The days of their bullfighting has passed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t talk about “old 61” or “Widowmaker”, and how rank they were. They seldom talk about their injuries even though most of these fearless fellows walk with a limp or wear a number of scars they can’t cover up. Their profession was ‘different’ to say the least and the memories are still remembered vividly.
The 2015 Rodeo Clown Reunion was held in Coffeyville, Kansas, in mid-August during the Inter-State Fair and Rodeo. Forty-five old rodeo arena characters signed up to attend, however we know at their age some will have to miss it when the time comes. Thirty-six honorees arrived from the east, west, north and south. Sixteen states were represented including as far away as New York, Florida, Oregon, Montana and Arizona.
The host hotel, Sleep Inn, was centrally located, and after everyone signed in and gathered their Registration Bag filled with goodies from sponsors, such as caps, t-shirts, pens, bandanas, gift cards for Wranglers, and more, they settled in. The employees of the hotel couldn’t have treated us nicer and made every effort to provide us with everything we needed. Two or more honorees could be seen in the breakfast room, our registration room, lobby, and bedrooms telling tales of arena action from the past.
Since our mascot grew up and decided he wanted to go to college instead of continue as our mascot we had to resort to desperate measures! A local banker, Mike Ewy, offered his bank, Community State Bank, as the sponsor of a mascot contest. We notified youngster locally we needed a mascot and if they were interested go to the bank and fill out a form, include a photo in rodeo clown garb, and they would be considered. Mike and his support group interviewed each youngster ages 5 to 11, and based on willingness to participate with the honorees and be friendly and courteous and smile a lot, picked a winner. Just prior to parade time the honorees and mascot candidates and families met at a bank location and the announcement was made. Kadyn Hebb, age 11, was chosen as the Coffeyville Rodeo Clown Reunion mascot. It was a tough decision but Kadyn performed his duties as mascot and kibitzed with the honorees the entire time.
The parade was much fun. Most of the honorees were placed on a flatbed truck sitting on bales of hay. Thirty-six fearless funnymen look like a hundred when they are all together. They are a very colorful group with their lime green and red striped shirts, hats every color, and each sporting their individual style of make-up. In addition to the truck, Dan Ariaz, an honoree, brought from Reno, Nevada, his custom-restored 1934
Chevrolet truck painted red and cream, which carried our oldest honoree, Gordie Peer, of Okeechobee, Florida, and the other mascot candidates. After the parade everyone gathered at the park for a Bean Feed, which was very tasty. Then it was off to the Buddy Barrow Hog Show, which allows challenged individuals to show and work with the animals, where the honorees participated.
Every evening at the rodeo the honorees signed autographs before the rodeo. Then it was time for them to be announced, just before the Grand Entry. All 36 paraded to the arena standing in front of the bucking chutes. Also with them was a grandson of Bobby Green, Travis Gidley, who is presently a bullfighter recuperating from an injury, and our new mascot, Kadyn Hebb, the announcer, Justin McKee, introduced each one, told where they were from, and a little about them. Later during the rodeo, which was produced by Benny Beutler, who runs a very efficient rodeo, a few of the honorees did an ‘old-time’ rodeo clown act. A different act was performed each night and seemed to be appreciated by everyone, according to the laughter and applause.
Most of the candidates come with a wife, daughter, granddaughter, girl friend, or buddy, and the following day the ladies went one way and the honorees scattered in several different directions. Traditionally a Ladies Luncheon is always held. In Coffeyville it was held at the Sunflower Soda Fountain downtown. Prior to the luncheon the ladies gathered and toured The Brown Mansion. This beautiful historic three story home has been partially restored to it’s original beauty. During the luncheon gifts from sponsors were drawn for, and each attendee received some Kansas products including pancake mix, elderberry syrup and jelly, donated by the Reunion.
The honorees toured a nearby ranch raising fighting bulls, and a long-time World Champion Museum in Lenapah, OK, featuring memorabilia from five different cowboys that lived in the area – Fred Lowery, Shoat Webster, Buck Rutherford, Everett Shaw & ‘Nowata Slim’ Richardson. However, some honorees assisted with the Sheep Show at the Inter-State Fair and gave away ribbons to the winning youngsters. Other honorees went to the Senior Center for Southeast Kansas and ate lunch with those locals attending that day.
The following Day we divided in groups and attended three different senior citizen homes. This is an event that every honoree holds dear and some visited with one or two and others performed antics and laughed with groups. It truly is an experience that tugs at your heart and you have to witness it.
Saturday there was a Free Fair Festival in the Park. The honorees, in their make-up and garb, were there to play games with the kids, painting their faces or merely eating hotdogs and laughing together.
Later that day we met back in our meeting room at the hotel and did our drawing for the gifts donated by sponsors. The custom-made buckles made by various well-known buckle makers are especially coveted by these senior jokesters and cowboy savers.
Once the gifts were all drawn for, it was time to get serious. One of our own just lost his wife to cancer a few days before the Reunion. We decided to have an auction and sell some rodeo memorabilia and be able to send him some cash to help defray some of his costs, which were tremendous. There were three honorees that are auctioneers and in a short period of time we had auctioned off, and re-sold, enough ‘loot’, to be able to send him a check. You see rodeo clowns aren’t just about making people laugh and saving cowboys from harm. They have a huge heart, and in times of need they will be there for their brothers and sisters. As chairman of this great group of people I could not have been prouder.
It was a great Rodeo Clown Reunion and definitely a WIN-WIN for the honorees, the Inter-State Fair & Rodeo as well as the community of Coffeyville, Kansas. Anyone interested in considering the Rodeo Clown Reunion coming to your area just let me know and I’ll send you a proposal.