Presents Most Amazing Program
Deborah Ferguson, NBC 5 Today Anchor and Red Steagall, the Official Cowboy Poet of Texas gave the welcoming remarks and kicked off the program, during lunch. Of course, we spent several hours of wandering through the room where over 100 tables, for ten, were decorated with cowgirl themes. No two were alike so it took a while to see them all before we sat down to dinner or got to visit with friends. Vendors with numerous kinds of fare for cowgirls were also available for purchase.
Mayor Betsy Price also gave a welcome to those attending, remarking how proud she is to be a cowgirl and how important accomplished women are in our world today. Following her Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, 1977 Honoree gave the Invocation.
The first presentation was the Gloria Lupton Tennison Pioneer Award which was given to Ann Davies Romney. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998, and began losing function on her right side. She began horseback riding, and at first was barely able to ride without getting tired. Gradually the muscles required to ride were beneficial both physically and psychologically. She entered an adult amateur dressage competition in 2005 and received a Silver Medal. In 2006 she won a Gold Medal at the Grand Prix level from the United States Dressage Competition. Other wins followed. She has become the global ambassador for the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In accepting her award she said her husband, Mitt, occasionally gets annoyed when she calls her horse ‘the love of her life’. She went on to say that 60% of Alzheimer’s and MS patients will be women in the coming years.
The first inductee to be introduced was Margaret McGinley Dickens who grew up in Fort Worth, went to college at North Texas State University in physical education to be able to teach horseback riding. Working for the U.S. Army Special Services in Germany she met her husband, Waverley Dickens. After returning to the States and teaching she and Patti Pace created a therapeutic riding program. When it closed its doors they co-founded Wings of Hope Equitherapy in 1996, a non-profit serving children and adults with disabilities. It became a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International Premier Accredited Center, one of only 272 in the country. At age 78 in 1915 Margaret retired her daily role working with patients, and serves on the board of directors and continues to see her vision of horses healing humans flourish.
Mary Burger was the next inductee and has spent the last 50 years as a dominant figure in the world of barrel racing. She has won nine American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Championships and two Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) World Championships. Mary, was born in Indiana in 1948, developed Perthes disease, affecting hip joints and restricted movement. Unable to walk her father purchased a pony for transportation and to help her hips heal. Throughout high school she trained and showed her horse in 4-H and won seven grand championships in gaming, pleasure riding and halter events. Marrying her childhood sweetheart, Kerry Burger, in 1969, she began her family, but continued winning through AQHA. In the late 1990s she began training Rare Fred, a 2 year old race-bred colt owned by a client. They made the Ft Smith Futurity Finals and Derby Finals the next year. She won their junior and senior Barrel Racing in 2003, ’04, and ’05. In 2006 she won the WPRA World Championship at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, becoming the oldest competitor to win a World Championship in WPRA history. By the way, she became a grandmother that same year. In 2016 she won her second WPRA World Championship in Barrel Racing and broke her own record of being the oldest to win the WPRA World. She is dedicated to the sport, and an excellent horsewoman. When receiving her medallion she said, “It has seemed like a storybook life – Thank God for my family and experiences I have gained.”
When Red Steagall introduced the next recipient, he said, “Thirty-four years ago Justin Boots invited me on my first trip to the National Finals Rodeo. A woman came up to me and asked, ‘Can I bring my little girl up to the Justin suite to sing with you?’ That little girl was her daughter, Reba, and she truly amazed me with her singing. She is one of the most treasured parts of my family – And now she has a line of boots with Justin!” He continued to say, “She’s a legend – when women need a ‘leg up’ in the industry – she was there.” When Reba received her honor she immediately thanked her mama for her encouragement in singing, then she said, “I really wanted to be a barrel racer!” She thanked God, Family and her Friends. Continuing she said, “It took a long time to get my boot in the door, but I did and I still wear the boots!” (Which she showed the audience). “I love being a cowgirl, but when I was little I wanted to be a cowboy, it seemed they didn’t have to do as much of the work as cowgirls. Ranching taught me a lot. When my daddy told me to set at the gate, he meant it. Now when I’m being directed by people they say I’m easy to work with and follow directions. My family firmly grounded me and that is special.” (I won’t go in to all her qualifying musical credentials because I’m sure everyone is in agreement with all she’s done, she is truly qualified for this honor.)
The fourth inductee, Jacqueline Smith McEntire, Reba, Alice, Pake and Suzie’s mother, may not have thought she was a cowgirl, but the rest of the world knew better. She worked right along with her husband, Clark, to build a 40 acre spread into four ranches. She was born in Oklahoma and loved to sing, growing up she often led others including classmates and teachers in the Star Spangled Banner. She wanted to go to Hollywood and pursue singing, but the times just didn’t offer her that opportunity. Her family needed her at home to help work. She started teaching school by riding her horse to the Tipperary School to teach children from first through 8th grade. Meanwhile she attended summer classes at Southeastern State College in Durant, Oklahoma. She continued to teach school, until she married Clark, who became a PRCA World Champion Steer Roper and ProRodeo Hall of Fame Honoree. They had four children in five years – Alice, Pake, Reba and Suzie. While caring for the children she did what she could to help with the ranch and Clark’s rodeo career, and her children’s careers. Later she returned to the school as a librarian and secretary for eleven years. At age 91 she continues to oversee the McEntire ranchland and more, and nurturing and inspiring her family. When she spoke her first comment was, “I’ve had a long life. I’m fortunate to be able to stand up. I love my family and I’m proud of my children and grandchildren, and my inlaws and outlaws! I’ve sat in the audience and watched my family receive many awards - - - - and now it’s my turn!” This amazing nonagenarian is a delight.
Ashley Collin was the final inductee, a historic based contemporary artist. She grew up in Oregon and California, but her parents were hardscrabble southern people who worked in cotton fields. When their daughter sat in trees covered with hand-cut paper feathers, they took her to a church psychologist to see what was wrong with her. Ashley came across a disabled horse named Chief and she began to spend as much time with him as she could. He taught her love, endurance and patience. She began trying to sell her art but the contemporary art world was male dominated. She struggled, was homeless, living out of her car or on an abandoned boat. She was assaulted and left for dead. Finally she began selling her art. With her first sale she gave half of it to a local charity. She now has causes such as an orphanage in Cambodia, a hospital in Ethiopia, and assists financially in several different areas for children with cancer. Suddenly the lights went down in the ballroom and a film was shown. In the film Ashley was sitting in a 500 year-old tree and said she didn’t do well speaking to groups, she speaks through her paintings. She said, “Rather than honor me, I want to honor each and every one of you. I use many historical pages and spend millions of hours painting horses.” These pages are in horse murals and paintings world wide. As the film ended there sat Ashley on the top of a step ladder, on the stage, much like she sat in the 500 year-old tree in the film. She waved to everyone, came down and the medallion was placed around her neck, she went to the microphone, said, “Thank you.” and left the stage. Meanwhile ushers went to each table with a big white sack and in it were small black sacks for each person in the audience. In the black sack was a booklet about Ashley’s art as a Commemorative Induction to the Cowgirl Museum Hall of Fame and a T-shirt with her logo on it.
It was an amazing end to a wonderful program. Five amazing and outstanding women were inducted in to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. As Diana Vela said at the beginning – “It’s Never Just A Horse”.