.”

His fellow board members, talking earlier about their involvement in the rodeo, also acknowledged how important their spouses, family and neighbors were to help them out, but they also praised Cindy.

“A lot of this would not be done without her,” said Wally Pohlschneider, the board member in charge of grounds.

“We’d be lost without Cindy organizing Bill and us with meetings and everything else,” said Dave Wilson, whose responsibilities include the Queen and Court as well as sponsors.

* * * *

The directors present their reports around the table.

The discussion includes what to do with the flag, giving a map of the rodeo grounds to the fire department, arranging for enough toilets and when tents will be set up. They talk about hay for the sheds, the success of the Queen and her Court at the Rose Parade, whether the chutes are ready, benches washed, and light bulbs ready to go.

Two-way radios are welcomed, security has been arranged. Trees will soon be placed in the arena. Plans for fireworks and liability of what to do with spectators are discussed. Cheerleaders, program sellers, cowboys: all are discussed regarding what role they play, when do they perform or how they will do their jobs. Signs still need to go up, parking arrangements made, and an update on dust control is given.

The board members highlight the help of members and volunteers. “The new members are really working good,” says Dick Buyserie, in charge of concessions and maintenance.

“There’s a lot of nonmembers working,” says Gary Pack, responsible for the Tack Room and gatemen.

Smith nods his approval. “We can’t do this by ourselves … people are stepping up.”

Media contact is reviewed, such as when the Queen and Court talk to Rotary clubs or appear on the radio to promote the rodeo, and they discuss how Portland buses are being used as moving advertisements.

“We’re on radio, we’re on TV, we’re on buses, we’re everywhere,” says Smith.

Coleman, the chute boss, gives his opinions on when to fly the sponsor flags and the national anthem sung. “And then we’ll buck some bulls.”

He adds that they should announce the cowboys, and should be close to the crowds when they walk to the chutes. “So people can see their faces,” explains Wilson.

The board appreciates the Newberg FFA members who will help keep kids safe who grab for candy during the parade; they agree to give a donation to that FFA club.

And then there are the older kids who try fake identification to get alcohol during the rodeo. “There’s some pretty good fake ID. Our staff should still ask for ID,” warns Pack.

“Ask them politely … tell them you don’t want them to jeopardize our license,” cautions secretary Kevin Smith.

Other aspects of the rodeo are reported. The art show, the carnival, the food stands. What should be done with intermissions to entertain people, and what should be charged for programs.

The meeting stretches on, from what needs to be done the next day to what happens after the meeting ends.

The rodeo ends July 4, but July 6 will still be hectic. On July 7, the arena is transformed into a high school football field, complete with turf.

“Two days after it ends, we go back to our real jobs,” Smith says.

* * *

Prior to the meeting, Pohlschneider sat in quiet, empty stands, explaining why he and others devote so much time to the rodeo.

“As board members, we wonder what we’re doing. But then we see the cowboys and families at the rodeo, and that’s the reward for us. It’s not financial, it costs us a bunch of money to be on the board. Time, money and fuel. But we’re not complaining about that.”

Smith said there’s more to it. “It’s satisfying when you’re sitting there in the arena, and the place is packed and the rodeo is going bang, bang, bang … and you can listen to them, you know if they are having a good time.”

* * *
All the board members show their respect for the real stars of the rodeo: the animals but also the cowboys who come each year, putting their lives at risk to earn a living and provide entertainment.

Back in his farmyard, Smith stresses the people involved with rodeos, including the contractors, make sure the animals are taken care of: they need to be in good shape, safe and sound.

Contractors take a lot of pride in their bucking stock.

“If you’re selected as having the best horse, that’s as big as you winning the world, or sometimes a close second. There are a gazillion good horses, but not so many exceptional horses. They’re like the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods of rodeo. They make or break you,” explains Smith.

* * * *

A day after the meeting, Steve Coleman is at his ranch in Molalla, Ore. preparing to go back haying. He leans against a fence, and gazes at wild horses that graze the pasture and swish their tails for relief from heat and flies. The horses were brought in earlier from Growney Brothers, a livestock contractor from Red Bluff, Calif. In a couple of weeks, these peaceful horses would be bucking off cowboys in St. Paul.

Coleman first became involved with the rodeo almost 20 years ago as a board member; he recalls how much the purse was when he started, and how now it is one of the top rodeo purses in the country. “The spectators’ value has also grown,” he said.

He reflects on his years on the board. “There’s a new board of directors, new ideas and ambition.”

Coleman talks about being a dirt poor farm boy from a family of 10 kids that joined the rodeo circuit himself for several years, and how successful one of his sons now is, one of the top rodeo performers on the circuit.

Why does Coleman continue to help out the rodeo and shows hospitality to the cowboys who come?

He says the St. Paul Rodeo was always kind to him.

On his jeans, the silver engraved buckle he won in 1980 for the bareback riding event gleams brightly in the hot summer sun.

St. Paul Rodeo

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