From my Window by Yvonne Hollenbeck: Commiteemen |

From my Window by Yvonne Hollenbeck: Commiteemen

Circa 1979, Tom Miller, Faith, South Dakota, covers one at the Days of '76 while pickupman Glen Hollenbeck looks on. Photo by Yvonne Hollenbeck

The Committeeman

By Yvonne Hollenbeck

He opens the chute as the bronc rider nods

and he’s sure to be out of the way.

He watches him spur as the old sorely bucks,

then he thinks about a long ago day.

It wasn’t that long ago, though it seems

when it was him crawling onto the best;

he’d measure his hack and pull down his hat,

and his rides stood apart from the rest.

Just the sound of his name brought crowds to their feet

as an old hand pulled open the gate.

He’d ride like they’d never seen broncs rode before,

but Old Father Time was his fate.

Now there’s few in the stands that remember his name

and to all those young hands, he’s unknown;

but little they know as they ride in their prime

that too soon it will be them alone.

He picks up a flank tossing it back to the chute

as his mind wanders back to that date

when it was him on the bronc with hack held up tight

and nodding to an old man on the gate.

Summertime in the Tri-State region is always a busy time, not only for farmers and ranchers, but for anyone living in the area. It is also a time for fairs, rodeos and other types of outdoor activities and perhaps one of the finest celebrations in all of America is the Days of ’76 Rodeo in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Apparently I am not the only one that feels this way inasmuch as the Days of ’76 Rodeo has received the coveted PRCA’s “Rodeo of the Year” award at least fifteen times.

In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, my husband, Glen, was a pickup man at the Days of ’76 rodeo. Three stock contractors, Korkow Rodeos, Sutton Rodeos, and Sonny Linger provided the outstanding stock and every top cowboy in the country participated. One thing I remember most about this rodeo was how well it was organized and produced by one of the best committees I had the experience of observing. Incidentally, I did observe the work of many committees. I was a professional rodeo organist at the time and had played for nearly every major rodeo in the country that used an organist rather than a brass band. I often helped the rodeo secretary, for in those days there was no central entry system and the massive amounts of entries had to be handled via telephone. I feel confident in making the statement that the Deadwood committee seemed to be adamant on producing the finest rodeo in the country; providing the best stock possible; and hiring top contract personnel; and this holds true today.

Without a doubt, no rodeo, fair, festival or public event is successful without the dedication and hard work of its committee. These folks do not just throw the event together in a few days, but rather spend an entire year planning, hiring, contracting, grooming facilities, advertising and soliciting sponsorship and funding. These men and women come from all walks of life, whether they be local businessmen, farmers and ranchers, housewives, and yes, even former rodeo cowboys.

One such person that comes to mind is the late Dick Louks of Gordon, Nebraska, who, for many years, was on the board of the Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo held at Gordon annually. Incidentally, that fair and rodeo is the longest running fair and rodeo in Nebraska, and will be held the same weekend as the Days of ’76.

Dick Louks was one of the nation’s top saddle bronc riders in his younger days, along with his brother Wayne, who was killed at a rodeo in Oklahoma. After the death of his brother, Dick hung up his saddle and settled down in Gordon where he ran a bowling alley for a number of years, and community service was his forte. He was instrumental in the formation and success of the Tri-State Cowboy museum in Gordon, and a driving force on the local rodeo committee. When the rodeo was being held, Dick was always the one opening the chute gate. Observing him, I often wondered if any of the young cowboys he was helping realized how he was once in their position, and how soon they too will be “just an old man on the chute.” I also hope, not just the cowboys and cowgirls participating in rodeo today, but all of us who enjoy the sport, appreciate and acknowledge the committee personnel that are the reason events like the Days of ’76 rodeo, and the Sheridan County Fair and Rodeo continue to be such a success.