Rope, Tie, Win

Rope, Tie, Win

Rodeo remains a tradition for many


The history of rodeos in Northwest Arkansas runs deep, dating back to 1926 when Springdale’s first rodeo took place at a local ball park. Nearly two decades later, in 1945, two construction workers from Oklahoma came to Springdale and started a tradition that has lasted 75 years.

The Rodeo of the Ozarks has come a long way from the wooden bleachers and hand-rigged bucking chutes of the early 20th century; today, steel under-framed bleachers can seat more than 10,000 people. In 2008, the rodeo was ranked as one of the top five large outdoor rodeos in the United States. It is estimated to have a $6 million to $7 million impact on Northwest Arkansas, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The rodeo, however, would not be possible without the countless hours of volunteer work that make the event a success each year. The history of volunteering at the rodeo dates back just as far as the rodeo itself.

Marie Demeroukas, the photo archivist and research librarian at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, says the Rodeo of the Ozarks was a matter of civic pride when it began in 1945.

“The whole town was involved,” Demeroukas says.

She says both community leaders and merchants at the time worked to make the rodeo a success by seeking out talented performers, promoting the event through traveling caravans and staging entertainment such as parades, square dance contests and stagecoach rides.

Those early rodeo leaders and organizers included prominent figures such as poultryman John Tyson, grocer Don Harp and livestock men Shorty Parsons and Dempsey Letsch. Parsons and Letsch owned the Farmer’s Livestock Sales Barn on Emma Avenue, where the rodeo started; nowadays, Parsons Stadium attracts thousands of people to Springdale each year to watch cowboys and cowgirls compete for more than $100,000 in prizes.

The Rodeo of the Ozarks has more than 20 volunteer committees working year-round to organize events that occur both during the rodeo and throughout the year, according to its website. For many people, being a part of the rodeo’s success has become a family tradition.

Kaci Johnson volunteered with the Rodeo of the Ozarks as a child in the 1980s. In order to have enough manpower at the rodeo, Johnson says bids were awarded to organizations that wanted to volunteer. Her school, Ozark Christian Academy, won a bid to serve concessions; the school was allowed to keep some of the profits, while a percentage went back to the rodeo. She and other kids were charged with carrying trays around the arena, selling food and drinks, she remembers.

“I would say a lot of volunteer hours are in place at the rodeo in order to make it function properly,” Johnson says.

Johnson recalls the Rodeo of the Ozarks used to occur every year during the Fourth of July weekend. It was a big deal, she says, as there was a grand fireworks display on the Fourth, as well as two parades.

The decision to have the event on the Independence Day holiday can be traced back to Springdale’s long tradition of elaborate celebrations during the Fourth of July. This year, while there will still be fireworks to close out the event, it will take place from June 26 to 29, and there will be only one parade.

“It becomes more difficult, the bigger it is, to get more people involved in the parade, because it’s a lot of time, and it’s hot,” Johnson says.

Today, her involvement is much different. Now, Johnson’s and her father’s company, RealtyMart-USA, acts as a sponsor for both the rodeo and the Rounders, the horse drill team that performs during the rodeo.

“Our niche focus is in agriculture development,” Johnson says. “So, we kind of fit into the realm of what the rodeo represents in its entirety.”

This year, they donated a saddle commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Rodeo of the Ozarks. Rodeo goers can pay $5 per entry to win the saddle, or $40 for 10 entries. The proceeds from the entries benefit the Springdale Benevolent Foundation Scholarship Program.

Johnson’s involvement with the rodeo did not stop with her school or her family’s company. About three years ago, she says, her own daughters volunteered with the rodeo’s different organizations to help with children. One of their tasks was assisting during kids’ events, such as mutton bustin’.

Jamie Ussery-Adair has been attending the rodeo since she was 4 years old. Her birthday is July 2, so she says she spent many birthdays, including her 18th, at the rodeo. She began performing and volunteering in 2005, riding with her father until he passed away. This year will be her second year riding without him, she says.

Ussery-Adair rides with the Cave Springs-based Oakgrove Riding Club in the rodeo’s grand entry and parade each year. Three years ago, she says, her riding club received a trophy for the second best-dressed riding club in the parade.

“It’s definitely an adventure to ride in the grand entry,” Ussery-Adair says. “You never know what’s going to happen with 1,000 horses coming in and out.”

Ussery-Adair has volunteered in many different positions at the rodeo, including working the entry gate with the Future Farmers of America booster club. The booster club helped raise money for the Springdale FFA/ Austin Ussery Scholarship. Austin, Ussery-Adair’s younger brother, died in 2008. For several years after his death, the scholarship was awarded in his memory to a Har-Ber High School student who was also a member of the FFA.

After almost 30 years of attending, performing and volunteering, Ussery-Adair describes the event as a family tradition. Her own children began participating in the rodeo at a young age, with her 4-year-old riding in the junior grand entry when she was just 2.

Ussery-Adair says she has met a lot of people and developed many friendships through the rodeo.

“Some people I only see there, once a year,” Ussery-Adair says.

At this year’s event, Ussery-Adair will continue to ride in the parade and the grand entry, and she has also volunteered to help sell T-shirts.

Amanda Young’s father, Nelson Verl Hency, works as a sheriff’s deputy for the Fayetteville area. Hency says he rode with the sheriff’s department in the rodeo’s grand entry for about five years.

“Riding in the grand entry was a real blast,” Hency says.

Young says the event has always been a part of her family. Now, she is continuing the tradition with her own son.

“We took him for the first time two years ago, and he loved it,” Young says. “So we try to take him every year, just for fun, and the sights, and the smells and the camaraderie.”

Young has never participated in the rodeo or volunteered, but she says she plans to do so as her son gets older.

“I want my son to always have those memories, but also just remember this is kind of where we come from,” Young says. “Regardless of technology, regardless of where we’re at, our roots in America come from, really, the hard-working man and woman, and I think the rodeo kind of encompasses all that.”



Rodeo of the Ozarks

WHEN — Gates open at 6 p.m. June 28-29

WHERE — Parsons Stadium in Springdale

COST — $7-$38

INFO — 756-0464,

BONUS — There will be a parade at 3 p.m. June 29 on Emma Avenue.

Categories: 'Tis the Season