Actually the weather was probably as warm, the first two days we were there, as it was back in Austin, Texas where I live. But we did have a nice snow midday Saturday, January 31st, but it stopped mid-afternoon leaving a beautiful layer of snow on everything, for those of us from the south to enjoy.
The 12th Annual Montana Hall & Wall of Fame Banquet & Gathering held on Saturday, is a Fundraiser for Scholarships. They are the largest state High School Rodeo Scholarship Program in America. You don’t have to be there long to understand how important Montana people feel about giving their students scholarships to improve their lives and become more achieving and successful. There were over 900 people attending, in spite of the ‘little’ snowfall we had, which made roads from some areas rather ‘testy’ to drive, but the people came, just the same. Montanans wouldn’t miss it.
Those on the Board of this annual event worked overtime to get it done, and it showed. Rodeo ‘stars’ from across the nation were invited, including: Cotton Rosser, “Rodeo Man of the Year” from CA; Dan Mortensen, hometown 6 time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider and All-Around World Champ; Pam Minick, former Miss Rodeo America and popular TV Rodeo Host; Wilford Brimley, movie star from Utah; Jeff Medders National Finals Rodeo TV Production Commentator; Butch Knowles, from Oregon, also a NFR Rodeo TV Commentator; myself representing the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the Rodeo Historical Society, gathering Oral Histories of some of those attending and being honored.
The event kicked off by a trek to the Hall & Wall of Fame, where an 18’ bronze of Dan Mortensen on a bronc sits at the entrance. A photo shoot was held with people and the ‘new squares of granite’ were seen, chiseled with the names of those being inducted this year, on the Wall of Fame. Afterward everyone went back to the Holiday Inn Grand Atrium where a great band played while those arriving visited. The very talented band reminded me of the world famous Sons of the Pioneers from long ago. I learned they were a group of high school students from a colony of Russian/German emmigrants, who made their own instruments. They were amazing! A group photo of everyone attending was taken. At 5 PM all headed to the Trade Center for the evening.
Numerous honors and awards were given throughout the evening to honor and present Montana people and events for their efforts to bring pride to Montana, not only in the rodeo arena but also for their western lifestyle.
A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Benny Reynolds, an All Around World Champion, both in PRCA and NSPRCA, who continued being involved in rodeo and ranching until his death in 2014. Also achieving the Lifetime Achievement Award was Sonny Linger a contestant, stock contractor, chute boss & livestock superintendent of the National Finals Rodeo, who died in 2013. Families of both accepted the awards.
The 2015 Legends inducted were Bob Ragsdale a former PRCA President who also became a National Senior ProRodeo Association All-Around World Champion competing as a calf roper, and in team roping & ribbon-roping. Buck Brannaman, a world-class horseman whose life working with horses had allowed him to be on movie sets, documentaries and authoring books in addition to training people on horsemanship. Daryl Crowley a calf and team roper who won the Montana circuit calf roping title 5 times, and serves as a Montana National High School director. John Wrzesinski 1961 and ’62 CNF Champ, plus many other honors and won the Bill Linderman Award and was on the European rodeo tour. Shawn Davis a three time world champion saddle bronc rider, past President of the PRCA, former rodeo coach for the College of Southern Idaho and presently general manager of the Wrangler National Finals.
The Western Heritage Awards were given to those who have contributed to rodeo and the western way of life in Montana. The families to receive the 2015 awards were: Garrison Family; Melaney Family; Edwards Family; Bill Rumney Family; Small Family and the Alfred Adolph Family.
Honored as 2014 Montana Circuit Champions & 2014 NFR Qaulifiers/World Champions; Bareback, Jessy Davis; Bull Riding, Parker Breding; Team Roping Heading – 2014 World Champion Clay Tryan; Team Roping Healing – Ike Folsom.
2015 Great Montana Ranches honored for contributing to the Montana western lifestyle; Cremer Ranch, Taber Ranch, Schwenke Ranch, McCafferty Ranch and the Tom Hougen Ranch.
2015 Great Montana Pro Rodeos for exemplifying the sport of professional rodeo went to: Kalispell, NW Montana Fair & Rodeo and to Helena’s Last Chance Stampede.
2015 Great Montana Rodeo Families that have contributed to the sport of rodeo; went to Dan & Mar aget Fraser Family; Dick & Millie Parker Family; Carpenter Family, Larick Family and the Peterson Family.
Additionally, Great Montana Western Stores honored were Miles City Saddlery and Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters. Great Montana Western Bands went to Crowd Thinners and The Ringling Five.
World Champion Rodeo Stock inducted were: Descent, RCA Bucking horse of the year in 1966 through 1969 and again in 1971 and ‘72, owned by Kramer Rodeo Co. Trails End the 1959 RCA Bucking horse of the year and 3 time top saddle bronc of the National Finals Rodeo, 1959 through ’61, who bucked 11 years at National Finals, owned by Zumwalt/Lake Rodeo Co. Painted Smile owned by Kesler Rodeo Co., was voted rankest bronc and PRCA Bucking horse of the year, and bucked off the best bronc riders in the country in two or three jumps. Dan Mortensen scored 92 on him and won the 2003 World title.
Great Montana College Rodeo Programs being honored were Montana State University and University of Montana Western.
Cartoonist of the Year was Wally Badgett, a former rodeo contestant who won his share of rodeos and qualified for the NFR in bull riding, became a Montana deputy sheriff and is presently the rodeo coach for Miles City Community College. Along the way he drew humorous events and became a renown cartoonist. He has introduced “Earl” a present day rancher and his sidekicks – including his wife, a faithful dog and a gregarious magpie in his popular cartoons.
Additionally, we had a sit-down prime rib banquet, Silent auction and Live auction. Two silent auction items were a painting donated art by artist Loren Entz called “Shipping Day”, and a painting entitled “Life in the Fast Lane” by Fred Fellows. An estimate of the proceeds from the event, to be used for scholarships, was between $60,000 and $65,000. The evening continued with music and country western dancing. Our time at Billings was full of fun and a great time was had by all.
John Spencer, the great videographer from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and I interviewed 16 people for the Rodeo Historical Society’s Oral History Program. Those interviewed were: Ben ‘Rooster’ Reynolds, Dan Mortensen, Jonnie Jonckowski, Larry Peabody, Duane Bruce, Bill Lake, John Larick, Mrs. Walt (Dorothy) Linderman, Sheila Kirkpatrick, Bob Christopherson, Deb Greenough, Ryan Mapston, C. R. Boucher, Butch Knowles, Wally Badgett and Clint Branger.