Rodeo world says goodbye to a great, Garrett Nokes

The rodeo world lost a well-loved cowboy last Sunday.

Garrett Nokes, a timed event cowboy, timed event coach of the Mid-Plains Community College rodeo team, a 2005 National Finals Rodeo qualifier, and a husband, dad, brother, uncle, and son passed away on February 14.

He had been kicked by a horse on January 27 and life-flighted to a hospital in Kearney, Neb., where he underwent emergency surgery. After a stay in the ICU, he was deemed well enough to send home, ready to tackle rehab. After arriving home on Feb.12, he passed away two days later.

Nokes, age 45, was a helper, encourager, supporter, teacher, mentor and coach for many throughout his years on earth.

He competed in youth rodeos and traveled with world champion steer wrestler Ote Berry in his younger days. Berry, who had the habit of nicknaming the young guys who traveled with him, gave him the moniker of Sherman after the cartoon character in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, even though Garrett’s cowboy peers thought it came from the movie The Nutty Professor.

There was no doubt Garrett could bulldog, as he qualified for the 2005 National Finals Rodeo, finishing fourth in the world and seventh in the all-around.

But it was his personality, mental toughness and ability to win that set him apart.

Garrett helped an aspiring bulldogger, Jule Hazen, in Jule’s early years, the early 2000s. “He was a good guy,” Jule said, “but if I was to say anything about Garrett, he was a winner. He would find a way to win, whatever he did.” Garrett was always positive and did not sugar coat anything or tolerate excuses. When Jule first started traveling with him, if he’d have a bad run, he might blame it on the steer. But not Garrett. “Garrett would say, “you shoulda humped up a little more, or you should have done this or that. He was full of integrity. He wasn’t going to lie and that’s what made me better.”

Ote confirmed what Jule said. “He was a winner,” the four-time world champion said. “Garrett made whatever he had work for him. He had the great mental aspect of winning, and he was going to do whatever it took to get there and win.” Throughout his career, Berry has mentored numerous young cowboys with talent, but the mental aspect is something not all of them have. “If I had to choose between talent and the mental toughness, I’d choose the mental part, and that’s the way Garrett was.”

Chad Van Campen became friends with Garrett when the two attended Oklahoma State University in Goodwell in the late 1990s. It was Chad’s famous horse Caesar that carried Garrett to (and at) the 2005 NFR. In 2006, when Chad was close to qualifying for the NFR himself, Garrett returned the favor, traveling with him, doing all he could to get Chad to the Finals.

Chad benefited from Garrett’s positivity. “When I got in the rig with him, I knew how to bulldog, and I could win. But my problem was sometimes not getting over the bad runs fast enough,” he said. “Garrett taught me you could walk away from a bad run and win the next one. That was his attitude.”

He was also a hard worker. He shod horses for his brother, Justen, while Justen had health issues. “He didn’t want to be shoeing,” Chad said, “but he didn’t bat an eye doing it. And don’t think he didn’t complain every single time, and let his brother know it.”

When he was on the road with pro rodeo competition, Jule recalls laying over in McCook required doing whatever Garrett had on the list to get done. “He was all business,” he said. “He would have something going, 24-seven. I would hate it when we stopped at McCook for a layover, because we’d end up working pretty hard, and if you weren’t out there, you were the lazy one.”

“He went about life like he did rodeo,” Ote said. “He sold insurance, hustled for his family. He was going to make things work, whatever he did, whether it was rodeo, coaching, selling insurance, he was going to make things work.”

Garrett was also a conversationalist, and because of that, Chad owns an earpiece. “If I was going to listen to him, it would have cost me a half-days’ work,” he joked. Most of their conversations were in the early morning. “He’d call me at six a.m. That was ninety percent of our phone calls.”

He didn’t gloss over anything, Chad said. “If you weren’t towing the line, you’d damn sure know it. He wasn’t going to let you slide by. He did that with his college kids, too, which is good, because it makes people better. Hell, it made me better.”

His younger brother, Justen, remembers Garrett as an “example of integrity and truth. He was honest, he was a good role model, big-hearted, and a great brother, dad, husband, uncle and son.”

Justen nearly made the NFR in 2004, a year before Garrett did, and it was due to Garrett’s encouragement. Justen had done well during the winter run, but was ready to go back home when Garrett told him he was going to the California rodeo run, and taking Justen with him. That fall, Justen was ready to go home again. “I’d rather be home shoeing horses, but he said, no, you’re going and I’m going with you,” and the two headed to the Northwest for the fall run. “He pushed me,” Justen said. “He kept my fire lit, as well as giving me direction.”

Ote remembers his infectious grin and laugh. “He was a great guy to be around, a good traveling partner, a good hand. He’s going to be missed.”

In addition to his duties as college rodeo coach, Garrett sold crop insurance, held multiple roping and steer wrestling clinics, and provided timed event cattle for rodeos.

In 2005 he was the all-around champion at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in Denver and the 2006 all-around winner at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

His greatest accomplishments were outside the arena: Laura, his wife of eighteen years, and sons Trevor, age sixteen, and Parker, age twelve.

His parents, Brenda and Steve Morrell and Ray and Pam Nokes, as well as Justen and his wife Ashley and their daughter, Halli Rae, along with numerous friends and family, mourn his passing.

His funeral will be at Kiplinger Arena in McCook on Feb. 20.

Donations to the family may be made through the Garrett Nokes Family Account, PO Box 1297, McCook, Neb. 69001.

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