Duane Reichert: Backstage with a Rodeo Clown
March 9, 2016
Duane Reichert truly loves his job.
The 74-year-old retired clown/barrelman spends his time these days entertaining children and teaching them about rodeo.
Reichert's one-man show, "Backstage with a Rodeo Clown," has become a staple in the school districts of North and South Dakota over the past three decades.
"I started the show in the late 1980s," Reichert said. "My sister-in-law was a teacher and she invited me to her school to talk to the kids about rodeo. I figured I should probably put together a few short comedy acts for the kids, similar to what I did in the arena.
“I get way more enjoyment working with kids than I ever did actually being in the arena.” Duane Reichert, rodeo clown
"She told me after I was finished that the school paid for assemblies that weren't as good as what I had done for free, and she encouraged me to contact other schools to see if I could develop it into a regular routine."
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During the second year of his traveling act, Reichert applied for a grant through the South Dakota Arts Council, and has been a part of that association ever since.
Over the past 30 years, he's traveled to more than 20 states and four Canadian provinces, not only educating the youth of North America about rodeo, but also spreading a message of making good life choices.
"His show is excellent," said Kelly Daughters, Superintendent of the Faith (S.D.) School District. "The grade school kids are always enthusiastic to see Duane and his animals. But he also talks to the high school kids about making the right choices and that you don't have to always follow the in-crowd. He talks about work ethic and that drugs and alcohol aren't good choices."
Reichert's show includes a variety of what he calls his "furry friends." He uses a rabbit, rooster, guinea pig, ferret, pigmy goat and a Yorkshire terrier, which are a huge hit with the K-5 aged children.
The full show lasts about 45 minutes, but can be tailored down to 25 if a shorter version is needed. Reichert says he adds aspects to the routine, but overall it has remained the same for about 30 years.
"If it isn't broke, why try to fix it?" he said.
The impressive aspect of Reichert traveling across the continent to entertain kids is that he did it while also working a good amount of rodeos in the arena and managing a ranch with his wife, Claudette. Reichert performed as an opening act at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo three times (1999, 2001-02), and also serves on the PRCA Contract Personnel Executive Council.
Reichert performed as a barrelman/clown until two years ago, retiring from the arena at the age of 72. He's become a fixture in the communities of North and South Dakota.
"When I started this, I never thought that it would be something I would get to do for 30 years," he said. "It has been so rewarding for me to be able to possibly change the lives of some of the kids who I work in front of – both to give them some ideas of how to think outside the box, and to also give them advice on how to make the right choices. You can lead a wild, crazy life without depending on chemicals to get your thrills."
Reichert has been doing it so long that those who used to attend his shows as children are now working at the schools which he performs.
"The guidance counselor in our school district attended one of Duane's shows when she was a child," Daughters said. "So it all runs together, and Duane is bridging generations with his act.
"Living in the Dakotas, most of the kids in our community are raised in a ranch lifestyle, and Duane connects with them very well because he has lived that lifestyle. There's a natural bond and connection between him and the kids because he's been in this area and has some of the same background that they have."
Reichert has made a point to not only perform for public school systems, but has also done a lot of work on the Native American reservations around the country. He says he's been to every school in South Dakota that is predominantly Native American thanks to a grant from the Dakota Indian Foundation.
"Rodeo is big on all the reservations," Reichert said. "Native rodeos are a big deal, and the people love them. The kids relate to the cowboy lifestyle, and love rodeo. You'd be surprised how knowledgeable those kids are about rodeo, and they all have their idols who they follow to the NFR and the Indian National Finals."
While his travel schedule has been scaled down quite a bit since retiring from rodeo, Reichert says he still goes to many schools each year, but is more of a regional act nowadays.
The inevitable question is how much longer he will continue to perform "Backstage with a Rodeo Clown."
"I don't know how much longer I'll do this," he said with a chuckle. "I don't want to say that I'll be retired in the next few years, but I'm not sure if I'll still be involved in this program when I'm 90. It all depends on my health and if it keeps being fun for me and the kids. I get way more enjoyment working with kids than I ever did actually being in the arena."
Reprinted with permission of the ProRodeo Sports News, official publication of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.