Montana Hall and Wall of Fame honors 19
The 18-foot-tall bronze sculpture of six-time World Champion bronc rider Dan Mortensen outside of the Metra Park in Billings, Montana marks the monument site for the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame, an organization dedicated to honoring past Montana professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls and encouraging and supporting the rising generations of Montana rodeo. Each January, the Hall and Wall of Fame holds a scholarship fundraising banquet in Billings where certain individuals and organizations are recognized as supporting the Western way of life. This year, the event included a ground school before the banquet with former rodeo champions, Monty Henson and Dan Mortenson, a live and silent auction, what was promised as the best prime rib ever served in the West and a live band.
Fourteen scholarships are given out every year, with nearly half a million dollars awarded to date since the program began in 2006. Of the 14, 12 are given to Montana High School Rodeo seniors who are selected by a committee from the Montana High School Rodeo Association. The selection criteria is based on grades, rodeo participation, community service, educational plans and finally, financial need. The final two scholarships are given to Miss Rodeo Montana and Miss Montana High School Rodeo.
At the fundraising banquet, the Hall and Wall of Fame also presents awards to those who have exemplified Western heritage throughout the state. Nineteen awards were given to individuals, ranches, rodeos and businesses in a variety of categories this year.
The Legends awards are given to former or current Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association members who have left their mark on professional rodeo. Inducted this year was Marvin Joyce of Helena, Bud Pauley of Miles City, Rooster Reynolds of Twin Bridges and Gary Rempel of Fort Shaw.
Joyce was the 1969 Rodeo Cowboys Association Saddle Bronc Rookie of the Year and the 1972 saddle bronc riding national champion.
Pauley qualified for the National Finals Rodeo six times, and won the national title in saddle bronc riding in 1985.
Rooster Reynolds is the son of Benny Reynolds, an All Around World Champion cowboy, and proceeded to follow in his father’s footsteps by qualifying and placing in both state high school finals and college national finals and in 1995 he was the Wrangler National Finals Average Champion and placed third in the world.
Rempel may not have heard his name over the announcer’s speaker much in the arena, but he is remembered as the pickup man with the most trips to the National Finals Rodeo, the Canadian Finals and the Montana Circuit Finals Rodeo.
Three individuals who have stood out for contributing to rodeo and the western way of life in Montana received the Western Heritage award.
Marge Taylor of Fromberg is as “original as her art and as durable as the leather she designs with” according to the event’s program. Taylor began her leather working business in 1993 and has since won numerous awards and outfitted countless working and professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.
Clyde McFarland of Miles City has paid more entry fees than anyone in Montana, but never entered a rodeo in his 98 years. The part owner in the infamous Bison Bar was a mentor to young cowboys and cowgirls and a devoted rodeo fan.
Butch Bratsky of Billings was a bull rider until his body couldn’t handle it anymore, so he then became a rodeo judge. He has worked with numerous organizations promoting rodeo and was instrumental in bringing the annual Professional Bull Riders event to Billings.
Although Montana has many influential women who have spent their lives preserving rodeo and western tradition, Shirley Clark is well deserving of this year’s Lady of the West award. Through her youth and into college, she competed in rodeo. During her marriage, she supported her husband through the military and his rodeo career and as a mother, she encouraged and supported her daughters through their rodeo events, all while working full time at the Montana Department of Livestock. She has worked on rodeo committees, served on rodeo boards and perhaps her greatest rodeo-related accomplishment was being the first secretary of the point keeping system for the model of what is now known as the national PRCA circuit system.
Of course, there would be no rodeo in Montana if it weren’t for the great Montana ranches and the working cowboys that inspired the sport. For this reason, four Montana ranches were recognized for having made great contributions to the western way of life in the state.
The JP Cooney Ranch from Harlowton has made the transition from running sheep to Hereford cattle and finally to Angus cattle since its inception in 1926. Today, the fourth generation of Cooneys live and work on the operation.
The Mothershead Ranch from Brockway is home to three generations of Mothersheads who raise commercial Angus cattle.
The Lande Ranch on the Crow reservation began in 1917. At one point, the ranch was run by two women and today, the ranch is run by the fourth and fifth generation of Landes.
Finally, the Butcher Ranch near Hilger began in 1913 as a 320-acre homestead and grew to 25,000 acres while remaining debt-free. Until the purchase of their first tractor in 1938, the Butchers farmed 1,000 acres with 75 head of work horses. Today, the fifth generation of Butchers manage the historic ranch.
The Great Montana Western Store award was given to Shipton’s Big R for their dedication to supplying ranchers and rodeo cowboys with all they could need and for their generous support of many regional rodeos. Shipton’s believes that many young rodeo cowboys and cowgirls grow up in the western lifestyle, so the purpose of their stores is to provide a service for those families.
And of those families, the Hall and Wall of Fame chose to honor four at the banquet.
The Stringari family of Belfry boasts of not only domestic rodeo successes, but a European Military Rodeo Circuit bull riding championship as well.
The Lenning family from Columbus have rodeo in their blood and now breed the ability into rodeo horses as well.
The founder of the World Class Bucking Horse Association is also a Montanan, and a part of the Pecora family from the town of Racetrack.
The final Montana Rodeo Family that was honored hails from Kinsey. Jack Witcher placed in Calgary, Cheyenne and the Montana circuit.
Without Great Montana College Rodeo Programs, the scholarships that the Hall and Wall of Fame provides to graduating high school seniors wouldn’t be possible. There are many college rodeo programs in the state, but this year the University of Province in Great Falls was chosen to receive the award. For having a rodeo program for only the last eight years, the university has achieved great successes in the rodeo arena in a short time.
The final award of the evening was given to a Great Montana Pro Rodeo that exemplified the sport of professional rodeo: the Fallon County Fair and Rodeo. Nearing it’s 100th year, the Baker rodeo has grown in size, updated its facilities and added more sponsors to create an excellent event.
Rodeo is deeply rooted in Montana’s past, and the Hall and Wall of Fame intends to keep rodeo in Montana’s future by supporting the dreams and education of the state’s up and coming rodeo stars.